In Maldives, a country-led youth entrepreneurship movement blooms

Young men from the Maldives. The country’s government will announce this weekend the winners of its youth-focused startup competition. Photo by: Nattu / CC BY

The Maldivian government could name as early as this weekend the winners of its first-ever youth-focused startup business challenge.

The technical committee began Sunday the process of selecting who among the more than 200 applicants — aged 18-35 — for the first round of the Getset program will receive a loan of up to 800,000 Maldivian rufiyaa ($52,000). The process is expected to take five days to complete.

But the plan is to announce the winners immediately after that, as one of the pledges the government made when it announced the competition in November was “that [the applicants] will know very quickly,” according to J. David Galipeau, the knowledge and innovation management regional team leader at the U.N. Development Program’s Asia-Pacific office and designer of the program.

A different way of cooperation

Galipeau flew into the Maldives to lead the selection process. Apart from him, all members of the technical committee are Maldivians, including representatives from the government, private sector and academe, as well as a cultural specialist to make sure that the startups mesh well with the country’s culture and society.

Being government-sponsored, Getset deviates from the traditional U.N. cooperation approach where the global body and its agencies lead, hire people and evaluate the project.

“While this process here, taking a much lighter approach in doing it, and letting them [run the program], the whole system is set up to have them help themselves in the second round, third round, fourth round. So it's very much train-the-trainer type of orientation,” Galipeau said.

He stressed that his work mainly involves coordination and helping the government set up the program.

“I do the training because it’s very new for [the Maldivians],” he told Devex. “And they’re really picking up on their own. The local people I’m working with, they’re really getting it, and they’re really getting a lot of energy out of it and really quite excited about it.”

Youth issues in the Maldives

Youth entrepreneurship is particularly a new concept for Maldivians. Because of the wealth the tourism industry has brought in, the country has a robust middle class. Youths have a comfortable life, opting to live with their parents, Galipeau observed.

But that has also created problems. Without a worthwhile activity to focus their energy on, some young people have dabbled into drugs and petty crime. The situation is “nothing serious” just yet, “but it could be very serious,” he noted.

Aside from injecting a spirit of entrepreneurship into the youth, Getset is designed to help secure the future of Maldivians.

“The kids are having kids now so it's the future. What are their kids going to do? So this is why they want to sort of expand the economy, diversify away from tourism, look for new types of industries that could raise it,” Galipeau told Devex, noting that the growth of the youth population is now outpacing the growth of jobs in the country.

From entrepreneurs to ‘ambassadors’

For the first round, the technical committee will endorse 15 to 20 startups to support under the program, which involves a business incubation period of nine months.

As part of the selection process, the technical committee members will conduct quick interviews to determine whether the winning applicants have not only the capacity but also the determination to implement their ideas; if lacking, the program will appoint mentors to help them sort out those issues.

Part of the goal is to turn the first-round winners into youth entrepreneurship ambassadors and be mentors themselves for succeeding rounds over the four years that the program will run.

“We really want [the first-round Getset winners] to be really engaged in the next round, picking the new startups, helping them, coaching them through the incubation. So we really want to create the ecosystem [for entrepreneurship],” Galipeau said. “Having startup rounds, it’s great; if there’s no ecosystem for it, it really stalls.”

Galipeau expects the second round of Getset to begin in July.

Want to learn more? Check out the Youth Will website and tweet #YouthWill.

Youth Will is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, The Commonwealth Secretariat, The MasterCard Foundation and UN-Habitat to explore the power that youth around the globe hold to change their own futures and those of their peers.

About the author

  • Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability, and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.