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Alhaji Sheriff is a Chartered Accountant who works for Marie Stopes International as a Donor Finance Business Partner, based in the UK.
How would you characterise your current work?
I see my role as a trusted financial adviser providing “real time” support and analysis that adds value and assists senior management in making informed decisions to help drive the organisation forward. As a donor finance business partner, I provide financial management support throughout the life cycle of a donor-funded project, from proposals to close out and audit. More so, I serve as a critical link between the donor and the organisation in ensuring complete accounting and reporting on projects whilst checking that all projects within my portfolio comply with the organisation’s regulations and any specific donor requirements. It sometimes involves travelling to some of our country offices – which can be very exciting as you get the opportunity to meet your colleagues who live in different countries.
How do you feel about maths?
I am very passionate about maths and I believe it has in many ways helped shape my analytical thinking and my reasoning ability, which I believe contributes immensely in solving problems. The ability to use different techniques to arrive at the same answer is what I find most fascinating about maths – you can all be given the same problem and would get the same answer but the journey in arriving at the answer can differ.
What is it about your work that is mathematical?
A huge chunk of my work is mathematical, as I use figures a lot. I use maths to ascertain how much money we will need to deliver a donor project, and to report to a donor how much we have spent and how much we have remaining on the project. This can sometimes just involve basic addition, multiplication, subtraction and division. However, it does get really complicated depending on what is required by the donor and the organisation. This usually leads to the use of complex maths such as mark-ups, margins, payment by results calculations and in some cases scenario workings, analysing various components of a donor-funded project.
How do you use maths, calculation or numeracy in your work? What tools do you use to help you?
The main mathematical tool or vehicle I use for maths is Microsoft Excel. I use Excel for basic and complex calculations, depending on the task. The ability to navigate your way through Excel depends on a range of variables such as your sense of reasoning as an individual, your problem-solving skills and the level of Excel training you have; so to a large extent it comes down to maths and problem solving.
Do you think maths is creative? If so, how?
In my opinion, maths itself isn't inherently creative but how you use it to discover or prove theories or apply it to other fields can be a place in which you can show your creativity. There is usually a correct answer to every maths question regardless of the fact that there is usually more than one way to get to the solution, so for me, maths helps bring creativity out of a person rather than it being a creative art in itself. You don’t have to be creative to be good at maths, but you can be a methodical and logical thinker and be good at it.
Do you use or rely on any maths that you learnt in school?
Yes, I do use and rely on the maths I learnt in school but not so much as I had imagined. Most of the maths I use is basic. In terms of percentages, if I were to allocate what % of maths that I learnt in school I use or rely on in my work, I would say no more than 15%. The 85% I don’t use or maybe I haven’t used yet. Interestingly, I don’t seem to remember most of the maths I learnt in school.
How would you change the school curriculum, if you had the chance? Why?
Personally, I think we learn too many things in school that we don’t necessarily need or never get the chance to use – maths is certainly not an exception. I’m not too au fait with the maths curriculum at this stage, as it’s been a while since I left school. However, if I were to make a suggestion, particularly from an accountant’s point of view, I would say teach the things that students need to know and/or what will be beneficial to their prospective employers as early as possible – this way you prepare them for the things that lie ahead. I do recognise that they need to learn other mathematical theories, but those should be kept at a minimum whilst focus is geared towards the things that are useful to their careers and everyday lives.
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