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Making an Impact in the World through Accounting

Jun 4, 2019

I found my interest in accounting after taking my first accounting class freshman year of high school.

Following the class, I was active in Academy of Finance, NABA’s Accounting Career Awareness Program (ACAP), and the INCPAS Scholars program.

Entering college, Nailah Owens-Johnson in BarcelonaI knew exactly what I wanted my plan to be: I would have an accounting degree, obtain my CPA, go back to school earn my MBA and then become a partner in 15 years. Now as an incoming senior majoring in accounting and business analytics at Indiana University, I am almost finished with the first step of my plan.

Up until this year, everything was smooth sailing. As I began to accept that public accounting was all I wanted to do, I had an experience that transformed the future I desired. During my sophomore year in college, I was fortunate to be selected for a class in business and human rights. The eight-week class took us through the history of South Africa and concluded with a trip to Johannesburg.

"That is where I see my passions connecting. I want to help educate people on what accounting firms are doing for society and teach companies what else they can do for their communities."
The class changed my perspective on everything. Each class I found myself more passionate about human rights, ending discrimination and how businesses can help society. As the class continued, I began to question if accounting was the path I should take. I asked myself if I could make an impact on the world with a career in accounting. The thoughts persisted, but when I was in South Africa seeing first-hand the importance of human rights, I knew I strived to do more.

As a business student, I grew tired of hearing how many businesses focused on making profits rather than helping communities. After talking with several South African companies, along with researching the big four accounting firms, I learned more about the impact businesses are starting to make in their communities.

There has been an increasing need for sustainability accountants. Sustainability accounting is very different from traditional accounting. It requires measurement of nonfinancial performance such a greenhouse gas, water footprint or labor conditions. Once these are calculated they can be transformed into financial terms so businesses can see the costs and the benefits as well, to improve sustainability measures. Sustainability reporting requires accountants, activists and regulators to work together to set environmental standards and discover the best methods to report for the usage of natural resources and their costs. These career opportunities are growing as more students like me have the desire to make a difference in the world.

That is where I see my passions connecting. I want to help educate people on what accounting firms are doing for society and teach companies what else they can do for their communities. Many accounting firms have groups that discuss and implement projects regarding corporate responsibility. I aspire to be a part of these groups, while also volunteering at organizations that ensure everyone is given the rights they deserve as a human. As I finish my junior year and my time studying abroad in Spain, I’m starting to look more into these careers and companies with these initiatives.

Nailah Owens-Johnson in TangierEventually I would like to start my own organization. Using my financial background and accounting degree, I plan to create an organization that helps small businesses and low-income families with their finances, such as filing tax returns, creating budgets to ensure future success and saving and finding funds for college. My hope is to create more opportunities for those less fortunate by sharing my financial wisdom.

We are all human and no matter where you come from, we all have one earth to take care of. Often people may think they are only one person and can’t make an impact, but if each of us changes that mindset we have the power to change the world.

Many people do not look at an accounting degree as an opportunity to make a difference in the world, but after learning more about how business and human rights can work together, and knowing my passion for helping others, I look forward to using my love for accounting to change that perspective.


Nailah studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain this semester. She shares more about her experience and how she learned to connect her passion for community service with her business background.

Why did you choose Barcelona to study abroad?

A number of reasons: To begin, I’ve studied Spanish since junior high, and I knew living in Barcelona would help me improve my skills. Barcelona has so much to offer, from delicious food to many museums — it’s a city with a lot of culture! I also dreamed of traveling around Europe and Barcelona is a prime centralized location to do that. I have been able to visit so many incredible places outside of Barcelona: Milan, Budapest, Dublin, Birmingham, Amsterdam, Morocco, Gibraltar, Nice, Valencia, Tarragona, Madrid and Seville.

Nailah Owens Johnson in MontserratWhat are you studying while you're there?

I am taking five classes abroad. Three are for my degree — International Team Management, Ethics and Branding in Spain. I also am taking a required Spanish class. My favorite class is a sustainability and corporate social responsibility course I decided to take for fun to learn more about a topic I’m passionate about.

What is the most memorable experience you've had during your study abroad trip so far?

One of my goals while abroad was to take a solo trip. I went on a day trip to Madrid and absolutely loved it! I was able to be independent, learn my way through the city and experience the culture. I learned more about myself and did everything I wanted on my own schedule. It was a trip I’ll never forget and has inspired me to take more solo trips in the future.

How has your study abroad experience impacted your plans for your professional future?

Studying abroad has strengthened my passion for traveling and trying new things. I definitely am looking for work experience where I’ll get the opportunity to work abroad. In addition, my sustainability and ethics class has made me think more about the impact I am making on the world. I want to make sure wherever I work shares my values.

How can CPAs impact society and help communities?

CPAs are typically well educated and connected with a large network. The biggest impact they can make is with their voice. The world needs more companies that can embody sustainability throughout their core business practice. CPAs can encourage their companies and clients to lead more initiatives to increase sustainability because the benefits of saving the environment will heavily outweigh the costs. There will be no business anywhere without Earth and its natural resources.



INCPAS Scholars is an award-winning, free program that encourages students to consider becoming a CPA. The only program of its kind, INCPAS Scholars introduces students to the profession by pairing them with practicing CPAs, touring CPA firms and businesses that employ CPAs, and participating in events to immerse them in the profession. Support the Scholars.

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