Member Profile: Tangible Benefits: Jennifer Tokarek, CA, Shares Her Experience as a Corporate Volunteer in Chile
Beyond Numbers · February 2009
By Michelle McRae, Editor
Jennifer Tokarek, CA, says she has found a whole new meaning to the term “international tax.” The senior manager with Ernst & Young in Vancouver recently returned from a three-month assignment in Chile, where she provided local and international tax advice to a high-impact entrepreneurial venture, free of charge.
“You would think it would be difficult to transfer your tax skills to another country,” Jennifer says, “but it’s incredible how your experience and training kick in and your instincts lead the way.”
Her trip was part of Ernst & Young’s Corporate Responsibility Fellows program, currently in its fourth year of operation.
“Communities around the world share the same goals of building businesses, creating jobs, and operating successfully in the marketplace, but some lack access to the networks and capital that would enable them to reap the rewards of the global marketplace,” Jennifer says. “This program was designed to bridge that gap.”
The “Fellows” are matched up with local-area entrepreneurs in Central and South America based on their specific skill sets, then work on three-month assignments designed to improve the integrity and effectiveness of the local entrepreneurs’ key business processes.
“I was always interested in the program, but it was difficult to get time away from my regular work, due to the ongoing tax needs of our clients,” Jennifer says. “But I realized this year that it was now or never. I talked with my clients and colleagues about my desire to apply for the program, and they were all very supportive and encouraging, so I did it.”
She was selected as one of ten practitioners from North America, and became the first Fellow ever chosen from Western Canada.
“I can’t express my gratitude enough for being given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Jennifer, whose assignment took her to Santiago, Chile.
While there, Jennifer collaborated with Endeavor, a worldwide, not-for-profit organization that matches entrepreneurs with business mentors. Endeavor provides assistance to high-impact entrepreneurs who have the ability to make a difference in their communities but lack access to the professional resources needed to take them to the next level. Once these entrepreneurs become large players in the marketplace, they, in turn, donate a percentage of their profits back to Endeavor.
“Endeavor provided me with on-the-ground support throughout my stay in Santiago,” Jennifer recounts. “They also co-ordinated dinners with other Endeavor volunteers, and provided us with a tremendous social network in Chile.”
Endeavor paired Jennifer with Trabajando.com, a Chile-based HR firm that works to reduce the problem of “brain drain” in South America.
“The success of Trabajando.com over its rivals in the industry is due to its alliances with universities in Chile,” she says. “It has specific technology that matches new grads and alumni with local employers. This gives them access to better career opportunities and prosperity in South America, thereby reducing the likelihood that they will move overseas or to North America for work.”
The company had been given a mandate to expand into Peru, Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil.
“My challenges were to develop an international tax strategy for Trabajando.com, and work on a complex corporate reorganization under Chilean tax law with the help of my tax colleagues at Ernst & Young Chile,” Jennifer explains.
Through diligent research, the team realized that significant savings opportunities would be available to Trabajando.com through a reorganization of the company’s tax plan.
“This potential tax-planning opportunity was well beyond the scope of my tax assignments for Trabajando.com,” she admits. “However, because of its significance, I knew the idea had to be presented, and my Chilean tax colleagues supported my efforts. The entrepreneurs said they were shocked by the high quality of service we provided, because they knew this type of tax consulting was not something they could yet
Says Francisco González, chief of planning and management at Trabajando.com: “Our experience included lots of learning and planning for the expansion of our international operations. Knowing the strategy used in each country and seeing the best tax alternative was of great importance for the company. We hope to implement many of the proposals made by Jennifer.”
Mauro Moretti de Moras, one of the company’s board members, echoes these sentiments.
“It has been a tremendous privilege to have Jennifer working with us. She and her team, have really made an impact on the way the company is being structured.”
The experience was beneficial for both parties, says Jennifer.
“It was rewarding to see the tangible benefits of the work I was doing in Chile, and the international tax knowledge I gained will undoubtedly benefit me and my clients in the future,” she explains. “And it was also rewarding to see a change in myself. I gained confidence, knowing that I can adapt and grow. I also think the experience has made me more compassionate, and has enhanced my strengths in working with people.”
Now that she’s back home, Jennifer is eager to spread the word about the Corporate Responsibility Fellows program.
“I am so proud of the great work we are doing,” she says. “This experience is one that will stay with me forever.”