Inside the ICSID Secretariat - Azeb Debebe Mengistu: Finance Officer

What brought you to ICSID?

Having worked as an accountant in the corporate world for over 15 years, I wanted to be in an environment where the decisions were not all about the bottom line. I wanted to be in an environment where the focus was not always profit and where what I do in some way, or another, has a social impact.  I also wanted to work for an organization where achieving a work-life balance is feasible. The World Bank and the UN were what I had in mind, but the World Bank was the top choice because it is based in the Washington, D.C. area. Honestly, I was not familiar with ICSID until I saw the job posting, but once I understood what ICSID does (after joining) I could not have chosen a better unit if I was given the option to choose.

I love how there is almost always something new with every case registered, how it gives me a window to issues, situations, problems, and solutions—things I would never have come across otherwise. I love the wide spectrum of subject matters that come across our desks every day, the unique ways ICSID is positioned to deal with these issues, the processes that are not necessarily financial but that still require my attention.

What is your role at ICSID and what does a typical day look like?

I am the Financial Officer at ICSID and my role, as part of the finance team, is making sure that the Centre’s and case-related finances are accounted for in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles (i.e., ‘The GAAP’) and World Bank rules.

Azeb and Walter
Azeb consults with Walter Meza-Cuadra, financial analyst at ICSID.

My typical day begins with what I call ‘putting out fires’ which basically is going through my inbox and dealing with those emails that require urgent action, such as fund identification, fund assignment clarification, and answering questions from counsel on case-related matters.

Next, I move to items with deadlines approaching and take the necessary action, then go through tasks that require my approval to go to the next stage in the workflow, review trust funds and move funds as necessary, meet with IT colleagues, prepare case financials for cases being concluded, update our IT systems with finance related items such as trust fund numbers, arbitrator rates, etc.  I also regularly review ICSID’s budget as most items are actioned by the World Bank’s general services department. At the end of each period, I review all financial transactions processed during the period and make sure they are accurate and posted to the correct cost-line item. I also ensure that all transactions that need to be captured in the period are done before the third working day of the following month.

At the end of each year, I am responsible for making sure the Centre’s financial transactions are correctly captured and reported in accordance the GAAP for external audit and assist the auditors in their review.

How is financial management different at ICSID compared to other placed you have worked?

Financial management is planning, organizing, and controlling all transactions in an organization so that resources are utilized efficiently.

In addition, at ICSID there are two avenues of financial transactions, that of ICSID’s operational budget and that of the finances of cases administered by ICSID, which are separate and exist in their own chart of accounts.  These two avenues do intersect, and it is important to always make sure that when they do, it is closely supervised and accounted for. It is also important to always remember that it all happens within the rules and regulations of the World Bank Group. All this, however, makes the job all the more interesting. It took me a while to understand and accept why some things have to be done in such a way that they are not in the corporate world. There are more layers to the processes and the need to constantly balance the requirements of the World Bank, GAAP and ICSID.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I love running, which I have not done of late and hope to get back into again. I enjoy playing tennis whenever I get the chance.  Other than that, I love spending time with my four-legged son Heron, family, and friends. I also do some crafts like sewing, making soaps and candles, and restoring furniture.

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