I thought I was dreaming! The Private sector was interested in our work?! Development work?! I looked around the table, my colleagues and I were all wearing the same expression. We looked shocked. Ahmed Yaamin from UNDP Maldives writes.

Our project manager had just told us that Soneva Fushi, one of the most luxurious resorts in Maldives, was interested in helping us expand our water project in Baa Atoll Maalhos.

In a world where most people view private sector as only taking up money making projects, this was great news! Little did we know back then that this would be just our first step in working with the private sector to achieve sustainable development in the country.

Today the water project which started out with the aim of providing water to a single island is now ready to start supplying water to the islands nearby. The arrival of a reliable source of water to an island that had to rely on the government to supply them with water even for basic needs, has transformed the island. People are thriving and new businesses such as restaurants and guesthouse are now flourishing.

This for us is a battle won, but the war remains, still to be fought.

The Maldives is one of the lowest lying nations in the world, and the most vulnerable to climate change and its devastating impacts. It is also home to a rich and diverse ecosystem.

In recent years, the country has seen major investments in tourism, especially resorts and guesthouses. The expansion of the tourism sector has created an urgent need to make sure that our resources, on which locals and tourists alike depend on, are used in a sustainable way. There is an urgent need for us to find ways in which our beautiful beaches, oceans and marine life can be enjoyed and used by our children in the future.

There is a common belief that development work is for government and civil society organisations, and that the private sector has no role to play. So, the big question for us was, how can we work with the private sector and communities to find local solutions to our everyday development challenges.

At UNDP, we decided to give this a try. In 2016, we officially partnered with Ooredoo Maldives to promote the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a list of 17 goals set in 2015 by the UN to be achieved by 2030. The SDGs provided us with a much-needed opportunity to start working with the private sector directly.

Suddenly, we were no longer trying to make companies realise that they too could support communities and help the country grow. Instead, the private sector started approaching us with ideas on how they could support the development of the country.

With this growing interest, we decided to launch the Make My Island initiative – a unique platform through which UNDP Maldives and its trusted partners can work together to help communities achieve their hopes for a better life. As part of the platform, UNDP Maldives developed projects for working with the private sector using their expertise and experience to address our everyday challenges.

The support shown by private sector partners has been promising. From a single partner, our network has grown to include 13 partners, from large-scale telecom companies and luxury resorts to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

At a time where the challenges we face are no longer restricted to just one country and the resources required to deal with challenges such as climate change are increasing, private sector cooperation is crucial. We as a community need to come together. We need to realise that in our effort to bring about development and transform lives, no contribution is too small a contribution. All it takes is one person willing to lend a hand.

Photograph by: Ashwa Faheem/UNDP Maldives