Date posted: 13/06/2017 3 min read

Esther Wan CA lobbies to end poverty

Esther Wan CA, CFO of not-for-profit youth organisation Oaktree, is leading a movement to end poverty.

In brief

  • Wan left an audit role at KPMG to move into the not-for-profit sector with Oaktree.
  • Everyone has a responsibility to act for social justice.
  • Young CAs should align their long-term priorities in life with their career choices.

Esther Wan is the 25-year-old CFO of Oaktree, Australia’s largest youth-run not-for-profit (NFP) organisation with more than 200,000 members whereby young people lead a movement to end poverty.  

Wan grew up in the Kuala Lumpur satellite city of Petaling Jaya, and her family immigrated to Australia when she was 13 years old.  

“My grandmother used to tell me about her struggles growing up,” Wan says. “She could have achieved so much more if she had been able to access opportunities.  

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“She was hardworking with drive and will but was not empowered. I thought one day I would do something so others like her can reach their full potential.”  

Following in the footsteps of her father, also an accountant, Wan completed a double degree in commerce and business information systems at Monash University in Melbourne. While studying she volunteered for a number of charity organisations. Upon graduation Wan accepted an audit role at KPMG’s Melbourne office, where she stayed for two and a half years.

Making the move when the time is right

While at KPMG, a friend working with a charity would send Wan job advertisements in the NFP sector, one of which was for a role at Oaktree.  

Based on her previous volunteering experience, a sense that the timing was right, family encouragement and a deep sense of social consciousness, Wan made the move to the NFP sector with Oaktree.  

“Everyone has a responsibility to act for social justice.” Wan says.  

“If you were a person caught in the poverty cycle, what would you want a person of your background and skills to do?  

“Wouldn't you expect better of the world and privileged individuals? Everyone can and should take informed action, no matter how small.”  

Wan says it is easy to help friends and family members, but the real test comes in helping strangers.  

“NFPs are businesses too,” she says. “Corporates spend money on administration, overheads and salaries to recruit the best people; why should NFPs be any different? Wouldn't you rather have someone capable running an organisation handling donations?  

“I've learnt to back myself in my judgement and opinions. Having a different thought to others and working it out makes the decision and team stronger. It is not a waste of time and energy.”

Make space for the future

Sitting in Oaktree’s open-plan office in Melbourne’s university district, Wan smiles when asked about a typical day as CFO of Oaktree. She gets to work early and uses the quiet time before business hours commence to plan her day.  

“I meet often with my three direct reports in finance, legal and risk management, go through priorities and see how they are feeling,” Wan says.  

“This last item is very important. I also attend the executive team meeting on Mondays and board meetings as a director.  

“During the day, the most common questions relate to whether or not we have budget for something and how much we spent last year. Cash flow requires a lot of attention because of its roller-coaster cycle due to our funding campaigns during the year.”  

"NFPs are businesses too. Corporates spend money on administration ... why should NFPs be any different?"
Esther Wan CA, CFO, Oaktree.

One of those fundraising campaigns, “Live below the line”, takes place in May and challenges Australians to eat for less than A$2 a day for five days (the Australian equivalent of the extreme poverty line). Oaktree also runs a mentoring programme aimed at helping set up student volunteers for future employment.  

Wan advises young CAs and those still completing the CA Program to think about aligning their long-term priorities in life with their career choices.    

“Whilst you are young, or young at heart, reflect on what you want to get out of life, what you want your obituary to say, what you want the rest of the world to say about your achievements and work towards that now.”  

This article is part of a regular Careers column offering tips and advice for provisional members of CA ANZ and younger full members. For more information on the Chartered Accountants Program, as well as inspiring stories of young chartered accountants visit now.