Sheetal Mehta is one of the most influential businesswomen in the United Kingdom. This incredible woman received ‘Asian Women of Achievement Award: Social and Humanitarian’ award from Prince Charles, appointed as a ‘UK Dealmaker’ by the British government, named as one of the top 10 Powerful British Asian Womens and loves Yoga.
Sheetal is the Founder and CEO of Innovative Social Ventures Ltd, a London based company that provides advisory services to companies in the area of fundraising, technical due diligence and corporate partnering. She recently launched Shanti Microfinance which takes technology and microfinance to entrepreneurs in slums in India.
Tell us a bit about yourself – your background, education and organizations/initiatives you are involved with?
I was born in Uganda and we moved to Canada in 1972 where I spent most of my life. I have always been active in the Gujarati community especially since my family started the organization some 30 years ago. I went to the University of Alberta where I did my undergrad and to the London School of Economics where I did my Masters in Economics and International Relations. My first real job was working for the Edmonton Police Service and I was actively involved at the same time in the Alberta and Canadian political scene. My dream was always to work in villages and slums and to have a career in international business and relations. I am so lucky my parents gave me the opportunity to have exposure to all the great experiences and that they taught me the value of hard work ethics and integrity.
You were a high profile executive at Microsoft. What made you start your own venture?
I very much enjoyed working for Microsoft – it is a flat company with excellent people. After a little over five years of working at Microsoft (in the Silicon Valley and EMEA) I decided to start my own businesses so I could work more hands on with start ups and focus on social enterprise. In essence that means working with businesses that are for profit but also strive to make the world a better place. I don’t think I am employable now – it’s great working for yourself and choosing the partners who you respect and really want to work with.
Tell us about Shanti Microfinance? How can Microfinance help?
Shanti Microfinance is a UK Charity that works with entrepreneurs in slums and villages to provide them with access to capital, technology and training in order to build their local businesses. We currently work with a local partner in Gujarat who have been instrumental in creating an appropriate infrastructure for the loan recipients to be successful in their repayments. The loans are provided in bulk interest free to our partner who then disperses the mini loans to the entrepreneurs. We are in touch with the entrepreneurs and know their businesses. In order to administer the local process, our partner charges approx 10 per cent interest per loan. This interest is used to employ local field workers (who live in the slums) to administer the flow of funds. Once the loans are paid back and milestones are met, those funds are recycled back into the community for deeper reach and scale and for second or third time borrowers.
Microfinance institutions like Kiva.org achieved quite a success using internet and social media. How do you plan to leverage the power of internet?
Unlike some of the social media platforms that exist, Shanti Microfinance provides 100% of donations into the slums. We are leveraging a technology platform that is currently being created which will allow donors to see where their funds are going. The difference is that we will also visit those entrepreneurs and know them on a 1:1 basis. We prequalify the loan recipients and we monitor flow of funds leveraging a financial software. So our approach is to leverage capital, technology and training to make sure that all entrepreneurs can benefit from a holistic microfinance strategy.
Why did you choose India as a focus for Shanti Microfinance? There are other developing economies with similar needs and issues.
I chose India because I am Indian and I speak the language and understand the culture. In order to make a sound difference, we need to be members of the community and make decisions based on community needs and input from all – this is the only way to develop a deep partnership. Technology helped improve communications around the world but at a grass roots level cultural understanding is key.
What do you think is the problem with the rural credit system in India?
At the moment the rural credit system in India is developing – there are a lot of players crafting solutions for the farmers and rural community but little effort is going into understanding the needs of those rural communities. Without a tailor made plan and a model that is owned by the users of the service, some recipients will never come out of their current situations.
How do you believe the Microfinance sector will develop in the future?
I believe the right type of microfinance models will provide those people who are unbankable at the moment to have opportunities and choices. This vehicle will alleviate them out of poverty over time if the right model is leveraged and then they will be able to make decisions about how they spend, save and invest their funds. Their communities will benefit and in turn society as a whole will benefit in terms of thought leadership in new businesses, mentoring and evolution of new lifestyles.
And lastly, how do you keep inspired and motivated, and not get burned out?
It’s about balance and moderation so I surround myself with people who are positive and fun; I practice yoga and play drums. I try to enjoy simple things in life like hiking and being in nature, cooking and laughing as much as possible. The people in the slums inspire me because they always wear a smile – several of them are on my screen saver just to remind me!
Thanks Sheetal. Good luck with your venture.
Sheetal’s social profiles:
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