The tale of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh is famous throughout the world. That is what inspired Sheetal Mehta Walsh to start Shanti Life.
Life was anything but normal for Sheetal Mehta Walsh. Her family was cruelly uprooted from Uganda during the Idi Amin regime. They moved to Canada where her parents taught her to build a community. They met people from the same region and culture. It created a small world of its own and she saw what it meant to be a part of a community and a group. As immigrants, she viewed the struggles faced by people in the West. They were trying to build something and earn enough to feed their family. Their ethnicity and their status prevented them from getting loans or any funding to start a venture of their own. These lessons remained with her for a long time and she remembered what it meant to come from nothing.
More than money, these people need someone in believes in. Sheetal Mehta founded Shanti Life to provide capped loans with low-interest rates. The repayments go back to finance other female-run businesses and support local communities. Sheetal’s philosophy isn’t only just giving money to needy people. ‘Teach a man to fish’ is her motto. Shanti Life offers training, resources and vocational skills to the poor. It allows them a fighting chance to compete for jobs, resources and money in a fair manner. There is a strong focus on supporting female entrepreneurs. Skipping any middlemen, they just send the money to the entrepreneur or business directly. Rural women are skilled workers but have no education or money to start a venture. They can only manage survival and not a livelihood. Sheetal and her organization adopt communities or villages. Doing so sets them up for success and pulling themselves out of a rut. Rural women also can’t sign their own names or a check. Their lack of education can make them the target of money lenders who fake papers or forge signatures. This forces them into debt or crushing poverty. Sheetal and her team educates them and teaches them simple things that can change their lives.
The future for Sheetal looks digital. An online marketplace or store where she can sell goods and crafts created by rural women and villagers. The profits from these sales will go right back to the artisans and creators. The goal is to adopt almost 5-7 villages and build a bigger community. She is keen to see the bigger picture instead of just lending money or creating a platform. Sustainable solutions that will uplift, empower and enrich their lives are her goals. Shanti Life is a holistic approach to employment, education, and sanitation. Sheetal also has plans in place to provide sanitation facilities and medicines. The office and team are based in Ahmedabad and have operations in Vadodara, Amreli, Dahod, Mahisagar, Bhavnagar, and Morbi.
Sheetal sits on various boards and trusts. An accomplished spokesperson, she has talked at Cambridge, LSE, TED, and many forums or events. A former director at Microsoft, she also acts as a liaison between the UK Government and business owners. Her profile is to invite global businesses and companies to base their operations in the United Kingdom. Sheetal was named among one of the most influential and powerful Asian women in Britain, 35 Under 35 to name a few. She was invited to the Buckingham Palace by Her Majesty, the Queen of England for a ‘Women in Business’ reception. Her work and efforts have been lauded for their simplicity yet effectiveness in improving the quality of life. Several communities and villages in India have found a strong source of income thanks to Sheetal and Shanti Life.
Featured Photo by DFAT photo library