Paula Laird, director of finance and IT, WaterAid

Paula Laird worked for charity auditing firm Sayer Vincent before becoming director of finance and IT at WaterAid

Paula Laird
Paula Laird
What does your job involve?

I'm responsible for leading both the finance and IT teams, setting strategic objectives for them in the UK and globally. For finance in particular, it's about making sure we have the right controls in place to protect our donors' money. It's also about ensuring we have the right finance environment in which to spend our money so we're not tying our people up in bureaucracy so much that they can't get on with their day-to-day work.

How did you move into this role?

I worked in the charity auditing firm Sayer Vincent until January 2006, when I moved to WaterAid to become head of UK finance.

Through Sayer Vincent I had taken a seven-month secondment with Oxfam in Sudan, starting in September 2004. About a year after I came back I took the decision to look for a job in the voluntary sector.

What's the best piece of training you've ever received?

My chartered accountancy qualification. It's given me a good set of foundations to work from.

I've worked in the charity sector for seven years now, in various capacities, and thanks to that qualification I've been able to help very practically, improving charities' finance systems and control procedures.

What's been your greatest career achievement to date?

I'd say it's been helping others to reach their potential.

Here at WaterAid, for example, we've developed a rotation system so that everyone in the finance team can experience working in every single area of finance rather than specialising in just one. Doing this really helps people become better at what they do.

What's the best career-related advice you've ever received?

To walk in the shoes of those you support in the field. The chair and the chief executive here at WaterAid consistently gave me that message when I first arrived. You've got to stand back and look at what people are facing when they're out in Africa or wherever, helping others, and how the financial system you're planning to put in place will affect them.

You've got to be honest about whether the system will help them achieve their mission or whether you want to put it in place simply because it'll make life easier for you.

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