Leadership to achieve a common goal: Nary Ung, ASEAN YLP, 2018

Every year we add over a hundred participants to our alumni network. After an intense two weeks in Hong Kong and in the field, these participants return to their offices where (we hope) they apply what they’ve learned to their daily routines.

Every few months, we want to check in with one of our alumni to see how their professional lives have gone since their time with GIFT. Have they launched a new initiative in their office environment in an effort to improve communication and empathy? Did they take on a new responsibility in a new market, applying their new experience engaging with stakeholders? Or have they started something entirely unique, targeting the novel problems of the 21st Century? These are the stories we want to share with our audience.

And if you’re an alumnus with stories to tell, please get in touch. We'd be happy to hear what’s new with you.


Nary Ung, of SOMA Group, joined the 2018 ASEAN Young Leaders Programme. The participants' objective was to produce a business plan that would allow the Municipal Government of Jakarta to create a new entity to scale activities in skills development, entrepreneurship creation and employment encouragement. Nary led the Finance Team, charged with developing a financial model to ensure the new organisation's financial sustainability.

What has been one of your key achievements since you joined the ASEAN Young Leaders Programme in 2018?

When I joined the ASEAN programme, I was SOMA’s Deputy CFO. Since then, I’ve been promoted to Group CFO, where I work closely with our Group CEO in overseeing five divisions and twelve subsidiaries in agriculture, infrastructure, education, trading, and real estate.

I’m ready to take on further challenges!

What most excites you in your current role?

One of the Group’s main objectives is to further Cambodia’s Sustainable Development Goals. We achieve this through multiple projects, such as our solar farm, clean water distribution, and promoting education in health science and technology with the University of Puthisatra. I derive my motivation from ensuring that our projects have a positive social impact.

I’m also conscious about fulfilling my employees’ potential. It’s important to look beyond their technical skills and consider their emotional quotient, sensitivities, communication skills and respect.

Lastly, ensuring our projects are sustainable is important for the growth, expansion and reinvestment in our existing companies.

Can you talk a little more about SOMA’s solar farm and clean water distribution? What does SOMA hope to achieve from these projects?

SOMA Energy is moving forward on the installation of a solar farm of 1.5 MW in Kompong Thom to be completed this August. While this is the company’s first solar project, the objective is to expand and construct similar renewable energy projects throughout Cambodia.

The Group recently formed a joint venture with Kobelco Eco Solutions from Japan. This venture led to the creation of SOMA-Kobelco Water Supplies Co. Ltd and the subsequent construction of a new water treatment and distribution plant last November. This plant covers two communes, ten villages and 20,100 people as of 2020. Again, the plan is to expand this to other provinces in the country.

Thanks not just to these projects, but also our other initiatives in education and agriculture and our team’s regular community engagements, I personally feel a strong sense of purpose, responsibility and accountability towards the society I am a part of.

Can you share a little about your experience on the AYLP? What was most memorable about the project you were working on? What did you learn?

I was placed in the finance team, which develops the financial model for the project. I vividly remember the long, late-night discussions in Jakarta to decide the right numbers, brainstorm ideas and align everyone’s ideas. While challenging, coming to an agreement or hitting a milestone was extremely rewarding.

Looking back, I found the diversity of ASEAN nationalities and professional background to be challenging at first. But each of us brought different perspectives and values. I discovered that I had the ability to convene different groups and work through our differences together to find a workable solution. It was important to speak out, and untangle our differences of opinion.

How have you applied the programme’s tools in your personal or professional life?

I use what I’ve learned from the programme to mediate conversations between different teams to achieve our professional objectives. I realise this is important to overcome adversity amidst our cultural differences and professional disagreements. I apply these lessons on a daily basis.

What was your biggest takeaway from the GIFT programme?

Through effective communication, respect and leadership, you can accomplish a common goal despite differences in cultural and professional background. After you find your sense of purpose and align your actions towards it, your personal achievements are more evident. These gave me a renewed sense of confidence in my potential and the impact I can create.

How important has your sense of purpose been in your personal and career development?

Professionally, it’s very fulfilling to be part of a young, dynamic and ambitious team, which aims to make an impact towards Cambodia’s social development. It’s also been very rewarding to successfully manage the strategy, financing and budgeting of these essential public-private initiatives, which will have an even greater impact as we upscale and replicate them nationwide.

We would like to thank Nary for her time, and her contribution to the Alumni Spotlight. If you're an alumnus with a story to share, please get in touch!

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