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Introducing our inaugural 2020 Xero Forward Fund scholarship winners

Ben Richmond

Jul 14, 2020

At Xero, we’re passionate about helping the accounting community address today’s challenges and take steps to build the future. Today, we announced the first winners of our inaugural Xero Forward Fund scholarship in the United States, recognizing three outstanding college students who are pursuing accounting careers. 

We’re thrilled to introduce you to Jinhua Johnson, Brody Mandelbaum and Mwaka Namfukwe, all who bring unique backgrounds, perspectives and skills that will help influence the future of accounting.

Jinhua Johnson

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m a first generation college student from a small village in central China and I immigrated to the United States in 2010. I just finished a four-year accounting program at Bellevue College, and will start a Masters of Science in Taxation at the University of Washington in the fall. 

I have two kids, ages 3 and 6, and a new puppy named Popcorn. And I speak three languages – English, Mandarin and Tujia (Chinese dialect). 

What led you to accounting?

I was encouraged to pursue accounting because of my strong math skills. Accounting comes naturally to me and I really enjoy it.

I volunteered as a tax preparer for the United Way, and that prompted me to look at my family’s CPA-prepared tax returns. Imagine my surprise when I discovered errors in those returns. I worked with the CPA to file a tax amendment, and my family received an additional $5K refund. That was definitely a thrilling moment and motivation for me to continue my accounting path. 

What’s been your number one quarantine activity?

Playing with my two children and Popcorn.

Hanging out with my dog Popcorn near North Bend, Washington 

What’s been your biggest quarantine challenge?

Juggling my classes and my children.

How do you want to influence the accounting profession?

I strongly believe the future of accounting will be virtual, sustainable and technology-based. Clients don’t just need someone to help them fill out forms. They want a real partner and advisor who can speak their language and support their growing businesses.

Simultaneously, we need to create a sustainable society for future generations. Businesses need to continue this trend into the future to stay competitive. We need modern technology to make accounting less complicated, and more universal.

Do you have any advice for future accountants?

Volunteer for charities, United Way, or other organizations. It’s a great way to help your community and get to know yourself.


Brody Mandelbaum

Tell us a bit about yourself

I currently live in Fernandina Beach, Florida and I have just finished my freshman year at the University of Florida. I really love to travel and I’ve been to 48 states and 11 of the Canadian provinces/territories. Along with that, I also lived in Merida, Mexico with a host family for six weeks last summer. 

What led you to accounting?

As a child, I had pretty bad dyslexia and my family would give me magazines to read. Over time, I started gravitating towards magazines like Bloomberg Businessweek, and was nine years old when I picked up my first copy. What I thought was just one of my grandfather’s ‘finance journals’ was so much more. As I flipped through the pages, I saw the world in all its intensity and everyone spoke one language: accounting. 

From a young age, I knew I enjoyed the idea of markets. I remember scraping together money in middle school to start investing, and now I’m involved in the Gator Student Investment Fund at the University of Florida. Pursuing a finance degree will help me find a career where I can combine two of my passions: finding value and finding opportunities to create value. 

What’s been your number one quarantine activity?

I’ve been reading a lot of books and re-discovered my interest in cooking. Some of the things I have made recently include soup dumplings and crepes. 

What’s been your best purchase during quarantine?

I usually sleep through my alarm, so I purchased this wearable called Pavlok that shocks you to wake up in the morning. 

For students who want to pursue a career in accounting, what advice would you share?

I would tell them to read as much as they can. I think it’s also important to have different conversations with people in the industry so you can learn about their career paths and the day-to-day activities of their jobs. 

How do you think accounting will evolve in the future?

From adversarial countries to divided communities, commerce is a catalyst for change. With AI and algorithms driving accounting automation, running a business will be easier for everyone – small businesses and mega corporations alike.

The value of accountants will come from the unique guidance they can offer to support companies as they grow. IT powered, advisory accountants will not be disadvantaged because of these newfound changes, but stronger and more capable of advising their clients through whatever they encounter. Whether it’s finding new ways to recognize environmental externalities or understanding the tax implications of international opportunities, accountants will be needed more than they ever have been. In a world where accounting is the language, accountants are the translators.

Traveling near a small beach town called Rio Lagartos in the Yucatan Peninsula.


Mwaka Namfukwe

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m the youngest of five girls and originally from Zambia. We moved to Michigan when I was five years old. I love being outdoors and recently learned to wake surf.

What led you to accounting?

Growing up, I didn’t think going to college would be a possibility. I initially wanted to be a physician. I took some classes, did the clinical rotations, then decided it wasn’t for me. Then I decided to try engineering. That didn’t work out either. 

One of my sisters told me about a great accounting professor she had and encouraged me to take his class. I took the class, everything clicked, and I haven’t looked back. 

I’ve always dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur and starting my own small business. Accounting is essential to the success of any business, and I’m pursuing an accounting degree because I want to ensure my future business thrives, and help other people’s future businesses thrive. 

What’s been your number one quarantine activity?

Watching YouTube videos on skin care and DIY projects. My sisters and I have been experimenting a lot these past few months.

Wake surfing on White Lake in Michigan

Do you have any advice for students pursuing an accounting career?

I would tell people to not limit themselves. I always thought of accounting as number crunching, but it’s what you make of it. You can take your career as far as you want and be as creative as you want, and accounting gives you the ability to do that. 

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years, I hope to have extensive accounting experience in tax and also know what type of small business I want to start. I hope I’ve also had many different accounting experiences so I have a better picture of what I want to focus on and can actively pursue that field. I also hope that I’m more well traveled. 

How do you think accounting will evolve in the future?

I think accounting will change in the future mostly with the technology that’s being used as accountants find ways to incorporate other disciplines into accounting. This will make the more routine parts of accounting automated, so accountants can focus on creative problem solving and improving business practices. Accountants will be able to broaden the demographics that they serve and that will foster more diversity to help people achieve even greater business success.

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