Day 1 (Sunday) on the job here in Dhaka went well. In the morning, I met up with my audit partner Soledad (called Sol) at breakfast. She is a Venezuelan Brit who lives in Brooklyn and is proving to be easy to work with and well organized.
The WV director joined us at 8 a.m. and gave us a welcome packet that included a security and cultural briefing, which I appreciated. We heard a bit from him on the history of their work here in Bangladesh over the past 38 years. He is Bangladeshi and joined the organization in 1978. We talked about logistics, including whether Sol and I wanted to join the staff for devotions, which they hold every morning from 9-9:30 a.m. We were noncommittal in our responses.
Most of the rest of the day, Sol and I reviewed documents that were e-mailed to us ahead of time. These included plans, budgets, reports, and marketing materials. In the late morning, as per expert advice on combating jetlag, we left our hotel to take a walk around the neighborhood. It was a rough start, as we were initially hounded by bicycle rickshaw riders and then dodging both moving and parked vehicles as we tried to walk along the edge of the hotel’s street. (Bicycle rickshaws are three-wheeled vehicles made up of the front ¾ of a bicycle with a carriage-like seat in the back under which are two wheels.)
Shortly, though, we rounded the corner and it was much quieter. This is an enclave with embassies, expatriate housing, and an international school – it is protected by guards in booths at every entrance.
After a few blocks we arrived at a lake along which ran a narrow park with a nice walkway. We scoped it out and saw enough women around that we decided it was safe going. We did most of our walking along the lake, which was very pleasant, then returned to the hotel – sweaty but happy.
Day 2 on the job went according to plan. We were joined by Tarikul, our translator, who is a Bangladeshi social compliance auditor in training and whose help we will need out at the project sites. (In the Dhaka office, all the professionals speak excellent English, though some of the accents require a great deal of concentration on my part.) The WV driver picked up the three of us from the hotel and off we went through the crowded streets. The traffic situation is less chaotic than when I was last here about 11 years ago, improved by the banning of bicycle- and foot-powered rickshaws on certain streets. On one such street, I saw a police officer chastising a bicycle rickshaw driver by hitting the rickshaw’s tires hard with a long stick. Quite curious.
Sol is the lead auditor, which means she took the lead today during the opening meeting and subsequent interviews we held with staff in all the different departments. We learned about how they are organized, what procedures they use, and how their programs are structured. We reviewed a wide range of additional documentation and got a demo of their financial management system. We checked whether they are in compliance with the official standards against which we conduct the audit. For example, is the organization properly registered in the country? Does each employee complete and sign a conflict-of-interest form upon hire? Are U.S. sponsors’ addresses kept confidential? Is there credible evidence of the positive impact the organization is having, for example in reducing infant mortality rates?
Tomorrow we’re off to see urban projects and the people they are benefiting. I had to stop on the way back to the hotel and have Tarikul help me buy a $3 scarf in the market, as I forgot to bring one with me. I think I’m ready now.