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Coolest Jobs in Hospitality: Community Engagement Manager, Soneva Fushi

Island life is unique - but things become infinitely cooler if you're getting paid to do what you truly love. By featuring amazing people doing awesome work, The Edition hopes to inspire new generations into hospitality - the backbone of Maldives' economy.

Rae Munavvar
29 December 2019, MVT 09:22
Fathimath Raia Mustafa works as the Community Engagement Manager for Soneva Fushi Resort in Baa Atoll (2019). PHOTO: HAWWA AMAANY ABDULLA / THE EDITION
Rae Munavvar
29 December 2019, MVT 09:22

The last time Fathimath Raia Mustafa was this far out in the public eye, she was delivering slick bass riffs on stage with her ‘Magenta’ girls, each poised to take the Maldives’ music scene by a storm (and so they did).

Yet the backdrop has transformed since then, from doused in colorful spotlights to sun-kissed in the island breeze and seemingly, so has the cocoa beauty herself. Now well in her twenties, Rai is presently working as Community Engagement Manager for luxury resort Soneva Fushi, separated by 114 kilometers of ocean from her home in Male’ City.

Despite how much island life seems to agree with the Rai sitting opposite this writer, it seems prudent to start with what changed and why.

“Well, the opportunity came up to be the Waste-To-Wealth Coordinator and I am quite lucky to have gotten the position.I ended up at Soneva Fushi because of the resort’s philosophy and, particularly, their focus on sustainability.”

“About eight months later, I applied for the position of Community Engagement Manager that had just opened up, and fortunately, which I am now filling in!”, she laughs and it is the sort that is lilts and lifts contagiously.

So has the sustainability and environmental conservation aspect always been close to the heart?

“It's something that I’ve had an interest in, but not anything that I necessarily explored as a career choice before. I have actively tried to have more environmentally friendly practices in my personal life though. This has been more about being in the right place at the right time”.

Rai has been working at the resort for a year now, and while her typical day starts off with the morning briefing, followed by desk work, planning and strategizing for community initiatives, she says, “every day is very different.''

“Some days my time is taken up by visiting groups to the resort; schools, NGO’s, guests and so on, or it could be spent visiting neighboring islands for our engagements there. Generally speaking, it is quite exciting as there is so much fluidity in my day to day work with frequent activities and engagements with different groups outside of the resort, It's also about connecting with our teams for support as we engage in different community activities”.

Interesting, where or with whom would you say most of your interactions occur these days?

“Right now, most of our continuous community engagement is with people outside the right and so, it might be between the three islands we are working with right now for the Namoona Baa project, which is the biggest project taking place under community engagement right now.”

“My position requires communicating with schools and other stakeholders throughout Baa Atoll. Presently we are in conversation with ministries and other government institutions based in Male’ as well, so it does go beyond the atoll but in this regard, the majority of my interactions for this role take place with those based outside of it.”

Rai rummages through garbage participating in a clean-up activity hosted on a local island. PHOTO: ALICIA WANER

Rai is a leading force in the Namoona Baa Initiative, a rather wholesome project launched in January 2019 by the island councils of Maalhos, Dharavandhoo and Kihaadhoo in partnership with Soneva and Common Seas, as a collective response to Maldives’ growing waste and plastics crisis.

As part of the initiative, the island councils have pledged to end the open burning of waste, and each island will establish an ‘Eco-Centro’, a hub modelled after Soneva Fushi’s own waste-to- wealth center, to sort, recycle and reuse waste. Soneva has pledged funds from its Soneva Namoona programme to support the creation of these Eco-Centros, the first of which will be launched at Maalhos, February 2020.

Namoona Baa, as we understand is an ambitious endeavour, supported by Soneva’s own vast knowledge and expertise to foster a more sustainable way of life. Would you tell us more about your role in it?

“Namoona Baa is, obviously, a community engagement initiative and my role in it is managing the project itself on the ground, engaging with our various partners. But it’s also something that I’ve been a part of, albeit in a different position, from the very beginning.”

“And so I’ve played various parts in it, for instance, in terms of coordination from the waste management side of things, setting up clean ups and so on. Today, a lot more of it is about getting people and things organized for upcoming events and ensuring our deadlines are being met.”

“In a nutshell - organizing most of what happens!”

Let’s return to you. Having grown up a bit of a city girl in Male’, Kaafu Atoll, quite a ways from where we sit now, what kind of an adjustment has island life been?

“Um… I think the hospitality industry, especially being based at a resort, is just a whole thing on its own - but living away from home is something that I’ve done for a very long time, since I lived and studied abroad. So the move itself was not too difficult for me but living on a small island, which is also your place of work, can be a challenge.”

“It’s really all about finding your people and achieving a work life balance as you would anywhere else.”

Now I'm curious. What did you study? Does it have anything to do with the work you’re now doing?

Bursting into fits of laughter, Rai barely manages to get the first words out, “No, completely different!”.

She straightens up and grins, “I suppose it is related in some ways, if you look at it this way”.

“I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, with a minor in German studies. Related in some ways meaning that, philosophy is a very intersectional study, and the language of course helps.”

In her position as Community Engagement Manager for luxury resort Soneva Fushi, Baa Atoll, Rai is now based 114 kilometers away from her home in Male’ City. PHOTO: MATT PORTEOUS

We’ve touched upon it a little bit, but if you had to condense it all down what would you say you enjoy most about your job?

“I think, at the end of the day, it is about how much of a positive impact we would be making on the communities around us and it’s also about the relationships we create. It’s not so much about the events itself. If the engagement is solid, then it is about how much those relationships evolve and how much our work becomes, in a sense, a part of these communities.”

“To see people excited about the things we do, or have them talking about it and putting them into practise is incredibly rewarding.''

Is there a moment that stands out in particular, maybe cementing that sense of fulfilment?

“Hmmm,” For a few seconds, she trails off pensively. “If I were to pick a moment…”

“Recently, during the Baa Atoll’s Manta Festival in Eydhafushi, there was a stall by Maalhos School and one the students recognized and came up to us. They talked about their stall, which was centered around the waste issue and how the island had stopped open burning, which is, of course, one of the goals we are trying to achieve.”

“It was really, really exciting to see something like that pop up, all on their own, and having it come from school students. That was very cool to see!”.

Do you have a dream of your own, outside of what is already in motion, that you hope to one day soon realize through your work in the field of community engagement?

“I think seeing more inter-island interactions and that sort of collaborative spirit and resultant work, would be nice. Not that it’s not happening right now, but the more collaboration there is between islands and the more support people give each other, that’s where things grow, as we learn from each other. I think that’s something we’ve started to do here, to share our best practises and to see that happen more, and in a bigger way between various island communities would be good to see”.

“I say that because you see this happen in certain areas like sports and things that people have always been involved in with islands maybe having a healthy sense of competition. For a sense of innovation and creativity to happen outside of that, covering all dimensions of daily island life, I think holds a lot of promise”.

On that note, out of Soneva’s diverse collection of sustainable undertakings, given that all of them have an application that people can take up and benefit from, and you had the opportunity to pick one and apply all across the Maldives without any fallback, what would it be?

“Well, that’s a really hard question,” she says, forehead wrinkling in objection.

...Because the challenges are complex and interlinked with many actors?

“ -that, but it is also like, one size fits all is not something we stand by either.”

Fair enough, let me rephrase the question. What serves as something to take from Soneva’s sustainable philosophy, an aspect Maldivians could stand to gain from?

“Innovative thinking and getting people into the right mindset for it. Everything here is just so fast-paced; with new ideas constantly coming through a lot is always evolving.

What people could essentially exercise is, taking the time to actually observe what is in existence, weigh that with what people are suggesting and then work towards turning it all into something tangible that people can see in practice.”

“There are so many talented people, everywhere. It is just that those talents aren’t facilitated properly or developed into something that they can be proud of or improve on.”

The art of turning words into action?

"Yes, I would say so. Yes.”

We sit back for a moment, reflecting on our conversation and simply enjoying being enveloped in Soneva Fushi’s paradisal atmosphere. Sounds of rustling palm leaves fill the air as Dhandi-fulhu-dhooni (White-tailed Tropicbird) swoop overhead, setting a serene mood as Rai continues.

“For a private company to have these activities, it's also about having the resources to do so. If there is something to take from here to be implemented elsewhere, it would be about changing people’s mindsets and their habits.”

We laugh, as the gravity of her suggestion falls onto our fragile platform.

“So, not something that is easy to kick off or to implement”.

But that’s the dream?

“Yeah”.

Rai speaking to local students from neighboring islands, during their visit to Soneva Fushi Resort for a surf lesson. PHOTO: JULIA NEESON

In the beginning, you mentioned there were already some environmentally-friendly practices you subscribed to. What are some ways in which working at Soneva Fushi has influenced you further, and built on that?

“The things that I’ve practiced has always been recycling, having an upcycling mindset, minimize single-use plastic usage - what can I use instead of buying something new, that sort of thing.”

“Yet it’s definitely heightened since I started working here. Because you know, I’m living in it, asking people to do the same thing and also being in a space where it is being practised in every aspect has certainly been nurturing and I’ve made a lot more switches since.”

I’m like-minded in this regard, tell me more sensei, so that I too may learn.

“[Chuckles] I’ve started using a menstrual cup instead of sanitary napkins or tampons. I’ve started thinking a lot more about what I consume”.

“I’ve been learning a lot more about all the degrees of plastics; the different types and the respective methods of recycling. Gaining all that extra knowledge means that it’s not just like ‘Oh let's separate it into three categories’ - it could be more, and that leads to thinking about where it could go as well”.

“Overall, gaining more knowledge to reflect better on what I do and make changes where I can. Lots to improve on still, for sure, but I’m making a conscious effort”.

Any advice for people who’d like to contribute to this industry, perhaps follow in your footsteps and utilize these platforms to do good for our communities?

“If you are passionate about what you do, there is always going to be an avenue where you can explore that further. Spreading it, getting more people excited about it and seeing the value of it, is something that you should always be doing”.

“Because people are becoming more aware of environmental issues and the impact, I think there are more opportunities that are coming up. Sometimes it's a matter of knowing where exactly to go, sometimes it's a matter of putting yourself out there and getting out of your comfort zones”.

“I suppose, from a community engagement perspective at least, the more you meet people and the more you share that passion, I think that automatically sets you on a path to do what you love and achieve what it is that you want.”

As Rai celebrates her first work anniversary at Soneva Fushi, it feels appropriate to ask this newcomer to the field of hospitality about her plans for the next decade. Despite distracting us by chortling through her answer, she confidently quips, “what I can be sure of is, I’ll probably still be doing something very similar in a social context. There’s still a lot that needs to change”.

Mysterious though she may wish to be about what the future holds, one rather obvious fact stuck out - this young star has only just begun to rise.

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