One Young CA 2020, Amjad Hassan CA, on his standout moments from the One Young World Summit
When Amjad Hassan CA was named One Young CA in 2020, it put a spring in his step that’s still there two years later. Fresh from the annual One Young World gathering, he talks to Ryan Herman about Gen Z and rearranging the letters in ESG
Amjad Hassan CA has had a busy few weeks. As well as moving house, the 2020 One Young CA winner has been promoted to Assistant Director in the turnaround and restructuring department at EY. And there was also that moment when he was the flagbearer for ICAS at the One Young World (OYW) event in Manchester, sharing a stage with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
His eyes light up as he recalls the moment, almost disbelievingly. “It was a bit overwhelming – like, ‘Wow!’ It was such a privilege to be there to hear from some of the world’s most inspiring leaders and so many successful and accomplished people,” he says.
“I knew I needed to soak in as much as I could and make the most of the opportunity. I networked as much as possible, connecting with other CAs who were there with Chartered Accountants Worldwide. I also met doctors working in impoverished countries and heard what they were doing to support their people.”
This year’s OYW summit, held over four days in September, brought together 2,000 of the brightest and best young talents from around the world. In return for winning the One Young CA award, Hassan got to take part in talks and seminars and hear keynote speeches on global issues that tie in with the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals. He also got to meet previous OYW ambassadors and hear about the impact they are having. An OYW report, published in 2021, stated that for every dollar spent on an ambassador project, the social return on investment is $16 (£14.50). It doesn’t take a CA to appreciate the value for money that represents.
“You can get stuck in your silos and your work, your reporting and deliverables,” says Hassan. “But when you take a step back, you realise there’s so much we could all do to make positive change.”
As Hassan talks through a few of the standout moments from the event, he becomes ever more animated. Highlights included a session from the Audi Environmental Foundation explaining how batteries from laptops and pilot cars for its E-tron vehicles get a second life powering electric rickshaws in rural India.
Marine biologist Dr Sylvia Earle stressed the importance of looking after our oceans, given that 80% of our oxygen comes from the seas. The event also heard from Thuli Madonsela, the Public Protector for South Africa from 2009-16, and a key figure in combating the Gupta family’s “state capture” under former President Zuma. “She talked about how corruption undermines equal opportunities,” Hassan says.
“We talk about equal opportunities and making sure everyone has equity and so on, but that’s only going to happen if you tackle corruption. She explained that the UN has done a really good piece on the eight characteristics of good governance. And it was all around participation, the rule of law, transparency, equity and inclusion, and – especially – accountability.
“To be an ethical leader, what principles should you abide by? From my perspective, a leader needs a vision that the team buys into, but also transparency and accountability so they can be held to account, just as they can hold us to account.” This is an issue that feels even more pertinent in light of last month’s House of Commons debate on the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill and recent revelations around the sheer number of UK LLPs that “show money laundering red flags”.
Attendees also heard from John McCalla-Leacy, newly appointed Head of Global ESG for KPMG. “He flipped the idea of ESG and said we should think about it as EGS,” says Hassan. “So you’ve got E – what is our environmental impact? Reverse the impact, consume less, reuse. Then the G is governance – how you do it. What are your policies, your board oversight, your ethical behaviours? And then the S – social – comes at the end because that’s the end product, the social impact for your loved ones, your community and the planet.”
If there was one idea that coursed its way through everything Hassan tried to take in, it was the importance of communicating these messages effectively.
“We need to shift the messaging from fearmongering to storytelling. Let’s inspire people, let’s share our stories. To me, that’s exactly what One Young World is about,” he says.
Take mental health, for example, which for years was viewed in a negative light, leaving people too afraid to express their concerns. One statement that particularly resonated with Hassan came from Barbara Jeffery, McKinsey Health Institute Leader. “She said: ‘Good mental health adds years to your life, but also life to your years.’ The moment I heard that, I thought ‘I’ve got to write that down!’”
Hassan is a member of the wellbeing group at EY and has become increasingly passionate about mental fitness, largely as a consequence of the pandemic. “So many people have faced mental health challenges and I’ve seen what the pandemic did to my community, my loved ones and society at large,” he says. “Throughout the pandemic, a lot of people felt so disconnected and isolated – there was a lack of social interaction.
“But I do believe we can make a difference and that’s why I’m involved in the wellbeing team at EY. We’ve made it a priority to ensure everyone becomes more connected after returning to the office. We did an anonymous survey which used Mentimeter, which is like a wordcloud, to get a picture of how people really feel. Off the back of that we had really strong, passionate partners who have got behind the wellbeing team and put principles in place to help people manage their work-life balance, challenge the old way of doing things and create boundaries.”
Plus, there is the social impact. “I was trained up by EY when we were in the office, with all the noise and buzz, five days a week. You go through the ups and downs with your colleagues,” he says.
More experienced CAs might think back to when they were in their twenties, just going into their first full-time job post-qualification. For most, it would have been a time of few other commitments, such as marriage or children. They weren’t seeing their mortgage repayments increase by the day. They would likely have socialised with colleagues and made lifelong friendships from that first job thanks to years of shared experiences. But a newly qualified CA in 2020 would have gone the best part of two years without enjoying those sorts of connections in the same way. It may take us years to truly understand the impact.
As Hassan says: “We went straight from working at the office to everyone working from home. For people having to manage work as well as studying for exams, that must have been really tough on them. So getting that balance is crucial. It has also been difficult for new starters.”
Having those close connections is also important for seeing leaders at close quarters, learning how they navigate challenging situations. You can’t do that via Zoom. To emphasise the point, Hassan talks about one project that he worked on to save British Steel not long after he was made Manager at EY.
“For me to step into that environment was incredible. British Steel was employing 5,000 people in the business, with a further 25,000 in the supply chain. In Scunthorpe, the whole town relied on British Steel and when we went there, the taxi drivers were asking, ‘What is going on, will I be okay, should I be selling my house, is my mortgage going to be fine…?’
“It taught me so much about leadership, seeing more senior colleagues at the top of their game, how they operate in this environment, how they’re working with the government.”
Now 30, Hassan is in many ways typical of how a younger CA thinks and feels about work and its place in the wider world, and also what they expect from their employer and their leaders. It’s an outlook that is perhaps very different from what was expected, and tolerated, by previous generations.
“Covid changed everything,” he says. “Working from home sent the message I should be trusted to get the work done in a way that works for me. But there’s been a seismic shift in what is expected of a business. I work in restructuring, so that puts a particular focus on working with businesses and lenders. From a financial perspective, we’re seeing businesses increasingly focusing on EGS, as I now call it. Businesses and banks are under greater pressure from investors and consumers to see that green finance is in place and there are sustainable practices that seek to truly measure and reduce their carbon footprint.
“The UK government now requires listed companies and financial institutions to publish their plans for the net-zero transition from 2023. So in response to this and, to support businesses, we’ve launched EY Carbon and upgraded our service offerings to incorporate EGS and decarbonisation. That also applies to EY as an organisation. We were carbon negative for a second year running. How do we remain on track to reach net zero in 2025 and what more can we do?
“Gen Z has brought this to the forefront as a climate change movement, but can you imagine what will happen with the next generation, and when Gen Z has more of a voice in the senior roles within a company?”
The past few weeks have also given Hassan a chance to reflect on the role One Young CA has played in his life. “When the news [about the award] was circulated, the company shared it widely, which gave me a platform to talk about my advocacy for wellbeing, diversity, equity, inclusion and all the other initiatives I have become involved in at EY,” he says.
“I had lots of people contacting me, asking how they could get involved in these initiatives. So, professionally, the award has opened so many doors and helped me to make new connections and extend my network. It also gave me a certain confidence that I probably didn’t have before. That recognition from ICAS put a spring in my step and I will always be grateful for that.”
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