Thoko Kuwali: First female president for internal auditors

Thokozile Kuwali was not as fortunate as other girls in her class who were selected to secondary school and this broke her heart.

Her parents could not afford to send her to a private school as her father was retired at that point. Instead, she was sent to a distant learning school in Luchenza where she worked hard and got selected to Thyolo Secondary School after her Junior Certificate of Education (JCE) examinations.

From Thyolo Secondary School, she was selected to pursue a Bachelor of Commerce (Accountancy) at the University of Malawi. Kuwali has the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), Certified Financial Systems Auditor (CFSA) and Certified Risk Management Assurance (CRMA). She is also a Chartered Accountant (FCCA) and has a Master’s degree in Banking and Finance from Moi University in Kenya.

As a woman, Kuwali says she has gone through a lot of challenges both socially and spiritually, but none of these stood in the way of achieving her dreams. She has worked as chief audit officer for the Opportunity Bank of Malawi (OBM) and is the first female president of the Institute of Internal Auditors in Malawi (IIAM). Currently, she is head of internal audit at NBS.

She says the journey to becoming an auditor has been both exciting and challenging, but her passion towards excellence in the profession urges her to carry on.

Dubbing her journey in internal auditing as ‘her story on the audit trail’, it all started way back when Kuwali worked as an accounts assistant.

“I wasn’t satisfied with what I was doing then because my desire was to contribute where my impact to the world would be felt the most. Changing careers in the organisation I was working was not automatic and I thought my contribution to the country would end in accounting.

“By God’s grace, the change came through a restructuring process that saw me being transferred to the internal audit department. I was awakened to the reality when I joined the profession I never liked – auditing,” she explains.

With all the experience she has amassed over the years and as a way of giving back to society, the confident and down to earth mother of two teaches auditing at the Malawi Polytechnic’s Management Development Centre. She is also a trustee of the Visual Hearing Association Membership (Vihema).

Kuwali considers internal auditing a career that helps one grow in soft skills. Over the years, her communication and negotiation skills have widened because of daily interactions with clients.

“It is a job I do with passion because the output is eminent when you see governance, risk management and control processes improving in an organisation. To some extent, it has also helped me manage my risks in a timely and proactive manner.

“Internal audit gives an opportunity for one to understand the whole organisation. It gives satisfaction to have reviewed and added value to the organisation’s control environment for efficient and effective achievement of goals and strategies,” says Kuwali.

The internal audit profession is a male dominated field not only in Malawi, but to a certain extent also in the sub Saharan region, she notes. But that is not her biggest challenge.

“The challenge is the perception that clients have on internal auditors; they are mostly viewed as witch hunters and not partners in development. Luckily, this is gradually changing and auditors are now viewed as trusted advisers.

“Female or male auditors act the same way; what matters most is the competence one has on the job which is gender neutral. In essence, male auditors are active counterparts in the process and make the internal audit work easier,” Kuwali observes.

With no woman having held the IIAM presidency, she confesses that it never occurred she would vie for the position.

As such Kuwali says she is greatly honoured to be entrusted with such a high position in the profession while taking it as an opportunity to raise the profile of all women, not only in the profession, but the country.

“This also acts as an inspiration for girls out there, that if we can make it, they, too, can and should also strive to do likewise,” says Kuwali.

To the young girl out there she says: “Dream big and follow your dreams. Be passionate about what you have chosen to do if you are to stand out and be counted. Always have a positive attitude to life for this will stimulate creativity. Learn from your failures because lessons of life are drawn from such experiences. When you fail or fall, dust yourself and go for your plan B, for there is, yet, plans C to Z to be exhausted.”

Born in 1975 at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre, the IIAM president admits it has never been easy to balance family and work.

“My work involves a lot of travelling at times, but I have two beautiful children Tusa and Omba Juanita who are very understanding and enduring. With all the professional certifications I have attained [and am still studying], they leave me to study while they play their games.

“Sometimes I take them along to study so that they see the benefit. Whenever I write an article or I am preparing for a presentation, I engage them so they feel part of it. This approach has made my work easier because by the end of the day, they are part of my achievements and we win as a team,” she says.

Kuwali adds that she also enjoys hanging out and seeing places with her children, as it gives her comfort that the time lost for them while studying or working in the field would be compensated.

IIAM is an affiliate professional body of the Institute of Internal Auditors Global, aimed at enhancing and protecting organisational value by providing risk-based and objective assurance, advice, and insights.

As the person at the helm, the president is set to raise the bar of the profession to what she calls ‘public, but exclusive good,’ to simply mean a profession offering high quality services for all.

“I want to look into the issues of professionalism and capacity of our internal auditors so that their value addition to organisations is felt and appreciated. All stakeholders should know what we do and marvel whenever they see controls, risk management and governance processes improve because internal auditors are providing insights,” she says.

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