Interview: Sheetal Mehta, the Female Microfinance Guru
Sheetal Mehta, founder of Innovative Social Ventures, has won many awards such as: Asian Women of Achievement; was listed in the 35 under 35 of Management Today and awarded for her Public Services this year at the Jewel Awards. She has just launched Shanti Microfinance which takes technology and microfinance to entrepreneurs in slums in India. Here, she talks to The NextWomen about her experiences in business and microfinance:
Tell us about yourself and your experiences in business?
I am a Canadian who has lived in the United Arab Emirites, San Francisco and the UK. I have a background in technology and venture capital – I initially started my career in banking in the Middle East and later went on to join Microsoft Corporation where I set up their Venture Capital Strategy. Later, I expanded that initiative into EMEA.
In 2006 I created my own business focussing on social enterprise - combining my tech and vc experience with my broad network - which took technology to villages. In 2006 I was also appointed UK Deal Maker to the UKTI’s Global Entrepreneur Programme, where we attract the world’s most innovative tech companies to the UK, and then help them go global. Outside of work, I teach yoga, play drums and dohl and love travelling.
Which businesses are you currently involved with?
I advise several tech companies, including: Enviropack, a recycling bag company; MFSL for mobile payments; the UK government via the Global Entrepreneur Program where I am the UK Deal Maker, and my main focus - Shanti Microfinance.
Shanti microfinance is a charity which focus on providing capital for entrepreneurs in villages and slums. I launched this charity because I was tired of the poor being charged lots of interest in order to access capital. There is no reason why they should be charged 80% on a loan of £50 in order to buy cotton and silk so that they can make saris. Their collateral is their reputation, and their payback is 99% - they don’t want to lose face in the community and they pride themselves in honesty.
I wanted to make sure we could also facilitate training and skills in savings. We leverage technology to make this happen.
Are you working with any existing micro finance organisations?
We have partners in Gujarat, and by leveraging their local expertise, we manage to build the best microfinance solution. We have known our partners for many years and see ourselves as part of their community – not as outsiders. We are completely focussed on a grass roots plan.
Do you have a succesful example of a capital microfinance project?
We are currently running a pilot in Gujarat, where we have all systems in place for implementation, but we are heads down fundraising. We need £200,000 in order to affect 20,000 entrepreneurs.
What are your goals with the charities in the coming years?
We want to make sure the poorest of the poor can access capital, and make choices about their businesses so that they can become sustainable and look after their children (to go to school), enjoy healthcare and contribute to their communities. We have a recycling plan whereby when the loan is paid back and milestones are met, we recycle the funds back into the community.
These successful entrepreneurs become role models in their own right and the entire community evolves.
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