Trevor Williams, audit partner at Bethesda, MD-based CPAmerica International firm Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman CPAs (GRF), participated in an Exploratory Mission to Cuba in late February 2016. Trevor joined Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and a delegation of regional political representatives and leaders from business, education and media. The February 20-25 trip was sponsored by the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a DC-area nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote and facilitate the success of Hispanic and other minority-owned businesses.
“It was with great pleasure that I was invited as the first African-American partner at GRF to be a part of this delegation,” says Trevor. “I hope this opportunity will lay the groundwork for future business relationships, potential economic and cultural opportunities in Cuba and serve as a platform to learn best practices and showcase the Washington metropolitan area’s strengths in business, transportation, tourism, health, and education.”
After arriving in Havana, the delegation attended an opening reception at the residence of Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the U.S. Ambassador to Cuba. “That’s when I realized what a historic moment this was,” says Trevor. “This is my first international trip as part of such a distinguished delegation and I don’t intend for this to be my last. Such missions are important because they create business opportunities not only in the United States but abroad.”
The next several days included tours of the country as well as meetings with various Cuban leaders such as Marta Hernández Romero, Mayor of Havana, Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Roberto Morales Ojeda, Minister of Public Health and Manuel Marrero Cruz, Cuban Minister of Tourism. The primary focus of these meetings included education, health care, arts and culture, tourism and trade.
Working abroad is something GRF knows all too well. The firm has spent the last three decades working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in a range of humanitarian assistance projects, which are funded by various agencies in the US government, as well as international and multilateral institutions.
Approximately 30 to 35 percent of the firm’s work involves audit work for NGOs and approximately 50 percent of that audit work is conducted overseas. One key area of the firm’s expertise is letting donor organizations know that funds are being utilized in an agreed-upon manner and that the NGOs comply with the requirements attached to the funding awards.
The firm realized early in its existence the need to understand how clients spend donor funding in the countries in which they worked; thus, the decision to travel to international locations and see firsthand the programmatic activity as well as review the financial controls in place.
Currently, GRF has traveled to over 100 countries. “It was my job to add Cuba to the list,” says Trevor. He has since begun a discussion with a local firm that delivers an opinion on federal funding to organizations in Cuba about a potential partnership opportunity.
Besides Mayor Bowser, additional members of the delegation included DC Deputy Mayor Brian Kenner, Virginia Secretary of Commerce Maurice Jones, and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.