‘Professional qualifications vital to climb the social ladder’ | Sunday Observer

‘Professional qualifications vital to climb the social ladder’

Chairperson, CIMA Sri Lanka Country Network and Head Strategic Business Development, Hayleys Group, Manohari Abeyesekera
Chairperson, CIMA Sri Lanka Country Network and Head Strategic Business Development, Hayleys Group, Manohari Abeyesekera

Professional education has become a gateway to climb the social ladder and CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) qualifications provide wide access not only within the country but globally as well.

Aspiring qualified young people have the opportunity to progress in their career and the Institute looks forward to provide continuous development for its members through a tie-up with a foreign university, Chairperson CIMA Sri Lanka Country Network and Head Strategic Business Development, Hayleys Group, Manohari Abeyesekera said.

“We are focused on social values and integrity which we strive to make as a part of our members. They are not only willing to contribute to improve the standards of the public sector, but also available to part with their knowledge to drive the growth of the country,” she said in an interview with Business Observer.

However, she said that we need to be united in developing the country and professionals have a bigger role to play.

Excerpts:

Q. What is your role as the Chairperson, CIMA Sri Lanka Country Network Panel?

A. This year is special for CIMA as it celebrates its centenary providing a global management accountancy qualification which is recognised worldwide. I am honoured to represent CIMA Sri Lanka which has a membership of around 5,000 Management Accountants and 1,600 CIMA Sri Lanka members are working overseas.

Sri Lanka has contributed significantly to CIMA’s growth, being the second largest market outside the UK. Next month, Amal Ratnayake, a Sri Lankan-born Canadian Citizen will take up the reins as the CIMA Global President.

The Country Network Panel contributes to elevate the CIMA brand in the minds of stakeholders, profiling the brand amongst the corporate, students and parents. The Country Network Panel is responsible for taking initiatives for Member Development through Continuous Professional Development, organising Networking events for Members, Interacting with Corporates , and taking steps to develop our students, soliciting internship opportunities and mentoring.

Q. What are your plans during your term of office?

A.CIMA launched its centenary celebrations in the beginning of this year together with 20 to 25 leading corporate partners. Among the planned activities are our flagship event, the CIMA business leaders’ summit, launch of a coffee table book, recognize CIMA members who have contributed to the development of our country. CIMA is also looking at promoting entrepreneurship, developing financial and management skills. Whilst stressing on the need of continuous professional development, CIMA also places high emphasis on adherence to ethics and upholding integrity and honesty in our profession. I also think with CIMA’s network we could partner with leading universities to provide executive education to enable continuous career development for our members – especially in areas of leadership, negotiation skills and emotional intelligence.

Q. What areas would be in your priority list?

A. As mentioned before, it is the continuous professional development for our members would be a priority. I am passionate about learning and it is the case with most of our members, where we need to be on par with the rapid changing business world. We need to look at new avenues for our members – going beyond the traditional accounting space, embracing the digital technology. It is important to grow on this space.

Q. What is your opinion of the CIMA Sri Lanka education sector?

A. I believe having a CIMA qualification gives you a good foundation to work in the corporate arena, its provides an overall qualification, not mere number crunching accountants, but adding value to corporate’s strategy and decision making are management accountants.

Our qualifications are based on case study methodology which tests a student’s skills in practical situations. Most of our CIMA qualified members are adding value in the Public and Corporate sector going beyond financial boundaries, and reached the pinnacle of their careers by becoming CEOs. They contribute immensely to the corporate leadership in Sri Lanka.

Q. How do you rate the contribution by CIMA qualified people to the economy?

A. We do not have exact statistics. However, it is safe to say that around 20-25 percent of the Sri Lanka’s CEOs comprises CIMA members. We also have our members working overseas, mostly in countries like Australia. CIMA Accountants have a vital role to play in positioning Sri Lanka as a financial accounting hub. With the development of the Colombo International Financial City Centre, CIMA members would have a vital role to play.

Q. What more can they do in the future?

A. We are looking at avenues where CIMA could partner with a foreign educational institute to have a series of continuous professional development courses to our members. CIMA has a role to play with the government and trade chambers by proactively taking steps to develop the country.

Our members are willing to contribute to the public sector to uplift its standards on a voluntary basis. For the country’s development it is necessary to have public private partnerships. This could be done through the government, educational institutions and the private sector to drive our country’s growth.

Q. How do you plan to bring out the leadership qualities/skills of women in the sector?

A. At the time, I graduated – almost 19 years ago, Accountancy was a male dominated profession. Today, it is very different, where we see a healthy trend of female participation in the accountancy sphere.

However, what is worrying, is that many females leave their profession, in the middle of their careers, particularly after they get married and have children. This is due to the lack of a support system. We urge the Government to amend the labour regulations, provide flexible working hours and create crèches / day care centres enabling young mothers to work and contribute to the country’s economy.

The female representation at the board level of listed companies at the Colombo Stock Exchange is only 8%. We are lobbying with the authorities to bring in legislature to have diversity in corporate boards, at least initially to have a quota system. It is noted that women would bring a different dimension for Board’s decisions - especially empathy. Sri Lanka also lacks female representation even at the Parliament. This is a sad situation, where there need to be initiatives to encourage female participation in the Parliament. We need to go beyond party politics and work for national development.

Q. How should CIMA education be changed with the changing economic goals in the future?

A. All our exams are conducted online. CIMA has been proactive in changing the syllabus which is change often to suit evolving educational needs. CIMA is one of the first institutions to have online exams. It aims at producing a global management accountant who is business and IT savvy. Our members are in demand globally, as an international qualification which is considered as a passport to work abroad.

Q. What are the issues/challenges you see at the corporate sector as far as the education/ work mismatch is concerned?

A. I do not see a big mis-match at present as measures have been taken to address this issue. Our graduates are talented. Most universities have schemes where the third year students need to work at the corporate offices to get exposure to corporate environment.

The areas of improvement would be soft skills, communication – fluency in English - both oral and written skills and presentation skills.

The universities have now set up their own Toastmasters clubs to improve these soft skills among the undergraduates. However, I see brain drain as a bigger challenge now we are faced with. Initiatives need to be taken to encourage professionals to return to Sri Lanka for short spells of period and share their knowledge with universities.

Q. Can CIMA education be more affordable?

A. CIMA education is bit expensive. When the rupee depreciate there is a negative impact on the examination fees. However, CIMA has partnered with banks, with easy payment scheme for students who need this facility.

Q. What message do you have for CIMA qualified young Sri Lankans?

A. As CIMA professionals, we should not compromise on our values. Honesty and integrity is paramount in a financial profession. They also should have a need for continuous professional development.

Adhering to ethics and continuous professional development is a must to become good corporate leaders. Networking is also very important, and it will create a brand for yourself. The people would recognise you for the contribution you have made to the society, going beyond the mere titles. One should always have a dream and pursue his/her goals and aspirations. .

Q. What is your next step in your career and professional life?

A. I might take on a new responsibility within the Hayleys Group. One needs to seize whatever opportunity that comes in your way and never say no.

Q. At a difficult time like today, what would be the role of professionals in the country?

A.We are willing to contribute at this time as always in whatever form in the recovery process. We are willing to help the country to put back on the track. We appeal to the politicians to put a side party politics and drive the country forward having a National Agenda in mind.

The negativity that prevailed after the attacks should be overcome. All religious leaders and the politicians should have one single stand and not send mixed signals to the people. We need to take this disaster as a turning point to rise above our differences. We may have a financial dip in this year’s economy. However, I am positive that we will bounce back soon. If we divide we will fall. This is a beautiful country and all Sri Lankans have a role to play in taking the country forward.

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