Alleviating poverty, slowly but steadily – Sheetal Mehta Walsh, Founder of Shanti Life

Alleviating poverty, slowly but steadily – Sheetal Mehta Walsh, Founder of Shanti Life

Recently we had an opportunity to interact with Sheetal Mehta Walsh, the dynamic, young and attractive founder of Shanti Life. Read on to know about how she and her organisation is making the world a better place:

1. Tell us about yourself and the main events which led to formation of Shanti Life.

I have spent a great deal of my life working hard and appreciating the opportunities my parents gave us though they had to struggle. My parents brought me when I was two days old to Canada as refugees from Uganda in 1972. They did everything they could to make sure my sister and I could be exposed to choices and opportunities. A big part of our life was the community and my best memories are those with the community where my parents spent a great deal of time giving back, and contributing to the well being of others. I have spent some 17 years working with not for profits, venture capitalists and investment banks, Microsoft, UK and UAE Governments and hundreds of entrepreneurs. I always wanted to give back in a meaningful way and thought I could bring together the skills from my experience to make a difference. Working with the poor to provide them with resources so that they can create sustainable businesses has resulted in Shanti Life. We provide our networks, microfinance (a low interest rate and a recyclable fund), mentoring and training to entrepreneurs in slums and villages. Furthermore we help them go to market by providing a platform where they can sell the goods they produce online. All proceeds go back to the artisans so that they can scale their businesses.

2. What is Shanti Life and its objectives?

Our goals are to provide low interest micro-loans to the poor so that they can build a sustainable business. We work with official communities of men and women to help them become self sufficient. We also implement training of hygiene, financial literacy, savings and entrepreneurship skills as well as mentoring, to ensure sustainable businesses which help artisans to sell their items – even online, so that they can scale their businesses. We aim to provide help to the poorest of poor so that we can do our bit to help improve their lives.

3. Where does it currently stand? Which milestones have been achieved?

We have developed a team in India on the ground, we have established our local partner and have become members of their community, and we have disbursed over 30,000 GBP in grants to entrepreneurs. These grants have been recycled to further entrepreneurs and beneficiaries. Our goal is to measure social impact and alleviate communities out of poverty and out of microfinance so that they have established sustainable businesses.

4. Tell us about the main challenges that you have faced and how you have been able to resolve at least a few.

It has been hard to identify local Indian partners and beneficiaries who are focused on a long term relationship. There is a lot of corruption and there are a lot of beneficiaries who have been tainted by their experiences with loan sharks. It takes time to build relationships.

5. What are your future plans for this venture?

We want to build our e-commerce platform so that the artisans can sell their goods online all over the world. We want to be able to measure the social impact of our efforts on a grand scale. We want to ensure all beneficiaries are bankable and can make choices about their future.

6. You have received numerous awards – which one is closest to your heart in terms of achievement? What has been the response of your family to your career path?

All awards are an honour and we are so delighted to receive all of them. In reality the real award is when we are on the ground and our beneficiaries tell us they are on track and happy. When they feel they have the resources to move forward and are empowered by the position they have placed themselves in…that’s the best. My family are supportive and actually my inspiration. It’s because of them that I am able to do the things I do – and we have to do more!

7. You play the drums, the dhol and you teach yoga! How else do you relax – is your lifestyle pretty hectic?

Music, yoga, reading are all knowledge for me. That is my relaxation. I really appreciate Goddess Saraswati – she gives us the gifts of creativity. Also work does not seem like work – that makes it all worthwhile and relaxing.

8. What message would you have for young women entrepreneurs who are reading this interview?

Be true to yourself, do what you want to do, be independent (we come here alone and we leave alone), network like crazy (those whose paths we cross do influence and affect us), smile, be elegant and always be humble!

9. How can someone help your organization?

If they can understand the microfinance dilemma and how our model is different and share that message….and if anyone can help us raise funds that will make a difference to our beneficiaries that would be super!

10. There is so much inequity for women especially in the underdeveloped and developing nations. How do you think women can be empowered better?

I have lived all over the world and enjoyed learning from so many different cultures. I feel women around the world are strong. We are unified in our desire to nurture, lead, embrace challenge and most of all to make a difference. Remembering those points will be the medicine to further empower ourselves and those we engage with.

11. We assume you are Glad2baWoman. Can you kindly tell us why?

YES, because we are uniquely special, we get to wear nice shoes and we can share love unconditionally!

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