Our newest column, The Female Gaze, is a place to elevate female empowerment and listen to those changing the world. In our fourth edition, we speak to Arshiya Jhunjhnuwala about her role at the helm of Naumi Humanity.
Launched three years ago, Naumi Humanity is the philanthropic arm of Naumi Hotels. Born in Mumbai, India, Arshiya knew from a young age that she wanted to work in the social impact field. By studying Political Science and Anthropology at Brown University, Arshiya was able to root the practical work she undertakes with a constructive and pragmatic way of working which, in her words, allows her “to learn from the past, and strive to do better in the future.”
Arshiya’s passion for working in areas of food insecurity and education began when she worked at her grandfather’s low income school. This experience also inspired her to set up her own non-profit in Mumbai – Arshiya Foundation – working with homeless communities to help break the cycle of poverty.
Tell us about Naumi Hotels:
Naumi Hotels is a design and sustainability-led disruptor brand that is pioneering the boutique hotel space across Singapore and Oceania. Our hotels collaborate with local designers and suppliers to support local design and the artistic community while creating an experience that is eclectic, bold, and colourful. Naumi is a one of a kind hotel experience with a big heart.
Whether it is in our guest services, the spaces we create or the philanthropic work we do with Naumi Humanity, we believe in creating positive experiences for our guests, employees and the communities we serve.
Naumi Humanity was set up by the hotel group three years ago, why?
To encompass all of our philanthropic initiatives under one umbrella. It was essential to create an overarching arm that supports the work we do in all the different areas: the communities we operate in as well as the wider ecosystem. We concentrate on issues related to food insecurity, women’s education and employment, and sustainability. For example, we work with women in developing countries, upskilling them to create products for the hotels, while in Singapore we provide grants to young women to help further their education. While our goals remain largely the same – to reduce food poverty and create brighter futures for women and children in vulnerable communities – our initiatives change according to each country and specific needs.
What is the connection between Naumi Hotels and Naumi Humanity?
Creating meaningful experiences is the thread that runs through all of Naumi’s properties. With Naumi Humanity, we take this one step further by creating robes, amenity pouches and tote bags from sustainable or waste materials and are made by women from low income communities. One hundred per cent of the profits of these products go back to our partner charities working in food insecurity. We believe that luxury and social, sustainable experiences can go hand in hand. The beautiful products we create for Naumi Hotel guests are environmentally sustainable, support vulnerable communities and provide our guests with products that are one of a kind.
What is your role with Naumi Humanity?
I’m the regional director of Naumi Hotels Environmental, Social and Governance, creating and managing Naumi Humanity’s initiatives; my role is to find and create programs – alongside collaborative partners – that align with Naumi’s goals while serving communities in need. I also work closely with women’s organisations to create and design products for our hotels, as well as with on-ground hotel staff to reduce our landfill waste.
And what led to where you are today?
I have known that I wanted to work in the social sector from a very young age. In college, I took classes that would help me understand the roles we can play in creating a more equitable future. I then worked at a school which educated first-generation learners in India. This made me understand the challenges families face in breaking away from the poverty trap, and how linked women’s roles are around household income, food insecurity and education – no matter where the communities are based. When we empower women with upskilling and employment opportunities to increase their household income, we help them break the cycle of poverty and provide them and their families with an increased quality of life and secure futures.
As a new philanthropic arm to the hospitality group, what are Naumi Humanity’s short-term goals?
Our five-year plan is to create a network of NGO partners across Asia; working with more female communities to create more unique and beautiful products for Naumi Hotels. We want to continue increasing the number of children we feed in the countries we operate in, and we aim to increase the number of education projects that support young women to further their education. Our group chairman is an avid believer in women’s education and the crucial role they play in economic development – which is why Naumi Hotels senior staff is 60 per cent women led. On the environmental side we are working to reduce our landfill waste, hoping to bring it down by 80 per cent in the next five years, while also supporting initiatives that are innovating in the area of climate change.
And beyond this?
We also hope to create more operational projects. Working with partner NGOs helps us gain the expertise to create and manage our own philanthropic projects.
Have you seen any impact so far?
Yes we have and it’s so wonderful to see. In 2023, we partnered with KidsCan to provide 125 hot meals to children in low decile schools, and with Red Cross to provide nutritional support to 33 children daily. We set up a grant with Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) to support a female student studying hospitality, and a secondary grant to support two students who would otherwise have discontinued their education. We’ve partnered with two women’s non-profits in India to create customised products for our hotels, providing employment opportunities. In 2022, we contributed to the set up of a food fortification unit in Rajasthan, India, which supports the nutrition of 100,000 children.
On an environmental level, we are a participant of the UN Global Compact and are committed to the principles of Sustainable Development Goals and a member of PACT, a WWF business initiative that aims to reduce waste and move towards a circular economy in Singapore. We are proud to be on a journey of implementing changes that will maximise the amount of waste we can divert from landfill.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Field visits: to actually see and connect with the communities we serve and hear about the changes created is truly rewarding.
And the toughest part?
Living away from where Naumi Hotels operates sometimes makes it difficult to absorb how much there is to do to support our communities. It is my duty to stay motivated and to remember that the business has a greater duty to serve communities and leave the world a better place.
How do you help to educate hotel guests about what you’re doing?
We provide our guests with a short note detailing our goals and the work we do to achieve them – including the stories behind the products. We believe that our guests are a vital part of what we do; it is because of their support that we can run these projects.
Can guests or non-guests get involved in any way?
Yes, guests can buy the products created and take them home, with proceeds feeding the vulnerable communities we support. It creates a circle of goodness, where a product sold made by a woman in a slum community can benefit a child in school suffering from food insecurity.
In the broader sense, what can we, as travellers, do to try and give back to the local communities in the places we visit?
I think something travellers can do is to take time to visit something deeply special about the area they are staying in – this could be anything from a social initiative, to a community centre or a museum or even befriending a local. Doing something small which immerses you in the area’s culture helps you connect on a deeper level. There are endless opportunities to give back but the need to give back only comes from resonating with an experience and therefore a place and the people within it.
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