Adventures in African Accounting

As part of Vanderbilt’s Project Pyramid team, my partner Scott and I took on the task of helping out the Malika Monkeys with their accounting practices.  The first thing to know about finances in Africa is that, generally speaking, record keeping in Africa doesn’t resemble accounting practices in the United States.  There’s a great book called African Friends and Money Matters that goes into detail here (and in my opinion, a must-read for any groups looking to work with entrepreneurs in Africa), but our biggest takeaways have been:

1) Money is shared amongst family and friends to a much greater extent in Africa than in the U.S.  To that end, the success of a village or family will always outweigh an individual’s success.

2) Keeping written records is not as widespread in African finances as it is in the states.  Often times, businessmen and women in Africa keep track of finances in their heads, and this works well for their needs.  That’s not to say nothing is written down, though.  Here’s an example of a detailed accounting sheet from a farmer we met:

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Scott and I read about both these points prior to taking off for Dakar, and our experience on the ground confirmed what we had read.  Still, there are some compelling reasons to keep a close track of finances.  First of all, doing so helps a salesperson know which items are best-sellers, which items cost the least amount of money to make, and so on.  Second, having written records is necessary for organizations like AYWA to apply for grants and membership to fair trade organizations.

With this in mind, we set out to help Abdoulaye with his business accounting in hopes that one day he’ll be able to teach the rest of the Malika Monkeys.  Even though Abdoulaye hadn’t kept written financial records for sometime, he was willing and eager to take a go at tracking costs and receipts on his laptop.  With Abdoulaye’s input, we created a spreadsheet that tracks materials, production time, quantity and sales totals for his products.  For the past few weeks, he’s been using the spreadsheet to track costs and receipts.  Through the power of dropbox, we’ve been able to troubleshoot any problems that have come up thus far and look forward to continuing to work with him in the future.