Management Accountant turned Strategic Marketer, Zahara Ansary ACMA, CGMA, the Country Manager for CIMA in Sri Lanka, is a highly educated corporate female with over seventeen years of work experience across Banking, Business Process Outsourcing, Telecommunication and Professional Education sectors. Her areas of expertise are business analytics, project management, finance transformation, marketing, branding and business strategy.
She has a MBA from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and is a Project Management Professional of PMI, USA, and is also a proud member of CIMA for over 14 years.
Prior to joining CIMA in 2017, Zahara has worked at Nations Trust Bank PLC, WNS Global Services and Bharti Airtel Lanka (Pvt) Ltd. In her current role as the Country Manager, she leads the business development for CIMA whilst being the face of the brand in the market.
Zahara’s mantra for success is to always think a few steps ahead. She said: “When I was younger, I was a chess player. There I learnt to always think six steps ahead. That has helped me throughout my life when making any decision – be it personal or work. It helps me understand all aspects and make the best decisions. I firmly believe in doing all that I do for the best of mankind and I aspire to do things I have never done before, as that keeps me excited about the work I do!”
Being an expert in the Education industry, Zahara stated that she believes that there’s room for improvement in the Higher Education industry in Sri Lanka. “With my exposure through the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (the unified voice of the American Institute of CPAs and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants), I have noted how globally the higher education space has evolved and is at a higher quality. This is not just in terms of content but also delivery. I am confident, with time, things will improve as more of the latest developments reach Sri Lanka through reputed global bodies like CIMA and also through our Sri Lankan talent that has migrated and would hopefully return to serve their motherland.”
Furthermore, the industry expert stated that although Sri Lanka has the lowest gap in educational attainment along with Maldives compared to the rest in the region, the investment in education is quite low.
“Compared to the rest, our literacy rates are relatively high. Whilst all countries in South Asia recognise education as a fundamental right, Sri Lanka declared education as a fundamental right in the 1940s, even before independence and as the first in the region. Thanks to the free education system in place, and the emphasis placed on education as a nation – we are far better than any of our neighboring countries. However, we should compare ourselves with the West and the emerging countries of wider Asia as we should look at becoming the best in the world rather than simply compare with our geographical neighbours. This is important as there is a close relationship between education and development of a nation.”
“Sri Lanka is also fortunate to have many private players who have stepped in to meet the demand for quality education. This whilst good, has also resulted in an indiscriminate mushrooming of unregulated private schools and higher education institutes, which the regulators need to monitor and act on.”
“Overall, the Sri Lankan education system since independence in 1948 has been widely acknowledged as a success story compared to other developing countries. A few years ago, when English medium teaching was introduced to the schools – this was welcomed with mixed emotions. But it has set to increase equality which until then distinguished the economically advantaged English-speaking urban population from the under-educated and economically distressed rural population.”
“In the new world we live in where online learning is the norm, equality of education is also impacted by access to infrastructure and connectivity. Whilst data charges are quite low in Sri Lanka compared to the region, we still have to be aware that not all our Sri Lankan students have access or resources to make the most of online learning.”
While praising the state education system in Sri Lanka, Zahara mentioned that there is still great demand for globally recognised professional qualifications as they are known to build individuals with the latest relevant skills and competencies needed for a rapidly changing world.
“As I said before, there is more room for improvement. For e.g. – if you consider Finance Transformation and Emerging Technologies, some of our University syllabuses are yet outdated and don’t include these areas. But a qualification like CIMA makes the students think beyond – they understand the latest developments and trending emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Robotic Process Automation, Data Analytics etc and then can take these to their organizations. Chartered Global Management Accountants (CGMAs) are known to transform their organizations with the thought leadership and knowledge that they get through their CIMA CPDs,” she added.
When questioned as to what the policy makers can do to address the problems faced by the industry, the Country Manager affirmed that they need to ensure that proper standards are met whilst ensuring some level of education is freely available. “If one compares the flexibility in the British Curriculum (Edexcel or Cambridge) vs. our local education – whilst it’s comprehensive I see a lot of parents complaining that our students are unnecessarily burdened and rote learning / regurgitating what was taught at school must stop. Students have to become more practical in what they study. It’s a long way to go but having seen some of the presentations by the Director of the National Institute of Education, I am certain we can get there in a few years’ time. However, the policy makers etc, should have the involvement of relevant resources and talent who are knowledgeable on those areas, involved in such implementations. For example, having seen how CIMA has transformed the learning space (specially with our revolutionary new product – CGMA Finance Leadership Programme – CGMA FLP), we can definitely provide assistance and suggestions to improve not just content but also delivery”
On a concluding note, Zahara stated that her vision for corporate young females is to achieve success in whatever fields they choose.
“My vision is for them to achieve great success at a young age and never feel they need to be within a predefined quota to be recognized but rather shine in whatever industry or profession they choose to follow. That they are not discounted in any way for being a woman, a wife or a mother. Though this may sound prejudiced, I can certainly say that women work better than men as they are multitaskers given the various challenges we face in our lives from younger days.”