Last week, we looked at "Green Entrepreneurship" and this week I introduce you to the Maldivian context of entrepreneurship. The Republic of Maldives is situated in the Indian Ocean and scattered on both sides of the Equator.
The archipelago is divided into 26 ring shaped clusters. Maldives is a grouping of 1,192 coral islands and a shallow lagoon, enclosed by a coral reef, surrounds each of the islands.
Most of them have poor, sandy soil, which limits agricultural production. Each cluster of islands is known as an 'atoll', a word derived from 'atholhu' in Dhivehi, which is the language of Maldives. Dhivehi belongs to the Indo-Iranian group, with strong Arabic influence. The society is homogenous, with one language, one culture and one religion.
Islam is the national religion and all citizens are Sunni Muslims. The weekend here, lasts from Friday to Saturday. Except on designated tourist islands, alcoholic beverages and pork are illegal, as are dogs.
This column is a result of personal learning experiences the author has from a former housemate in New Zealand (who is from Maldives - Hassan Latheef).
In addition, the author conducted extensive desk research. Although the literacy levels appear to be higher than the neighbouring islands, many people, especially those over 45 years of age, cannot read.
Although the Maldives has a constitution since 1932, the legal framework for the commercial sector in the country is very poor. A lack of comprehensive laws is evident.
Most entrepreneurs in the Maldives operate their businesses as sole owners, and they manage the businesses themselves. A very few number have private limited liability companies with a small number of shareholders; however, even these enterprises are managed by the owners rather than professional managers.
Registered partnerships appear to be uncommon in the Maldives, and the author's housemate explained that in the Dhivehi culture, it is not necessary to formalize a partnership between individuals who trust one another; among those who do not trust one another, a partnership is avoided altogether.
Some communities are provided with electricity by the government, however all the resorts and several other islands do not have access to public electricity and rely on privately owned generators, of which there are hundreds.
There are no well-established finance companies, investment banks nor trading banks in the Maldives. Nor does the country have a stock market. Yet, the apparent lack of capital markets is not seen as a constraint to entrepreneurship. There are neither busses nor trains in the Maldives.
In the capital, which has cars, motorcycles and taxis, the most common means of transportation is to ride a bicycle. Between the islands, boats come and go depending on local needs and the vessel owner.
The most important island is Male and is the sole political capital and economic centre of Maldives. It is about one kilometer wide, two kilometers long and home to quarter of the nations 264, 000 people.
There are also immigrant workers from Egypt, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. In addition. traders come to Male to conduct business, so the number of people is said to swell to 100, 000 on some days.
Yet, Male is a clean city for the crowded capital of the nation. The town boasts 20 mosques, numerous small shops and very busy markets. It also offers many small teahouses, where Dhivehi men enjoy small snacks, such as fishballs, curry, breads, cakes, and samosa.
To wash it all down, a cup of black tea, loaded with sugar, is a popular choice. Although men spend many hours in teahouses, chatting about business and smoking, cultural norms make it unacceptable for women to behave in a similar manner.
Businessmen are not clad in suits and ties, rather, most wear cotton sarongs that are constantly hiked up above the knees and then lowered to the ground. Very few men wear sports pants, but no one wears socks.
All have a variety of flip-flops on their feet. A look into their glass hazel eyes reveals tenderness tempered by the sea. These people are one with nature and they emit warm personalities.
At night, many lie on their boats and on concrete blocks awaiting the departure back home, where they will head to pick up more produce from their island, only to return once again.
Each year, on 10 December, the nation celebrates Fisherman's Day, to highlight the importance of the role of fishing in the economy.
The traditional industries of the Maldives are still very alive, employing 25 percent of the workforce. It is not uncommon to see a self-employed fisherman making his own boat.
Women are often seen weaving mats, or making ropes. It is important to highlight that modernization has given rise to the fishing sector.
What is the key lesson here for us as Namibians? We are blessed to have landed on this side of the planet. In the absence of abundant resources, Dhivehi entrepreneurs view entrepreneurship as the function of acting upon arbitrage opportunities. With little formal education, they appear as being unskilled people using simple technology. Yet, they perform important economic functions.
They do not perceive a lack of infrastructure nor lack of capital as constraints. Nor are they concerned with risk. They associate risk with global warming causing the sea level to rise, thereby drowning the islands, the average of which is a mere 10 feet above sea level. Next week, we fly back to "Jozi" (Johannesburg) the Golden City - Dangerous, but an entrepreneurial opportunity that one cannot miss!!!!