It's not often that you attend a conference that insists on the participants removing their shoes. But that's what happened to me last week. That's one hell of a gimmick I hear you cry. And being the cynic that I am - that was my start point. But I was wrong. The Slow Life Symposium - founded by the Indian-British entrepreneur Sonu Shivdasani and his wife Eva and Chaired by Sir Jonathon Porritt - is not like any other conference that I have ever been to.
On paper the symposium is all about creating new networks that can find new ways of tackling global issues. And on its own that does not seem particularly unique. However in practice it is the combination of the unique relaxed atmosphere and ethos of the host resort - Soneva Fushi - and the impressive diversity of attendees that leads to real action rather than just more talk.
One of the main topics that the group focused on over the three days was marine conservation - a topic that is close to my heart given my role as a Trustee of the Blue Marine Foundation - and very relevant to the Maldives.
The obvious territory to focus on here is fishing, or overfishing and the impact that these practices have on the sustainability of reef systems. And this was discussed in detail, with some fascinating contributions from the Maldivian Minister of Fishing and agriculture, Dr. Mohamed Shainee.
My outtake being that actually the Maldives is a shining example of great progress in the region. The whole area is MSC certified for skipjack tuna and the vast majority of all fishing is carried out by small family businesses who only use pole and line methods. But this progress is not to be taken for granted and if it is to continue, in the west we must support it. But we appear to be doing the exact opposite. In Europe we have imposed a 20% import duty on all fish from the Maldives because of a range of political issues - which means that this good practice in marine sustainability is sadly not being rewarded because of externalities that are beyond the control of the fishermen and their families.
Exerting pressure on political bodies is of course at the traditional end of environmental activism - and is far from guaranteed to deliver the outcomes that we desire. Which is why the grassroots approach brought to the table by two incredible social entrepreneurs Hanli Prinsloo and Peter Marshall really resonated with me.
Hanli and Peter are two of those people that make you feel somewhat inadequate when you read their biographies, Hanli is an 11 times South African Freediving Record Holder and Peter is the current 50 meter backstroke world record holder.
Over the last four years they have built up an ocean conservation organisation that is focused on giving people individual transformative ocean experiences that aim to ignite a lifelong passion for the sea. This idea was born out of the observation that more often than not in ocean communities, despite living on or near the beach, the poorest people are not able to swim, and in fact are often scared of the sea. Hanli and Peter travel all over the world teaching kids to swim and inspiring them with their infectious passion for the oceans. They are entrepreneurs and catalysts, but their work comes at a cost and the challenge now is to find a sustainable way to finance their growth. This is exactly the kind of territory where events like the Slow Life Symposium can really help out - by linking great ideas together with people who can help to scale them up.
For me, it is here with programmes like this that we are likely to be able to have a real and noticeable impact on the health of our oceans. Indeed if we do not succeed here, we will never be able to sustain the initiatives that have been delivered at scale by organisations like Blue and the Maldivian Government.Suggest a correction