Environmental awareness for Maldivian school children through hands-on experiences

Environmental awareness for Maldivian school children through hands-on experiences

Kunfunadhoo, Maldives
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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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 ...

About You
Contact Information
Title

Ms.

First name

Anke

Last name

Hofmeister

Your job title

Marine Biologist & Environmental Manager

Name of your organization

Soneva Fushi by Six Senses

Organization type

Tourism Resort

Annual budget/currency

Annual Budget/Currency

Mailing address

Soneva Fushi by Six Senses, c/o Bunny Holdings BVI Ltd, 2nd Floor, 4/3 Faamudheri Magu', Male'

Telephone number

00960 6600304

Postal/Zip Code
Country
Alternative email address
Your idea
This will be the address used to plot your entry on the map.
Street Address

Soneva Fushi by Six Senses

City

Kunfunadhoo

State/Province

Baa Atoll

Postal/Zip Code
Country
Geotourism Challenge Addressed by Entrant

Quality of benefit to residents for the destination .

Organization size

Medium (101 to 1000 employees)

Indicate sector in which you principally work

Tourism-related business

Year innovation began

2000

Indicate sector in which you principally work

General tourism.

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Innovation
What is the goal of your innovation? Please describe in one sentence the kind of impact, change, or reform your approach is intended to achieve.

The goal is to raise environmental awareness amongst young locals to emphasise the need for sustainable resource use and to prepare them for the challenges of climate change.

Please write an overview of your project. Include how your approach supports or embodies geotourism or destination stewardship. This text will appear when people scroll over the icon for your entry on the map located on the competition homepage.

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, organised by Soneva Fushi by Six Senses and EcoCare, 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.

Explain in detail why your approach is innovative

When the Soneva Nature Trip started 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 responsible 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 climate change. 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.

Impact
Describe the degree of success you have had to date. How do you measure, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the impact on sustainability or enhancement of local culture, environment, heritage, or aesthetics? How has it transformed or contributed to the power of place or demonstrated the sustainability of tourism? How does your approach minimize negative impacts?

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. 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. The benefit to society and environment will only become apparent in the future when environmental responsibility is manifested in day-to-day behaviour and wise decisions are made to enhance sustainability.

In what ways are local residents actively involved in your work, 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 distinguished awards, and competition amongst school children to participate in the trip is strong. The response by the public has always been very positive.

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, the rustic chic and our SLOW LIFE philosophy has been hugely popular with guests, encouraging them to return to our resort frequently.

Describe how your work helps travelers and local residents better understand the value of the area's cultural and natural heritage, and educates them on local environmental issues.

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
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 80,000) plus all its laundry revenue (USD 20,000) on local and global social and environmental initiatives. We have a dedicated 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. Besides the Soneva Nature Trip, one of the most important and largest initiatives we have been sponsoring, costing us around USD 20,000 annually, we also fund waste awareness campaigns, support health-related projects and build schools on neighbouring islands.

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

For the past nine 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 11th anniversary this year. The initiative is financially and organisationally sustainable, as the Soneva resorts continue to grow, make revenue and invest in community projects. The demand for these kinds of environmental awareness programmes is huge, and many more of these nature trips, eco trails, museums, ecological information centres and other informative initiatives could be established in the future.

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 environmental awareness campaigns.

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

In 2008, we organised an eco symposium at Soneva Fushi and invited 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 were 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.

The Story
What is the origin of your innovation? Tell the Changemakers and media communities what prompted you to start this initiative.

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 eleventh 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. For Soneva Fushi, a resort owned and managed by Six Senses Resorts & Spas, the Soneva Nature Trip for school children is a perfect example for the company’s philosophy of offering a SLOW LIFE, as local communities are trained and supported, environmental benefits are gained and best practices are shared with future decision-makers. As one of the leading environmentally-conscious hotel groups in the world, it is hoped that initiatives like the Soneva Nature Trip can be replicated by other businesses and the world made into a better place.

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

Six Senses Resorts & Spas is a resort and spa management and development company established in 1995, which has a unique philosophy of simple sophistication and a strong eco-conscious ethos. It was founded by Sonu Shivdasani, Chairman and CEO, with his wife, Eva, the Creative Director. Six Senses’ core purpose is “to create innovative and enlightening experiences that rejuvenate our guests’ love of SLOW LIFE” (Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wholesome, Learning, Inspiring, Fun, Experiences) and has the vision of becoming a net absorber of carbon emissions, i.e. decarbonising, by 2020. Soneva Fushi aims to be zero-carbon by 2010.

Describe some unique tourist experiences that your approach provides. Be specific; give illustrative examples.

Since the Soneva Nature Trip mainly takes part on local inhabited and uninhabited islands as opposed to resorts, there is only a two-day overlap between Soneva Fushi’s guests and the local children taking part in the excursion. Guests are encouraged to observe and share their views with the children on those days, however, the main activities happen outside of the tourist resort.

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.