Bank of Maldives appoints first female chairperson

The Bank of Maldives has appointed Fareeha Shareef as the first female chairperson of the national bank.

The bank’s board of directors decided to appoint Fareeha at a meeting on Thursday. The post had been vacant since last year.

According to the bank, Fareeha is a founder and former managing partner (2010 to 2014) of FJS Associates LLP where she currently holds the position of senior partner.

“She is also a director at FJS Consulting Pvt Ltd and has been an independent consultant of Adam Smith International since 2012,” the bank said in a press release.

She also served six years as a board member of the Maldives Pension Administration Office

“Ms Fareeha has professional experience in various fields such as auditing, accountancy, financial management and governance. In addition, she has vast experience in financial modelling, including banking, Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) and socioeconomic research in Maldives and in the international arena,” the press release continued.

“Ms Fareeha is a Fellow Member of CPA (Certified Public Accountants, UK) and ACCA (The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, UK) and a member of the Institute of International Auditors and Certified Fraud Examiners. She holds a Master of Management Studies (First Class) degree from the University of Waikato, New Zealand.”


ARC: Problems, progress and perceptions of an NGO

While political games and religious debates preoccupy media and coffee talk, civil sector projects persist in providing for the public. But they are subject to suspicion, and often slip under the radar.

“Promotion is hard,” said Zenysha Shaheed Zaki of the NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC). “We keep trying to invite the media to events and get people to attend, but it always seems to collide with a political event.”

Recently, ARC organised an exhibition of children’s artwork from the shelters Education and Training Centre for Children (ETCC) on Maafushi and the Correctional Training Centre for Children (CTCC) on Feydhoofinolhu. In spite of promotions, the religious protests of December 23 and their aftermath coincided with the exhibition and more or less wiped it into the background.

“I practically dragged people in from the street!” said Zaki. “But once they were there, many found that they actually enjoyed the display, and some even came back three, four times with friends who hadn’t seen it yet. So there is a public interest in this, and that’s really what we want to achieve.”

ARC was founded in 2009 to bolster the work of ETCC, CTCC and the shelter at Kudakudhinge Hiya. Although the shelters address different groups of children with different needs, they share the same basic interest – improve children’s lives. However, as Zaki experienced with the media, the shelters were struggling to forge a productive network.

Yet Zaki, who volunteered at the shelters after returning from school in New Zealand, said short staffing and minimal funding made it difficult for the shelters to organised events individually. By creating a separate NGO specifically aimed at connecting the members of the child’s rights sector, she believed the stress on individual shelters could be reduced and progress could be achieved.

“The shelters didn’t have strong communication before,” Zaki said, pointing out that while ETCC and CTCC focus on juvenile delinquents Kudakudhinge Hiya attended to abandoned children below age nine. “Their work was different, but we found that the issues were more or less the same. We wanted to see what we could do to help in a more organised way.”

Deputy Health Minister Fathimath Afiya worked in the civil society sector for 18 years before joining the government. She said that while there is “a good number” of organisations addressing child care matters across the islands, “it’s a huge area of work with many challenges.”

The Ministry of Health and Family works closely with the relevant NGOs, and is trying to build a partnership with the corporate sector. According to Afiya, the ministry has signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) with NGO Maldives Red Crescent and corporate group Aima.

“But there still needs to be a mechanism for NGOs and the government to form a partnership. We have to create funding opportunities and better articulate ways to achieve our goals,” she said.

Validating Zaki’s instinct that most groups concerned with child and family matters share similar goals, Afiya said the government relies on NGOs for help jump-starting programs in society.

However, the relationship between the government and the civil sector is still on the drafting table. And it may be drafting a few too many organisations.

At the 2011 UN International Democracy Day ceremony, FJS Consulting Pvt. Ltd.  highlighted key operational issues facing the Maldives’ civil sector in a “Comprehensive Study on Maldivian Civil Society”.

Over 1100 Civil Society Organisations (CSO) and NGOs are registered in the Maldives–almost one organisation for every 300 people. CSO’s average employee is age 25, with an education level ranging from grade 6 through 10. Only 0.7 percent of employees are paid due to a funding shortage – donors provide the least amount of funding, and most CSO fundraising efforts only cover about 30 percent of program costs.

Tracking funds and goals accomplished is difficult.

“The government is trying to provide aid but the structure of how to do it is not specified,” said Managing Director Fareeha Shareef at the event, noting that many CSOs don’t actually engage in the activities for which they are named, such as sports.

Speaking today with Minivan News, Shareef agreed that the high number of organisations is not supported by adequate funds and resources, but added that lack of awareness and communication are key problems.

“Most NGOs don’t know what the others are doing, or which other NGOs are working in their sector,” she explained, adding that steps are being taken to create a central communications database for the civil sector. “If the sector can organise and if resources can be better distributed by groups working together, there would be dramatic change.”

Unfortunately, the Maldives ranks highly for corruption and corruption perception. Zaki noted that there is a general public suspicion that NGOs request funding without a clear action plan, and that the money disappears unaccountably. She said this was one reason why ARC did not request funding for the first two years of operation.

“2012 will be the first year for fundraising at ARC,” she said, pointing out that “we didn’t want to request money without being able to prove that it would go to good use.

“Also, we found that things like concept designs for campaigns were incredibly expensive. We decided it was better to use our own resources.”

Working late into the night after her day job at the Foreign Ministry, Zaki called on friends to act in educational videos and help with design and advertising. Although ARC has many members Zaki said it is difficult to find active volunteers. Unable to find a local nutritionist for the HEAL campaign, she coaxed a friend from New Zealand with expertise in the field to take a volunteer work-based vacation in the Maldives.

Pointing to the 0.7 percent of paid NGO employees, Shareef said the high number of youth volunteers in the civil sector is encouraging–but it is also a major concern. “Almost the entire sector is young and working on a voluntary basis. This means that there is a high turnover–young people need to get paid to get by, and so they move into the paid industries,” she said.

Contrary to public assumption, Shareef said, Maldivians volunteer often and form NGOs out of a genuine interest. But unlike politics, work in the public sector is rarely a public priority. “There is not enough dialogue among the NGOs and not enough clear coverage within the media,” she said, contrasting smaller islands “where people what their NGOs are doing” to Male’, where the population is so dense that the civil sector is heavily clouded. “People have only their perceptions, they aren’t being informed of what NGOs do.”

When asked whether ARC was the first in its field, Zaki said she could not say which other NGOs were addressing children’s rights. According to FJS’ findings, children and youth are supported by less than 20 percent of NGOs. Approximately one-fifth of NGOs promote healthy living, empower vulnerable groups, or provide support for education. Over 50 percent focus on sports, music, arts and leisure.

Operating solo in the civil sector, ARC provides direct support to the shelters while also expanding their reach to donors and the larger community.

In 2011, ARC campaigned for Healthy Eating and Lifestyle (HEAL), Internet safety, prevention of child abuse, and road safety. Zaki said the campaigns reached parents as well as children.

“You would be surprised how long the Q&A sessions went on for,” said Zaki. “A lot parents assume that it’s good if a child is at home playing on the computer rather than running around the streets. And they don’t realise how much sugar goes into packet drinks, or how much fat is in a sausage. And the children would sometimes tell their parents that they weren’t supposed to walk in the street, for instance.”

ARC also organised sports activities, including a month-long swimming program with Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), and childcare trainings with Nurses of Maldives. Volunteers help teach children certain life skills which can benefit them personally and financially. “You teach a child to bake a cake, and that child can also go and work in a bakery,” Zaki explained.

In spite of the difficulties, Zaki said she is pleased with ARC’s progress and is particularly glad to see first hand that donations are being properly invested by the shelters.

“It’s good to have a personal connection,” she explained. “They trust us, and we have a real interest in seeing changes made.”


Democracy growing, but gender equality a key issue: UNDP

The UNDP International Day of Democracy was celebrated today under the theme “Youth Inclusion and Democracy” at the Nasandhura Palace Hotel. Representatives from the government, UNDP, and the Human Rights Commission spoke on democratic progress in the Maldives.

Youth in civil society were widely recognised as a key factor for democratic growth in the Maldives.

UN Advisor on Social Cohesion and Governance, Ferdinand von Habsburg-Lothringen, delivered the opening speech.

“Civil society in the Maldives is impressive. It is an important avenue for young people to engage with their community and to hold leaders accountable,” he said.

Habsburg-Lothringen noted that “democracy is still a new concept in the Maldives, and will take many years to mature,” and encouraged the Maldivian government to enact “crucial” laws, such as the penal code.

Gender equality remains one of the biggest issues in the Maldives, said Habsburg-Lothringen. He noted that only 5 of the 77 MPs are female.

“Gender equality is an area in which the Maldives is lagging behind most countries in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” he said. “Democracy is dependent on not just 50 percent of the people. With only half of the eligible work force participating, growth will not flourish in the Maldives.”

Home Minister Hassan Afeef called this year’s theme “relevant to the country – a majority of our population are young people.”

The ceremony featured a presentation of the report, “Comprehensive Study on Maldivian Civil Society” by FJS Consulting.

Managing Director Fareeha Shareef summarised the report’s findings on CSOs in the Maldives. Among the issues addressed was the disorganised categorisation of CSOs.

“The government is trying to provide aid but the structure of how to do it is not specified,” said Shareef. “Some sports clubs and organisations didn’t even engage in sports activities,” she said.

Shareef also commented on the CSO sector’s unique work force. According to the report, only 0.7 percent of employees are paid, and the average employee is age 25 with an education ranging between grades 6 and 10. There are 1100 CSOs registered in the Maldives.

Funding is also a struggle. The report found that donors were the least common source of funding, and many CSOs organise events to generate income. One example was a CSO that went fishing to generate program funding. The report notes that these events only cover about 30 percent of the total program cost.

The report recognises that the Maldives has the resources to support a strong civil society, but recommends bringing in older employees to provide guidance. “Imagine the potential of the sector if the resources were channeled in an effective manner,” said Shareef.

Chief Guest speaker Mariyam Azra Ahmed, Chair of the Human Rights Commission, said “a vibrant civil sector and independent media, among others” were essential for growth. She also advised a stronger dialogue between citizens and the government. “Lifestyles incorporating compromise, cooperation, and consensus building should be a consistent, recurring feature in  a democratic society,” she said.

The event included a performance by musician Yes-e and singer Grey, for whom the performance was her debut. “I was a bit nervous, and the audience wasn’t very lively, but it was a good event,” she said.

Following a tea break, a vigorous student debate was widely attended by members of civil society, UNDP, and the government. Gesticulating throughout the debate, the students of Aminiya and Dharumavatha schools demonstrated passion and ambition for democracy in the Maldives.