Dr. Nola Buhr presented with the U of S 2011 Award for Distinction in Outreach and Engagement
Release Date : October 25, 2011
Dr. Nola Buhr, Accounting Professor and PotashCorp Enhancement Chair for Saskatchewan Enterprise, was presented with the University of Saskatchewan’s 2011 Award for Distinction in Outreach and Engagement at yesterday’s Fall Convocation.
Buhr has been volunteering extensively with the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA) since 1991, but began her current path of outreach in 2003. “I took on a volunteer position with the Public Sector Accounting Board which sets standards for all governments in Canada,” she says. When then-Auditor General Sheila Fraser was Chair of the Board in 2005, the two connected on concerns about First Nations and accountability.
“The next thing I knew, I was asked to be the researcher for the CICA Study Group doing a study on financial reporting by First Nations,” she remembers. The Study Group looked at the various standards of accounting used in Canada and examined whether or not government standards were most suitable for First Nations. “They had no explicit guidance so financial statements were being prepared using all sorts of standards. Anyone who wanted to use the information, whether it was the Government of Canada or a member of the First Nations community, wasn’t sure what the standards were for reporting.”
When Financial Reporting by First Nations was published in 2008, it laid the groundwork for giving guidance on appropriate reporting standards. “Uniformity ensures users know what they’re getting from a set of financial statements from a First Nation. They’re more understandable because there’s a single set of principles guiding them,” Buhr explains. “Uniform standards help in a number of ways. If the First Nation is doing well financially, it will mean a lower cost of loans and more flexibility in terms of government funding.”
Standard and transparent financial statements have further benefits to First Nations communities. “It is also a tool to help the community members understand what their elected leadership has done and to hold their elected leadership accountable. That presumes that members have knowledge of accounting, which not all of them do. So it’s a start.”
During her work with the Study Group, Buhr met then-President & Chief Operating Officer of the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association (AFOA), Ernie Daniels, who was a member of the Group. “I got to know and admire the organization a great deal,” she says. “The AFOA provides training to financial managers of First Nations communities and has a professional designation known as the Certified Aboriginal Financial Manager (CAFM).”
This led to another of Buhr’s recent major achievements – facilitating the signing of an Articulation Agreement between AFOA and the Edwards School of Business. “It’s important both for the school and the AFOA,” she explains. “From the school’s point of view, it demonstrates that we are actively seeking to recruit and retain Aboriginal students. From AFOA’s perspective, it’s saying ‘the CAFM is a quality program. It’s recognized by a well-known university and a well-known business school and we have a partnership to further develop the education of Aboriginal financial managers.’”
According to the agreement, students who complete the AFOA certification will be admitted to the Edwards B.Comm. program with advanced standing. “It gives substantial advancement toward a degree,” says Buhr.
She became so impressed with the AFOA that, in her role as PotashCorp Enhancement Chair for Saskatchewan Enterprise, Buhr has turned her outreach and engagement work into a research project.
“My goal is to learn best practices about how we can build organizations that are good for capacity building for First Nations communities and Aboriginal people, in general,” she says, and has already begun interviewing those who were instrumental in building AFOA BC and AFOA Canada.
Buhr continues her outreach in other related areas, having joined the external audit committee for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada in 2009. “We provide advice to the Deputy Minister on internal audits, accountability and control systems and that very much relates to the relationship the federal government has with First Nations communities.”
She is pleased with having won the award but says her work is more about giving back. “I’m flattered,” she says. “It’s wonderful, but it’s not about getting the award. It’s about doing what’s important and giving back to the community. And when I say community, I’m talking about Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, First Nations communities, the federal government and the professional accounting community. There’s a whole variety of communities.”