The main matriarchal role models in my life; my mom and grandmother both worked tirelessly. When my grandpa passed away my grandmother opened a tea snack shop, she sold what we call in Maldives Hedhika and I can tell you first hand her hedhika (snacks) are absolutely delicious. She made it work. Despite the hard work, I truly believe that my grandmother enjoyed the struggle, as the business provided for the family and the community both. When hard times hit she rose up to the task and took care of her eleven children. Ask me who I admire most in the world and I will tell you that she is on the top of my list.

Now take my mom, she worked as a seamstress in the bay area. As a student on scholarships at Stanford dad only made so much so mom supplemented it with her work as a seamstress. She had a belief in the quality of her product that made her customers loyal to her. Even now she works tirelessly on a countless number of projects. She is also top on my list of people I admire for their perseverance and hard work.

Later on as a young adult, I watched my dad work in the United Nations, both commercially successful and accretive to society overall. I compared this vision of him with the boy who used to make his own radios and climb trees to listen to international news and I am inspired because he reached beyond his parents meager goals of him being a secretary. Embracing and representing what you believe to be right no matter the cost to yourself, that is admirable. The only times he has backed away from standing up for his beliefs is when his family was in danger. At those times he stayed quiet and for that he is criticized. I admire his dignity, and his belief in social good.

The business people I have most admired in life are those who have balanced profit and societal obligation, I think because at a young age, I witnessed first hand the impact of a small, local business on the community at large. Here in the US, I can find those unique shop owners who own a local shop,  and simply delight in serving their neighbor, who is both grateful and equally joyous at the existence of such a business. Back home in Male’, during my recent year and a half stay, my husband would bring me stories of talking shop with a few grocery stores, several of which were run by the owner. He delighted in these conversations, excited to see the proud, community centric spirit that permeated the various shops we frequented.

Social Business

Would you create a business that gave to, or took from, your local community?

The reality is, most business people I have met do not make this conscious decision. The better ones not only review their impact on the world, but also the local community where they transact. If such a business cannot sustain the local community that gave birth to such a commercial venture, the enterprise is doomed in the long run. Some resorts, some larger venture backed firms I have met here in silicon valley, have no concern beyond their immediate plan, their growth, revenue and bottom line metrics. While I think that’s perfectly acceptable in the short run, in the longer term, all of us share the air we breath, the planet we live on and the resources we consume on a daily basis. The result of this thinking was a huge part in my help in crafting the “Go clean, go green,” campaign for my father when I first arrived to live in Male’. I love my country, but the trash, the sheer unvarnished disregard for such things as keeping our streets clean sickened me like nothing else could have. Those of you Maldivians reading this; remember the days when you would see people out in the morning cleaning the front of their house as if they were cleaning up their own yard. That sense of ownership and pride in community property is nonexistent now.

The facts are we tried, we got attention and provided a beacon of, “This is how things could be done,” within the context of our community. I hope that in the future, more and more of our people will take a stand on local environmentalism. Despite the global concerns threatening some of our islands, if we cannot simply pick up our own trash and do the right thing, we have no right to denounce other countries for their policies, as there can be no doubt that our own are sorely lacking. Don’t get me wrong, the Bay Area, in California, has grown much more polluted and trash ridden in the last few decades according to many people I’ve talked to both native and recent immigrant.

From what I have seen, businesses that contribute to their local communities have a greater success rate than those that don’t.

Why would Maldives be any different?

I think the reason I hold such hope for Maldives is fairly simple. Despite my time living abroad, I have never found a community more capable, intelligent and interested in solutions to the problems of the group of people than in my home town of Male’. If any city the size of Male’ can figure out how to live sustainably, with less environmental impact, in a way that fits within their unique cultural values, it would be Male’, in my opinion. It sickens me when I think about the walks we had to the park, to Eukuveni court, to the swimming track, that were filled with trash. I get it, it’s easy to toss your trash out the window, or a red bull can off the back of your motorbike, if the street is already lined with filth. However, having lived abroad for so many years, I have only appreciated more the beauty, the spectacular opportunity we have as a society to truly live in paradise on Earth.

Like my grandmother, mother and father I believe that no job is beneath me. No mater your position, make the world a better place for yourself, your friends and most importantly your children and some way or the other you will end up doing something you love and making the world a better place in the process. Businesses that can make a difference generate attention inherently and grow organically.

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