Community Engagement Manager, Soneva Fushi
I usually get a lot of confused looks from people when I tell them that I am the Community Engagement Manager at Soneva Fushi. Mainly because it isn’t typical to have a dedicated person overseeing engagement with local communities at a five-star luxury resort. But people who are familiar with Soneva, its vision and philosophy, are not surprised by this at all.
What do I do?
As the Community Engagement Manager, I drive Soneva Fushi’s engagement with local communities in the Baa Atoll. What sets Soneva’s engagement with local communities apart from the corporate social responsibility initiatives that you normally see in the private sector is that for Soneva, engaging with local communities is not an afterthought. It is an integral part of the company’s business model.
In 2019, most of Soneva Fushi’s community engagement initiatives centred on the Soneva Namoona initiative. ‘Namoona’ in Dhivehi means something that is exemplary, an ideal. With Soneva Namoona we are working with three local communities to create a model for eliminating single-use plastics from local communities. The Namoona strategy focuses on: reducing the consumption of single-use plastics, promoting zero waste and recycling, and inspiring ocean stewardship.
A typical day at Soneva Fushi
I start my day with a bike ride to get to the first meeting, which starts at 08:30. Bike rides at Soneva Fushi are rather special. Every single time I am on my bike, I make sure that I look around and up, breath slowly and smile – thanking myself and the universe for the opportunity to experience the beauty and peace that is Kunfunadhoo (the island that Soneva Fushi calls home). As someone who was born and spent most of her life in cities – I realise what a rarity this is.
Following the morning meeting, I’m usually on a boat on my way to one of the local islands. I spend a lot of time on the islands of Maalhos, Dharavandhoo and Kihaadhoo. We believe in working with communities to co-design the solutions and programmes that we wish to implement together. This means that you have to spend time on the islands, talking to people, and understanding the realities on the ground. This kind of face time with local communities is not typical for a resort. In fact, I remember when we first started the Namoona initiative and started showing up on these three islands almost on a daily basis – everyone in the communities were saying that Soneva is different. Soneva’s approach to working with local communities is different. For us, that meant that we were doing something right and were on the right path.
Then for a spot of lunch
Usually I’m back at Soneva Fushi by lunch time. Soneva Fushi has an amazing salad room, a lot of what you find in it is grown here on the island. So most days lunch is naturally a hearty salad. After lunch, my day is taken up with desk time – planning, organising, coordinating and doing follow-ups. Starting from the boat crew to the accountants sitting in the Finance Office – every single Host at Soneva Fushi gives a lot of importance and priority to our community projects. So after lunch one would see me running from one team to another – for follow-ups and coordinating this or that.
My day draws to a close
I usually call it a day around 18:30. One would not usually see much of me in the evenings – as I like to spend that time with myself, mostly dreaming, reading and writing. I’m a big fan of poetry – so I was thrilled to discover a volume of Rumi’s poetry at Soneva Fushi’s pop-up Barefoot Bookstore. In terms of writing, I edit a series for Weave News, called “Glocal Dispatches” which explores the effect of globalization on local communities. I also write in Dhivehi for Uthema, on women’s rights issues in the Maldives.
I’m currently working on a piece that focuses on the role of Maldivian women in the hospitality industry. Maldivian women constitute a mere 4 per cent of the hospitality industry in the country. This percentage is higher at Soneva Fushi, where 13 per cent of the workforce are women. Soneva as a company is really pushing through efforts to increase the participation of Maldivian women in the industry – with an explicit affirmative action policy to prioritize female candidates for positions over the next three years, and other initiatives aimed to create a more conducive working and living environment for women on resort islands.
My first job in the hospitality industry was here, with Soneva. After a couple of months of being here, I kept asking myself – why didn’t I come here before? Not only because I found myself in a breathtakingly enchanting physical space, but because I was a part of a mission-driven organisation that empowers individuals to do meaningful work and reach new heights of excellence.