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W&L Accounting Major Gains Valuable Consulting Experience in Copenhagen

Bailey Ewing ’15 will be the first to tell you that she’s a huge fan of structure. So it wasn’t a big surprise when the Dallas, Texas native took her first accounting class with Professor Afshad Irani and fell in love with the discipline.

“Everyone makes fun of me for saying that I fell in love with accounting, but it’s true,” said Ewing.

Ewing declared a major in accounting and business administration and started exploring a career in audit. But in the back of her mind, she hoped she’d find a way to combine business with an ongoing interest in the non-profit world.

When Professor Elizabeth Oliver told Ewing about a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practicum course she was co-teaching with Professor Rob Straughan in Copenhagen, Denmark over spring term, Ewing jumped at the chance to participate. One aspect of corporate social responsibility relates to how businesses engage in philanthropy. Some businesses give money or in-kind donations to local, national or international non-profits but, increasingly, businesses and non-profits want to find ways to build long-term relationships with one another.

Oliver and Straughan recruited a class of 18 students, and ran the four-week class like a consultancy, dividing students into teams of four or five students and assigning each team to a Danish company with a unique problem.

When the class arrived in Copenhagen, Oliver and Straughan took their students to meet Anne Mette Christiansen, an expert in corporate social responsibility who heads up Deloitte’s sustainability practice in Denmark and Greenland. Christiansen teaches at Copenhagen Business School and spent a semester teaching at Washington and Lee University in 2009 as the Robert A. Mosbacher Visiting Scholar in Business Administration. She was instrumental in getting the corporate social responsibility class off the ground, and for the past several years, she’s maintained her W&L ties by mentoring CSR students in Denmark.

Ewing was assigned to work on a project for one of Deloitte’s clients, the Danish Red Cross. The Danish Red Cross, along with many other non-profits in Denmark, doesn’t track the value of its in-kind donations on financial statements. Because the Danish government awards monetary support to non-profits, it’s important for non-profits to not only demonstrate value to the community but also a high level of public support. Big public support increases the chances that the Danish government will match that support with additional money. Tracking in-kind donations would certainly elevate the reported charitable giving of the Red Cross and other non-profits but at what cost?

“In theory, it would be nice if they reported their in-kind gifts but the cost of doing so, both in man hours and in knowledge, is huge—especially for smaller non-profits,” said Ewing.

Ewing and her team recommended implementing a reporting system comparable to the structure used in the United States, where corporations can receive tax deductions for tracking their in-kind gifts and non-profits can rely on those numbers in their own reporting. For the Danish government, their recommendation provides a challenge—namely, lost tax revenue. To justify their recommendations, they published a series of posts about their project on the class’ blog, and wrote an article, “Why Valuing In-Kind Donations Matters,” which will appear in a Danish online magazine, CSR.dk.

When the practicum ended in mid-May, Ewing wasn’t done with Denmark or Deloitte. She stayed on in Deloitte’s Copenhagen office for six weeks, completing a consulting internship—also with the Danish Red Cross—that Christiansen had helped broker.

As an accounting and business administration major, Ewing was glad to get the experience in strategic consulting, particularly in an international environment where there were so many unknowns.

“For someone like me, who likes a lot of structure and clear-cut answers, the experience really challenged me. With consulting, a company is trusting you to do the research, to become an expert on something that you may not have known much about beforehand, and to come back with the best answer,” said Ewing. “It was the same with the Corporate Social Responsibility class. Our professors gave us guidance but they expected us to do rest.”