Social Innovation: An Opportunity for Youth in Maldives

6 mins read

Civic Engagement For People, For Planet, For Prosperity

The pandemic has been a protracted crisis that did a 180 on our lives.

The impact of COVID-19 in the Maldives was deep, widespread, and cross-cutting. Wave after wave of lockdowns had major repercussions on employment, livelihoods and knock-on effects on families and communities. Those who were least equipped to cope were the hardest hit. Youth employment was at an all-time low while women especially bore the brunt, facing the extra burdens of childcare, unpaid domestic work, and increased gender-based violence. The cracks were mercilessly exposed, revealing the need for innovative solutions.

Enter Miyaheli Social Innovation Camp.

First started in 2016 by UNDP and Ooredoo Maldives, with the support of the Government of Australia and in collaboration with several partners, such as Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment, Miyaheli aims to empower youth to become change-makers in society reaching them at the grassroots – where ingenious and resourceful solutions are borne out of lived realities to overcome societal issues and daily challenges. The camp focuses on equipping young people with the necessary critical thinking and problem-solving skills to foster social entrepreneurship and design innovative, sustainable solutions to pressing issues in Maldivian society.

The term Miyaheli is derived from a season in the indigenous Maldivian calendar developed by our ancestors to calculate geo-specific weather conditions – of particular importance for farmers, fishermen and seafarers. Miyaheli is the season when it’s best to sow your agricultural seeds. Like its namesake, the camp allows young people from across the Maldive Islands to come together and exchange ideas with like-minded individuals. It is a space for the youth to plant their ideas, nurture them to become viable solutions and work on growing them into reality: something that during the pandemic becomes an expression of resilience and opportunity that can be scaled towards the nation-wide contribution to the COVID-19 recovery phase.

One such innovative solution that came out of the social innovation camps is ‘Binheyo’, one of the winning ideas of the first virtual Miyaheli held, right in the middle of the pandemic. ‘Binheyo’ is an urban farming plus farm-to-table project, conceptualised with the aim of addressing the food security and unemployment issues created by the pandemic – problems which will no doubt be exacerbated by the ongoing climate crisis. By introducing a generation of young people to urban farming and using their locally grown fresh produce to launch a farm-to-table movement in the Maldives, ‘Binheyo’ hopes to build resilience and promote sustainable development, while allowing youth to take charge of the world they want.

“Miyaheli gave me the confidence to ask for help,” said Ahmed Niyaz, co-founder of ‘Binheyo’. “The youth are active. We are willing to do the work towards future development, but we need help and support to empower us. Give us a chance, help us build back better.”

In tune with building back better and forming more resilient communities is Blue Hearts, another winning idea from Miyaheli. Blue Hearts is currently a non-profit NGO working towards providing accessible mental health support and normalising open mental health discussions to promote help-seeking behaviours among the public. They are also the first organisation to provide live chat-based mental health support in the Maldives, a much-needed service during the onset of the pandemic.

Multiple lockdowns and lack of access to mental health professions had left people – especially those from atolls – feeling desolate, anxious, and helpless.

“Miyaheli helped fine-tune a very rough idea I had and made it more realistic and attainable,” explained Mariyam Shiba, founder and CEO of Blue Hearts. “Getting started was challenging, but it was a great experience and has paved the way for so many opportunities. Over the past two years we’ve built on the foundation that Miyaheli helped develop, and I’m hopeful that the path we are on will impact others in a meaningful way.”

‘Binheyo’ and Blue Hearts are proof of the social good and innovative solutions that can come out of empowering youth and giving them a chance at tackling issues that matter to them, and that will create a defining impact – one of the main tenets of the Miyaheli Social Innovation Camp.

The 6th cycle of Miyaheli recently concluded in October 2021, which – as recovery from the pandemic gains momentum – was a ray of hope that brought together (this time in person), more youth who once again delivered game-changing social innovations.

Written by Iyath Adam Shareef, UNDP Maldives
Photos by Ashwa Faheem and Iyath Adam Shareef
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