Iyaz Waheed, the President at Universal Foundation has been working in the hospitality industry for over 18 years. Experienced in the areas of hospitality finance, hotel management, human resources and compliance, Iyaz is a strong professional with an associate membership from Chartered Management Accountants of U.K. Iyaz has presently dedicated his career to CSR and sustainable development and has secured his position as president of the Universal Foundation.

Hotelier Maldives: Can you tell us a little bit about the Universal Foundation and its CSR philosophy?

Iyaz Waheed: Universal Foundation was founded by the Chairman and the directors of the Universal Enterprises to formalise its CSR activities and run the programmes in a more efficient manner. The heart of our CSR projects is Human Development and creating value for society.

HM: What is your role as President?

IW: As the President of the Universal Foundation, my role is to lead the Executive Committee and formulate necessary strategies to ensure that the projects we carry out are conceptualised and delivered efficiently and effectively.

HM: Which projects are currently being undertaken at Universal Foundation?

IW: CSR projects we carry out are of two folds. One is the projects we carry out on our own and the second are the projects we carry out jointly with other NGOs and Government Institutions. The main projects we currently carry out are;

The Universal Scholarship Programme

This was a programme which was initiated by Universal Enterprises more than 30 years back and now being continued by Universal Foundation. The aim of this programme is to facilitate Maldivians to study further in areas of critical importance for national development. In this programme, priority is given to sponsor doctors who want to get specialised in different disciplines of medicine. Up to now, more than 100 scholars have completed their studies abroad.

Discover Hospitality Programme

This was a programme we started last year with an aim of promoting localisation of the workforce in the hospitality industry. It was always the concern of our Chairman and many resort operators to find out why the local youth are not forthcoming to the career opportunities opening up every year in the industry. After talking with our industry HR colleagues our Group HR Manager, Ali Adam (who is also the Vice President of the Universal Foundation) and I proposed this programme.

We thought that the best way to get Maldivian youth to involve in the industry is to provide them with the right knowledge and experience. We partnered with Universal Resorts and Villa College, so the participants can get theory and experience. It has been very successful up to now and 35 young Maldivians have completed this programme and are working in the industry.

Universal Financial Assistance programme

This is another programme Universal Enterprises had been running ever since its inception 40 years back and now handed over to the Universal Foundation. Through this programme, we assist individuals who are in need of financial assistance to obtain medical treatments abroad.

Patient Transport Service of MRC

We started supporting the Maldivian Red Crescent three years back and continuing, to support their patient transport services in Malé, our aim is to work with MRC and make the programme a sustainable programme.

Heart Camps

We have been supporting the Tiny Hearts of Maldives to have their annual heart camp and to fund them to assist in the surgery of kids in need.

Sustainability Project

We are in discussion with Parley to design and deliver a sustainability programme targeting the ever-growing issue of one-time-use plastic in the country.

HM: With your experience of working as a Group Manager – Finance and Human Resources for Universal Enterprises, why the decision to become President of the Universal Foundation? Would you say your present role is more rewarding?

IW: I always found self-fulfilment in serving people, maybe it is due to years of working in the hospitality industry. I also noticed the importance of giving back to society and helping people to grow, when I was working in Human Resources. This led me to suggest the Chairman and directors of Universal Enterprises register Universal Foundation as a charity organisation, so the CSR projects could be run in a more focused way and generate greater value for money.

Now I have dual roles within our group, that is to lead Universal Foundation as well as to head the compliance function. I would say the role I play in Universal Foundation is very rewarding, as I get many opportunities to make the lives of people better while representing an organisation which has personally helped me to be who I am today. Also, I find great pleasure in working with an amazing team of Exco members and the support staff from Universal Head Office. Also, the contribution and guidance from the Chairman, Directors and the Executive Directors of Universal Enterprises is an encouragement for me to continue in this role.

HM: Can we find good CSR practices in the country? What are the challenges in capacity building in the CSR industry?

IW: There are many good CSR initiatives in the Maldives. Many resorts have their own very good CSR initiatives and also some companies have good programmes. The main challenge is the sustainability of such programmes. The other challenges faced by organisations are not having a clear focus and plan to carry out the CSR programmes.

I believe the social responsibility mindset has to be built into people from a young age starting from schools and colleges. CSR was seen as a more of an HR function or a PR function, this ideology needs to be changed and CSR needs to be built into the DNA of every organisation. Also, there have to be more avenues for organisations to share the best practices.

HM: Do you think the concept of CSR is widely understood in the Maldives? Or is it often reduced to acts of philanthropy and charity?

IW: I believe there is huge room for improvement in this area. Some organisations see CSR as a one-off fundraising for a charity or donation event. Today CSR should be a company-wide initiative and should be embedded in the organisational structure, starting from the welfare of the staff to the community. More organisations should look at the requirements of ISO 26000, on CSR and try to match those requirements.

HM: Since you have taken on the role of President at Universal Foundation, it has carried out several CSR programmes. What do you consider as your main achievement in the time you have spent in the foundation?

IW: I would say the main achievement was to organise the CSR function of Universal Group and to bring more strategic focus and the concept of “Impact of the dollar spent to the society”, in all our programmes. To name few, the upgrading of SEN facility at Imaduddin School, the MRC patient transport service, the Discover Hospitality Programme, and the Universal Scholarship Programme are some of the projects we are very proud of. It is also worth to highlight that there are many other CSR initiatives carried out by Universal Resorts, which are not directly managed by Universal Foundation.

HM: As a last question, we would like to ask what has your philosophy been that has guided your success in your professional career. And what is the best advice you can give to aspiring professionals in the industry?

IW: I follow a two-tier approach to career progression, that is the pull and push strategy. The pull strategy is to understand the boarder organisational objectives and the goals of the senior management and trying to deliver those at the best of my ability and to the satisfaction of the top management. The push strategy is to develop those under me and especially to grow and coach my direct reports to take over my position within 24 months to 36 months after I take over any role. I invest time and money in developing myself, reading and attending training whenever possible.

I always like to face new challenges with confidence and dedication. This has helped me to grow step by step in the career ladder. The best advice I can give to the aspiring professionals is that they should have a growth mindset, their personal growth should not be viewed as the responsibility of anyone else, they should take full charge of their personal growth, grab every possible opportunity for growth. And when they are working always create value for their customers, colleagues, shareholders and other stakeholders. The most important thing is having the right mindset.