Bringing Good Business Practices to Sierra Leone
The group discussed with consternation the topic I had just introduced–double-entry book keeping. “Why do we need to do this?” one man asked. “It is a lot of work for nothing. In my village we don’t even have a bank.” He stopped just short of saying, “This is a waste of my time.”
I am a member of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, a small Protestant denomination headquartered in Huntington, Ind. For more than 100 years, my church had missionaries in Sierra Leone, West Africa (near Liberia, Guinea, and Nigeria) doing work in education and healthcare. In the mid-1990s, as civil war loomed, we made the difficult decision to withdraw our Western missionaries. In 2000, the church determined that all national churches would become independent, rather than an outreach arm of the North American church.
The transition has been difficult. Leadership problems abounded. Funds earmarked for specific purposes were diverted—sometimes for private use. Distrust grew and the church was facing possible disbandment.
In July 2006, I went with a group offive other Americans to Sierra Leone to conduct a Leadership Institute. Over the past several years, it had become increasingly obvious that, while the Sierra Leone church was independent, there had been a lack of preparedness for making decisions on their own.
My part of the Leadership Institute was titled “Building Trust through Financial Accountability.” As a business person, I had taken several accounting courses, but I wasn’t so sure how to take the principles out of the business world into a classroom that included pastors, high school teachers, leaders of women’s groups, and a hospital administrator. Certainly finance and accounting had been relevant to me in my business career, but what about here?
Sierra Leone is a cash-based (and some-times barter-based) society. There are banks, of course, but most transaction sare done with piles of Leones (about Le 3,000 per U.S. dollar.)
What is a famous American board game, created during the Depression, that uses cash? That’s right—Monopoly. I decided that teaching accounting concepts in a cash-based society could best be taught with a hands-on exercise using Monopoly money. We divided into groups of about four people, and I gave each group a designated amount of “money.” They had to create ledgers for the accounts I asked them to create and provide a “paper trail” to account for each transaction. They created invoices, counted offerings, paid staff, bought building materials, held a banquet—and documented each transaction.
1 | 2