MAHRP: Challenging age-old mindsets, championing humane workplaces

When Hussain Afeef, Ali Adam and Ahmed Ibrahim met about three years ago, they knew they had to do something at a grand scale to pass on their knowledge and experience to budding HR professionals in the country. These three passionate heavyweights in the local HR scene then set out to resurrect an old idea; to found a platform to nurture the talents and skills of their peers.

Six months to their initial chat, the Maldives Association of HR Professionals (MAHRP) was born, with Afeef as its president and Ibrahim as one of two vice presidents. And in doing so, Afeef, Adam and Ibrahim achieved what many others before them had attempted but failed; to establish the first ever professional association in Maldives, dedicated to HR and people development.

“As many developing nations, we have a tendency to focus heavily on infrastructure development. In the process, we often forget about human capital development,” Afeef, who serves as the Regional Director of Training, Development and Quality Assurance at LUX* Resorts, said.

“Although it’s a sad reality, that was our biggest motivation. We wanted to develop human capital to cater to the increasing demand created by the rapid expansion of our infrastructure. Almost every sector in Maldives is slowly becoming more and more service-oriented.”

Consistency is key

MAHRP’s mission is to serve the needs of HR professionals by providing the most current and comprehensive resources, and to advance the profession by promoting HR’s essential values, setting professional standards and providing the know-how. It is committed to linking and connecting HR professionals and practitioners locally and oversees through signature events and membership activities.

Since its inaugural meeting on February 24, 2018, MAHRP has organised exclusive training events in Maldives with world’s leading customer experience consultant Ron Kaufman and world-renowned motivational speaker Robin Banks, enabling organisations to have access to world-class trainings at discounted rates. The first National HR Convention and Expo and the first learning and development conference in Maldives were also held in 2019. Regular knowledge share events complement these activities.

“Most NGOs in Maldives that are focused on professional development are not active. MAHRP’s difference is consistency. We organise at least one event per month. All of our exco members are employed full-time at some of the biggest companies in the Maldives, but we have been able to give time and drive the association forward,” Afeef said.

Over the past two years, MAHRP has consistently been in the news. Despite initial reluctance by some organisations to participate in the association’s activities, MAHRP’s events have now captured the attention of almost every private and public enterprise in the country. Its myriad of activities are closely followed by all HR professionals throughout the archipelago.

“As the current president, I thank MAHRP exco and advisory team for their relentless support, as well as our sponsors and partners for their contributions. Without their guidance and collaboration, we won’t be where we’re today,” Afeef said.

Taking on existing mindsets

For most newly-formed organisation, the biggest challenge will perhaps be raising funds for its activities. It was a challenge for MAHRP as well. But the biggest and most important challenge the association faced was the existing mindset of some organisations.

“We had to hold several meetings with [some organisations] to make people understand the importance of capacity building and human capital development,” Afeef explained.

“At the beginning, some organisations were a bit reluctant to send their employees to our forums and events. But once these employees went back and gave their feedback, those organisations also started realising how important it was.”

Many organisations treat HR as the management of the day-to-day affairs of their workforce. They usually host a training session at the beginning and at the end of the year. That means is no organisation-wide learning taking place during 10 out of 12 months of the year!

Human capital development goes beyond the basics of managing the day-to-day affairs of the workforce. It’s about keeping each and every employee’s performance and progress consistently in check. It’s about implementing written policies, and making sure the organisation’s training department, if there is one, focuses on identifying and focusing on the skills and areas needed by the employees.

“Some development initiatives require funds. Any organisation would need a return on the money they spend on training. In each and every event we conduct, we make sure that the participating organisations get double the value of what they had paid for. That’s why we host regular follow-up sessions after each major training. For instance, our monthly ‘Great HR Share Sessions’ are follow-up sessions,” Afeef said.

“Even in an organisation, the key to a successful HR regime is to have regular follow-ups. Doing the performance appraisal of employees isn’t enough; it should be followed up appropriate steps and actions.”

Grand plans

MAHRP’s line-up of events for 2020 include the second National HR Convention and EXPO, second Learning and Development Conference, as well as trainings with world-renowned thought leaders like Marshall Goldsmith, Robin Banks and Ron Kaufman. The first speakers convention in Maldives, aimed at developing great public speakers, will also take place this year. As always, regular HR best practice share sessions will complement those events.

The challenge of the country’s geography leads to a dispersed population across many small islands, which makes service delivery difficult and can limit opportunities for job creation and economic diversification. But MAHRP is determined to take its events to all major populations centres in the country. In fact, reaching all corners of the nation is one of the priorities of the association for 2020.

This year, MAHRP also seeks to establish greater links with organisations to identify the underlying issues in their HR policies and propose solutions.

Rewarding organisations that showcase exceptional performance taking care of their employees features high on MAHRP’s agenda. The association is in the process of introducing a National People Excellence Award, which covers different aspects of HR policies and practices. Modelled after the now-defunct Presidents of Maldives Award for Human Resource Development in the Tourism Industry, MAHRP’s awards will serve as a national-level recognition for excellence in human resource development not just in the tourism industry but across a broad range of service sectors.

MAHRP has an ongoing research partnership with Villa College and collaborates with the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) on raising public awareness about tourism sector jobs and opportunities. But MAHRP is determined to take its training initiatives to the next level; the association will establish its own training institute and position it as a certifying body for globally-recognised courses offered by Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

“Our vision is to be the leading authority in Maldives in human capital development. What that means is that in five years there will be HR professionals certified by MAHRP and organisations endorsed by MAHRP for excellence in HR practices,” Afeef said.

MAHRP sees itself as a value addition to the society.

“It’s important to know the big picture and incorporate your vision into the big picture. In our case, it’s all about aligning human capital development initiatives with the government’s plans. MAHRP’s events for the coming three years will serve as value additions to the human capital development initiatives outlined in the government’s Strategic Action Plan,” Afeef explained.

“Everything — private training institutes, public institutes and organisations like MAHRP — needs to link up with the big picture. The lack of connection is a major issue. Connecting the dots — this needs to happen.”

MAHRP’s vision and mission revolves around creating a more humane workplace. Deeply enshrined in the association’s philosophy is the belief of its founders that people are the most important part of any organisation, public or private. In everything MAHRP does, the universal quality of empathy stands out. In a workplace championed by MAHRP, paying employees for their work isn’t enough or sending them to training sessions isn’t enough; there has to be a mindset change for the better, in how the organisation sees its employees.

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