CEO Conference discusses ideas, shares thoughts for navigating turbulent times

The Management Association of Nepal (MAN) – umbrella network of management professionals in the country – organised the one-day ‘CEO Conference’ under the theme of ‘The Future of Work: Adapting to Changing Landscape’ on May 31 in Kathmandu, which featured insights and research-based strategies from international experts. The event aimed at assisting stakeholders to understand and navigate the future workplace, driven by technology-based business models, emerging industries, and innovation.

Over 200 management professionals from diverse sectors convened at the conference. The event featured renowned international and national speakers who provided invaluable insights on navigating the challenges of turbulent times. These experts not only delivered captivating keynote addresses, but also actively participated in panel discussions and shared their own experiences, fostering a rich learning environment for all attendees.

The conference was inaugurated by chief guest Vice President, Ram Sahaya Prasad Yadav. Other high-level dignitaries included Chief Secretary of the Government of Nepal, Dr Baikuntha Aryal; Finance Secretary, Madhu Kumar Marasini and President of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Chandra Prasad Dhakal, among others.

In his address, Vice President Yadav highlighted that management professionals have to play a critical role for the growth of companies during challenging times. “The changing dynamics should be minutely analysed and one should be prepared with the required tools and techniques to move forward,” he mentioned, adding, “CEOs, as the leaders of their respective organisations, promote work culture and take their organisations forward with strategic planning.”

The Vice President emphasised the importance of team spirit and collaboration, highlighting leadership’s crucial role in problem-solving and understanding global trends. He acknowledged that not all managers can be leaders, as leadership requires unique experiences, problem-solving skills, and the ability to make decisions tailored to the local context. He further stressed the importance of adapting innovative ideas and strategies for success in today’s challenging environment. The Vice President concluded by acknowledging the global economic and environmental difficulties impacting everyone, while commending MAN for holding the CEO Conference in a timely manner, expressing hope for solutions to navigate these challenging times.

Three panel discussions and one keynote presentation were delivered in the conference, which witnessed intriguing interactions between the audience and speakers/panellists.

The first panel discussion on “Government and Private Sector Alignment on ‘The Future of Work’” comprised of panellists Dr Baikuntha Aryal, Chief Secretary, Madhu Kumar Marasini, Finance Secretary and Chandra Prasad Dhakal, President of Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry. It was facilitated by Hari Bhakta Sharma, Former President, Confederation of Nepalese Industries.

Delivering his remarks, Dr Aryal said the government’s policy and programme for fiscal 2024/25 has focused on production, productivity and employment, and stated that the private sector had a key role to play in attaining economic prosperity. “The government is facilitating the private sector in economic, finance and policy fronts,” he shared.

He cited that the government amended investment related laws prior to the recently held investment summit to create conducive investment climate so as to make it easy for the private sector to do business. “Laws that had been obstructing investments were amended after thorough consultations with the private sector,” Dr Aryal informed. “In a positive development, 80% of policy and programme announcements have been successfully budgeted for. This reflects both coherence in policy design and alignment of administrative activities with policy implementation,” he added.

Meanwhile, Finance Secretary Marasini underlined that the fiscal budget 2024/25 has tried to boost the confidence of the private sector and give new sense of hope to society. “The next fiscal year will be a year of economic reform and we’ll form a commission for structural reforms,” he said, adding, “The government has realised that structural transformation is required. Along with boosting the confidence of the private sector, there is also a requirement to boost the confidence of public servants.”

“The budget has met the aspirations of the new generation,” mentioned Marasini, adding, “Simultaneously, we have to change our development approach as migration is rampant from the mountains and hills to the terai, semi-urban and urban areas.” He further talked about enablers proposed by the fiscal budget and urged the private sector to exploit the enablers underpinning the need of comprehensive collaboration between the public and private sector.

FNCCI President Dhakal commended the private sector’s advocacy efforts over the past year and praised the government’s collaboration to revitalise the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and global slowdown. He expressed that the budget aligns with the private sector’s recommendations for economic reform and reiterated FNCCI’s previous request to the Prime Minister to prioritise economic development and establish a unified economic agenda among political parties.
Dhakal acknowledged the budget’s focus on the private sector but cautioned about past implementation challenges. He believes achieving the 6% growth target hinges on successful implementation. Dhakal urged the government to improve the investment climate, citing current discouraging conditions for the private sector.
The second panel discussion on ‘Digital Transformation: Navigating the New Frontier’ featured Deepak Bagla, Former President of Invest India, and Jabor Kayumov, CEO of Ncell. The session was led by Hema Adhikari, Country Representative of Mashreq Bank.

During the panel discussion, Bagla said that the future of work is not just a concern for this generation but also for the next generation. He advised reforms in the investment ecosystem, providing enabling environment for businesses to grow, digitalisation and governance reforms.

Despite being a densely populated country, India has made remarkable delivery of public services including emergency services including vaccination in a very smooth manner. The JAM trinity – Jan Dhan Account – Aadhaar – Mobile – penetration has revolutionised financial inclusion in India, according to Bagla.
“In 2024, India is the fastest growing economy in the world for the seventh consecutive year and 16% of the global growth is contributed by India,” Bagla stated, adding, “A total of 35 million people have come out of the vicious cycle of poverty only in 2024. India has made significant achievement in alleviating poverty.”
He laid emphasis on digitalisation for scale, speed, inclusion and transparency. Digitalisation has been lubricating each sector and enabling them to grow faster. “The world is moving ahead really fast and it has become more inclusive and empowered people. This is because of digitalisation,” Bagla remarked, “Opening 500 million bank accounts in a period of seven years was succeesful due to digitalisation. Still, 10% of India’s population lives in villages, but they are connected to the internet and are consuming all basic facilities, which is called inclusion.”

Similarly, Kayumov urged the participants to translate the power of people and digitalisation for the benefit of the country. Nepal’s demographic dividend combined with digitalisation can accelerate the pace of economic development, he said. “However, Nepal is facing challenges in retaining talent, as people have migrated abroad for work,” he shared.

Stating that the finance and fintech sectors are some success stories, Jabor underlined the need of enhancing execution capacity mainly by the government agencies.
“The market is ready to take the digital agenda. We, as a telco company, are aligning our strategies to the digital vision of the government. More important is Nepal’s digital evolution. There is no other choice for Nepal other than to embrace digitization,” Kayumov remarked in the panel discussion.

The third session of the Conference encompassed a keynote speech titled ‘Strategies for Achieving Success: Managing to VUCA World’, delivered by Ian Pallister, Global Managing Partner and Founder of Stratega.

Pallister delivered the keynote speech through four different lenses – macro-global; organisational tensions; reinvention imperative and digital acceleration. To deal with the changing landscape he talked about the adaptive change model – adaptive leadership and dynamic strategy to moving from one VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – world to new VUCA – vision, understanding, clarity and agility – through adaptive leadership.

“While global challenges are a constant,” he acknowledged, “The pace of change is accelerating, making it more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Political instability is the new game changer, creating a complex global landscape to navigate. Chief executives need to consider future-based, plausible scenarios. Just a decade ago, offshoring for cheaper labour was the trend. Today, we see reshoring, nearshoring, and friend-shoring emerge as new realities.”

Covid pandemic, particularly, has created a new battle for talent. In Europe, there is a hybrid sort of working; work-life balancing should be given due priority. Americans are resigning from their work and doing something different. Ultimately, this has posed many challenges to CEOs; they have to accept and manage the ‘churn’. They need to make a mindset shift and look for ‘transient’ retention, according to Pallister. “CEOs prioritise growth and efficiency, achievable through productivity gains. But true growth demands business reinvention and transformation. Effective strategies offer a range of options, and flexibly managing unrealised value domains is a key strategy for adaptation,” he stated.

The last and third panel discussion was titled ‘Success stories: From scratch to sky’ and the panellists of the session were Prabhu Rangarajan, Co-founder and COO of M2P Fintech and Sameer Maskey, Founder and CEO of Fusemachines. The session was moderated by Karvika Thapa, CEO of KimbuTech.

Thapa commenced the session by inviting the panellists to share their success stories, focusing on the journeys of Fusemachines Inc and M2P Fintech. Maskey shared the inspiring journey of Fusemachines, emphasising the company’s dedication to democratising AI education and fostering AI talent globally. He highlighted the importance of leveraging local talent and providing them with the necessary tools and education to excel in AI. Fusemachines started as a small startup but at present it has grown into a global leader in AI solutions, providing cutting-edge technology to businesses worldwide. “At Fusemachines, we believe in the power of education and technology to transform lives. Our success is rooted in our commitment to creating opportunities for talented individuals, regardless of their geographic location. By providing AI education and resources, we have been able to build a diverse and skilled team that drives our innovation and growth,” said Maskey.

Maskey further acknowledged the challenges in bridging this gap and pointed out the difficulty in obtaining loans in Nepal, stressing the need for addressing this issue.

“It’s hard to get loans in Nepal, which hampers innovation and growth. Financial institutions need to adopt technology to streamline their processes and make it easier for businesses to access capital. This transition involves embracing digital transformation, improving cybersecurity measures, and investing in training for employees to handle new technologies,” said Maskey.

Maskey also addressed the critical aspect of integrating AI into the future workplace. He emphasised that AI should be viewed as a tool to augment human capabilities rather than replace them. According to Maskey, AI can automate repetitive tasks, allowing employees to focus on more strategic and creative endeavours. “AI integration is not about replacing jobs; it’s about enhancing human potential. By automating mundane tasks, AI frees up time for employees to engage in more meaningful and innovative work. This shift not only boosts productivity but also leads to the creation of new job opportunities in AI development, management, and support,” explained Maskey.

Prabhu Rangarajan shared the remarkable growth story of M2P Fintech. He attributed the company’s success to its focus on solving real-world financial problems through technology. M2P Fintech has revolutionised the fintech industry by providing robust and scalable solutions that cater to the needs of businesses and consumers alike.

“Our journey at M2P Fintech has been about identifying pain points in the financial sector and addressing them with innovative solutions. By staying agile and customer-focused, we have been able to scale rapidly and make a significant impact in the fintech ecosystem,” said Rangarajan.

Rangarajan further remarked that with the vast populations in Nepal and India, there is a significant opportunity to leverage technology to reach a broader audience. Traditional banks need to innovate by incorporating digital solutions that cater to the needs of a tech-savvy generation. “This includes developing user-friendly mobile banking apps, enhancing online services, and ensuring secure and efficient transactions,” explained Rangarajan.

At the end of the session both panellists collectively debunked the myth that AI will lead to job loss. They argued that AI would, in fact, create more jobs by opening new avenues for employment. AI will require skilled professionals to develop, maintain, and improve AI systems, leading to a surge in demand for AI specialists.
“AI is a job creator, not a job destroyer. As AI technologies advance, we will see the emergence of new roles and industries. It’s crucial for individuals and organisations to embrace this change and equip themselves with the necessary skills to thrive in an AI-driven world,” concluded Rangarajan.

Thapa further also asked the panellists about their views on education and their priorities for increasing the participation of women leaders.

Maskey emphasised that education is the cornerstone of progress. “Education is about empowering individuals with the knowledge and skills to solve problems and create value. At Fusemachines, we prioritise inclusive education initiatives to ensure that everyone, including women, has access to opportunities in AI and tech. We actively support and mentor women leaders to ensure they have the resources and support needed to succeed,” said Maskey.

Likewise, Rangarajan highlighted the importance of creating a supportive environment for women in the workforce. “Education should be accessible to all, and we must work towards breaking down barriers that hinder women’s participation in leadership roles. At M2P Fintech, we are committed to promoting gender diversity by providing mentorship programmes, leadership training, and creating policies that support work-life balance. By doing so, we can increase the number of women leaders and their participation in the tech industry,” stated Rangarajan.

The session provided a platform for leaders and stakeholders to gain valuable insights into the future of work and the transformative potential of AI as well as highlighted the importance of adapting to technological advancements while fostering innovation and growth in the workplace.

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