Environmental awareness training for city-dwelling students in the Maldives

Environmental awareness training for city-dwelling students in the Maldives

Maldives
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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Ever since its opening in 1995, Soneva Fushi has believed in its corporate core value “to create innovative and enriching experiences in a sustainable environment”. The luxury resort places the well-being of the environment and the communities it operates in high on its agenda and has a social and environmental responsibility fund. A part of that fund is used to sponsor the annual Soneva Nature Trip, amongst other beneficial projects. Since its opening, Soneva Fushi has collaborated with a Maldivian organisation called EcoCare to increase environmental awareness amongst guests, hosts and local communities. One of the main outcomes of this collaboration was the annual Soneva Nature Trip for local school children, which was established in 2000. Its aim is to increase environmental awareness amongst local school children during an informative, hands-on and fun week, so that they can appreciate their own nature and are prepared for the local and global environmental challenges that lie ahead.

Your idea
This will be the address used to plot your entry on the map.
Street Address

Soneva Fushi

City

Kunfunadhoo Island

State/Province

Baa Atoll

Postal/Zip Code
Country
Year innovation began

2000

Geotourism Challenge Addressed by Entrant

Quality of benefit to the people of the desitination

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Indicate sector in which you principally work

Tourism-related business

Geographic location

Coast.

Plot your innovation within the Mosaic of Solutions
Main barrier addressed

Lack of local input

Main insight addressed

Education through hands-on experience

Innovation
What is the goal of your innovation?

Environmental awareness for city-dwelling school children in the Maldives to enable sustainable resource use in the future.

How does your approach support or embody geotourism?

Tourism has rapidly developed in the Maldives and become just as vital for the small-island country as the traditional tuna fisheries. While the country moves forward, achieving economic growth and social development, it is at the same time confronted by unique environmental challenges such as sea-level rise and erosion, the management of freshwater and waste and the protection and conservation of biodiversity. The awareness amongst local people for these environmental issues is limited, even though the lives of the local people directly and indirectly depend on the natural integrity of the islands: clear turquoise water, white sandy beaches, colourful reef life and lush tropical vegetation attract increasing numbers of guests, while at the same time food from the sea, building material from the forest and homes for local families are provided. A sustainable future for the Maldives is only possible if local environmental awareness is significantly raised and joint actions are taken to prevent the destruction of this fragile environment. The Soneva Nature Trip focuses on the youth, the policy-makers for the future, offering them hands-on, educational and fun experiences in their own nature, developing a sense of ownership and pride and preparing them for future environmental challenges.

Describe your approach in detail. How is it innovative?

When the Soneva Nature Trip originated in 2000, there were very few opportunities for local school children to participate in outdoor, nature-related and environmental awareness-raising activities. While the school curriculum conveyed theoretical information, the hands-on approach was missing. Soneva Fushi, as a socially and environmentally conscious tourist resort that always tries to give back to the communities it operates in, developed the Soneva Nature Trip together with a local NGO called EcoCare and has sponsored the annual week-long excursion ever since. Around 100 school children, especially from the highly populated and nature-deprived capital Male’, participate in each trip and learn about local and global environmental challenges such as habitat loss, biodiversity loss, erosion, waste management and others. The experience not only has a major impact on the young people participating in the Soneva Nature Trip but also on their families, friends and fellow students, who learn about good environmental practices and can thereby shape the future of the country in a sustainable way.

What types of partnerships or professional development would be most beneficial in spreading your innovation?

Nature trips similar to the ones organised and financed by Soneva Fushi should ideally be made available to a wider public. Due to the lack of funding, the focus group at the moment is young city-dwelling people with a keen interest in environmental issues. Environmental awareness needs to be raised all over the country, however. Professional support in terms of training for programme facilitators, funding, wider media promotion and the further development of environmental studies in schools is of vital importance.

Impact
In one sentence describe what kind of impact, change, or reform your approach is intended to achieve.

The Soneva Nature Trip is intended to broaden local children’s environmental awareness and appreciation for a sustainable future.

Describe the degree of success of your approach to date. Clearly define how you measure quantitative and qualitative impact in terms of how your approach contributes to the sustainability or enhancement of local culture, environment, heritage, or aesthetics? How does your approach minimize negative impacts? 200 words or less

It is difficult to assess the impact of the experience on the children. However, certificates of participation are presented to all children who successfully complete the tasks given during the trip. Upon completion of the nature trail programme, every participant submits a detailed report on the findings and what s/he learned during the trip. The best report submitted is awarded a one-week stay at Soneva Fushi with his or her parents. Perhaps the most encouraging outcome of this exercise is to witness how much time and effort the children devote to preparing their reports on the nature trip. Many discuss the issues covered with passion and a clear understanding, which may not have been possible beforehand.

How does your program promote traveler enthusiasm, satisfaction, and engagement with the locale?

Soneva Fushi has a social and environmental responsibility fund (approx. USD 100,000 annually) and invests the money in numerous projects. Over the years, these initiatives have helped us get strong community support and satisfaction and the reputation as one of the few socially and environmentally caring operators in the country. We promote our environmental initiatives and include that information in marketing material. The concept of sustainable tourism operations has been hugely popular with guests, encouraging them to return to our resort frequently. ”To create innovative and enriching experiences in a sustainable environment” is Six Senses’ core purpose.

In what ways are local residents actively involved in your innovation, including participation and community input? How has the community responded to or benefited from your approach?

Since the children participating in the excursion camp on a local inhabited island, there is a lot of interaction between guests and hosts, and long-lasting friendships are built. The trip is entirely run by Maldivian facilitators, allowing the children to identify local role models and strive to take action locally and globally. The programme is well-known all over the country, is heavily featured on the local media, has won the 2003 President of the Maldives’ Green Leaf Award and the 2007 PATA Gold Award, and competition amongst school children to participate in the trip is strong. The response by the public has always been very positive.

Describe how your innovation helps travelers and local residents better understand the value of the area’s cultural and natural heritage, and educates them on local environmental issues. How do you motivate them to act responsibly in their future travel decisions?

Once taken out into the Maldivian “countryside”, Male’-born and -raised children are easily wowed by the beauty of their own nature, as they don’t get much opportunity to experience it. International guests feel the same way about the unique natural setting of the islands. Environmental awareness amongst Maldivians and tourists is vital for the continuous development of the country and is also appreciated on both ends. The link between a flourishing but responsible tourism sector and social and economic development is very strong and recognised by the local residents. The Soneva Nature Trip reinforces this relationship.

Sustainability
Is your initiative financially and organizationally sustainable? If not, what is required to make it so? What is the potential demand for your innovation?

For the past eight years, we have committed ourselves to setting aside enough money from the resort’s revenue to sponsor this most important social and environmental event in the Maldives. The Soneva Nature Trip will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year. The initiative is financially and organisationally sustainable. However, many more trips could be arranged for islanders if there were more local facilitators (a matter of training) to choose from and more budget to spend.

How is your initiative currently financed? If available, provide information on your finances and organization that could help others. Please list: Annual budget, annual revenue generated, size of part-time, full-time and volunteer staff.

Soneva Fushi spends 0.5% of its total revenue (approx. USD 75,000) plus all its laundry revenue (USD 20,000) on local and global social and environmental initiatives. We have a manager who oversees this budget, and we decide within a team of committed people employed at the resort which proposed project is sustainable, outreaching and beneficial enough to be eligible for funding. The Soneva Nature Trip is one of the most important initiatives we have been sponsoring, but we also fund waste awareness campaigns, support health-related projects and build schools on neighbouring islands.

What is your plan to expand your approach? Please indicate where/how you would like to grow or enhance your innovation, or have others do so.

We are currently organising an eco symposium at Soneva Fushi in June and inviting several business leaders, environmentalists and journalists to the resort. By having a dialogue with like-minded people and showcasing some of our own achievements, we are hoping to be able to promote sustainable experiences for guests, renewable energy projects and community interactions throughout the tourism sector as the right path for the future. Establishing a network of sustainable tourism operators would help set a trend for future developments and enable us to broaden our influence on the market.

What are the main barriers you encounter in managing, implementing, or replicating your innovation? What barriers keep your program from having greater impact?

The main challenge is finding and financing trained local personnel for conducting the field trips. There is no college or university with a focus on environmental or biological studies in the Maldives yet, so facilitators are either self-taught or continued their studies abroad. The establishment of a national legislative framework, and most importantly the enforcement of environmental policies and laws, is also crucial for the continued success of the environmental awareness campaigns.

The Story
What is the origin of your innovation? Tell your story.

The idea of an environmental awareness week for local students, the Soneva Nature Trip, came from our environmentally-conscious resort owners, Eva and Sonu Shivdasani. A pilot programme was run in 2000 to verify whether it was worthwhile to run such a project in the future. Initially, the Soneva Nature Trip was organised twice a year (from 2000 until 2002) and once a year thereafter; the tenth Nature Trip will take place this year. The Soneva Nature Trip has been carried out by EcoCare, a non-governmental, not-for-profit organisation, which was founded in 1994 by one of the most active local environmentalists, Mohamed Zahir. Its aim has been to promote community awareness of environmental challenges through educational programmes such as lectures in schools, the production of informative brochures, as well as the adventurous week-long nature trips organised together with Soneva Fushi. The resort started supporting EcoCare in 1995 and has since then reserved its laundry revenue (approximately USD 20,000 annually) for EcoCare’s environmental projects. Some of the biggest early accomplishments of the Soneva Fushi / EcoCare partnership were the “Save the Turtles” and “Save the Sharks” campaigns, creating awareness amongst guests, hosts and local communities for the need to protect these endangered animals within the Maldives and worldwide. The slaughter of marine turtles in the Maldives was officially banned in 1995 due largely to a campaign co-ordinated by EcoCare and supported by Soneva Fushi, the law still being effective today.

Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers' marketing material.

Six Senses is a resort and spa management and development company, established in 1995, which manages resorts under the brand names Soneva, Six Senses Hideaway, Six Senses Latitudes, and Evason; plus Six Senses Spas and Six Senses Destination Spas. Six Senses was founded by Sonu Shivdasani, Chairman and CEO, with his wife, Eva, who is the Creative Director. Soneva Fushi in the Maldives, which was conceived with the unique philosophy of simple sophistication and a strong eco-conscious ethos, flourished and encouraged the couple to expand their concept to more resorts, and hence the continual expansion of the Six Senses group.

Please write an overview of your project. This text will appear when people scroll over the icon for your entry on the Google map located on the competition homepage.

Ever since its opening in 1995, Soneva Fushi has believed in its corporate core value “to create innovative and enriching experiences in a sustainable environment”. The luxury resort places the well-being of the environment and the communities it operates in high on its agenda and has a social and environmental responsibility fund. A part of that fund is used to sponsor the annual Soneva Nature Trip, amongst other beneficial projects. Since its opening, Soneva Fushi has collaborated with a Maldivian organisation called EcoCare to increase environmental awareness amongst guests, hosts and local communities. One of the main outcomes of this collaboration was the annual Soneva Nature Trip for local school children, which was established in 2000. Its aim is to increase environmental awareness amongst local school children during an informative, hands-on and fun week, so that they can appreciate their own nature and are prepared for the local and global environmental challenges that lie ahead.