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A real test of work-life balance


At the 2017 CIMA Graduation Ceremony, Nafisa shares a remarkable story that puts everything into perspective. 

As a youngster, Nafisa was obsessed with becoming a Chartered Accountant. She wasn't quite sure what it entailed, but knew that it sounded big and important. She registered for her BCom in Accounting in 2004, but after only a year she buckled under the financial pressure of full-time studies and had to register for part-time classes. Nafisa added undue pressure by setting a goal to complete her part-time degree in the same time as the full-time students. Upon reflection, she now admits that it was quite unnecessary to put herself under so much pressure. By 2009, Nafisa's career started taking off when she was offered an Assistant Manager position at Toyota SA's plant and she started studying CIMA after she saw a CIMA presentation at Toyota. 
"I decided to study CIMA just so I could be a charter holder. It didn't occur to me at the time that this path could be so instrumental to achieving a successful career," she laughs.  After a big promotion in 2010, she took a short break from her studies, because work had become really stressful. "It was a huge achievement being promoted, but as with most good things in life they seldom come without a price. My new position job demanded more than I was ready for. So I threw myself in my work and after 2 years I felt more at ease in my position and felt able to take up my studies again," she explains. She registered to write her P1 exam in May, but also went about planning her wedding for the following month. "That was a real test of work-life balance," she says.  
She went on to pass P1 despite the stress of the wedding, so she felt confident enough to take on 3 subjects. "Everybody said I was crazy to do it, but I felt so motivated. I had an inner drive," she says. She attended classes with IBTC and on 13 January she heard that she had passed all three subjects. She phoned her brother to share the good news, because they're a really close-knit family. He messaged her back "next is strategic level and after then the sky's the limit". A week later she lost him. He was only 25.
"I felt the world close in on me. I didn't think there could be happiness again," she says. She goes on to explain that it shook their family to the core. She didn't have the courage to finish studying and just wanted to quit, she explains. But by August she took up her studies again, because she wanted to keep occupied and was also motivated by her brother's compelling message. Only a month into her studies she found out she was pregnant. But nothing was going to hold Nafisa back. She still continued coming to her IBTC classes. She wrote three exams and passed all three first time. Next it was time to tackle the new syllabus Case Study. At seven months pregnant she wrote her Case Study exam. "The following week she heard she had passed. Her son was born one month later. 
Nafisa's advice is that you need to push on. Despite the need to repeat a subject, the despite the unreasonable boss and the budget deadlines, despite the sacrifices you have to make, despite the personal hardships you have to endure. "You really can do this," she insists.  She goes on to explain, "there is no right or wrong way of getting this qualification. There is no cap on how long it should take you. The time limits we put on ourselves is unnecessary."
Nafisa is really passionate about CIMA and proud to be a CGMA. "CIMA has really matured my thinking when it comes to business. As traditional accountants we place so much emphasis on how we present the numbers, but CIMA really makes you think like a business leader. "Yes, there is high salary potential and also a lot of prestige attached to being a CGMA, but the truth is that it really equips you to understand business beyond the financial perspective," she says.
Being CIMA qualified also enabled her to take up her ACCA studies. Nafisa was exempted from nine ACCA  subjects at the fundamentals level and now only have 4 subjects left. 
Nafisa's passion for CIMA enabled her to start lecturing with IBTC in 2016. She started with E2 on a Tuesday and Saturday morning and was recently selected to be the new Operations Case Study lecturer. Nafisa says she finds it incredibly rewarding to meet new students who have different strengths and likes how they challenge her. She says it's the most exciting feeling when students write back to tell her they've passed. "That focus on helping others in my own small way also helps me as a person to give back and be proud of myself," she says.
Nafisa sees CIMA growing phenomenally in South Africa. She says it's very common to see job specs where CIMA is asked for alongside CA(SA) and MBA.  She says that the qualification is beginning to speak for itself. Most businesses are increasingly moving towards the business partnering role of finance. "It's the best time to have this designation as employers look to finance professionals to add more value.  The recent agreement between CIMA and SAICA is proof of the value that CGMA can add to an organisation," Nafisa says.
Nafisa paid homage to her parents and husband, and acknowledged CIMA, as well as her lecturers and support staff at IBTC - Kuda, Evert, Muzi and Lewis. "I could not have done it without attending classes," she said. This was followed by a thank you to her son, Liam, for his extra brain during her exam, which drew a laugh from the crowd. But we were all reminded that it doesn't come easily when she finally dedicated her speech to her brother.
We want to thank Nafisa for sharing her courageous journey with us. It inspired us to keep going, to believe in ourselves, to realise that hardship makes us stronger and to be aware that what we're working towards is immensely valuable. 
IBTC dedicates Women's Day 2017 to Nafisa Kistan.