‘CIMA and our Association are part of the solution to the inequality conundrum.’
We live in an unequal world. A world where the ability to jump barriers to educational or financial success can depend on where you happen to be born. On average it takes two generations for people born in low-income families to reach average income levels in Denmark, and three generations in Norway, Finland, and Sweden, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In the UK it's five generations. In France, the move takes around six generations on average — the same for Chile and Germany, and it's seven generations for people in China and India. In South Africa, nine generations is the average, but in Colombia it will take 11 generations — or more than 200 years — to reach that point.
Social inclusion and mobility are concerns close to my heart, and I recently spoke at an event on this in London. The CIMA qualification I achieved has taken me to three continents; it has also helped me navigate the corporate world. But along the way I have faced barriers — and sometimes they have been unexpected. When I moved from Saudi Arabia to Canada and was looking for work, the question always on recruiters' lips was, "Do you have Canadian experience?" Of course I did not, and during that difficult period I was kept buoyant by being part of the global CIMA family — the bonds that come built into the ACMA or FCMA, and CGMA letters that follow our members' names.
I believe education is a great equaliser: CIMA and our Association are part of the solution to the inequality conundrum. I also firmly believe that the Association's purpose — to drive trust, opportunity, and prosperity — has a particular resonance here.
At the CGMA Africa Conference in Cape Town in September, we heard about the challenges facing the continent's education systems. I had a personal interest here, as part of my schooling was in Nigeria. According to UNESCO statistics, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of children excluded from education across the world. Of those aged 6—11, more than 20% are not in school. The portion rises to 37% for those aged 12—14 and 58% for those aged 15—18.
Education, though, is not the only challenge in Africa. Despite great progress — consumer spending has grown at a compound rate of 3.9% since 2010 and is estimated by the Brookings Institution to reach $2.5 trillion by 2030 — there are several macroeconomic risks to be faced.
The chief economist for Africa at the World Bank, Albert Zeufack, Ph.D., speaking earlier this year at the World Economic Forum on Africa, said growing world trade tensions, continuing volatility in commodity prices, and debt were high risks for African countries. He also identified "the challenge of inclusion", which would be solved by jobs and opportunities — and sound fiscal policies.
In Sri Lanka, where I spent the early part of my life, there is a much-repeated saying: "CIMA changes people's lives." And it does. You can see how our students from poorer backgrounds progress from one income group to another as their careers flourish. Often, they support extended families; they may also be the only one from those families to have a managerial role.
As we prepare our members and students to thrive in the digital workplace, we are also dismantling the barriers that prevent access to our profession — by enabling non-university entry routes and removing exemption fees for students who have already studied accounting, for example. It means we can create a profession that has the best people, irrespective of their socioeconomic background, who have the skills and knowledge to lead organisations, businesses, and ultimately communities across the world to prosperity and success.
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