Meaningful Business (MB:) Please tell us a bit about your background.
Darshita Gillies (DG): I was born in Mumbai, India into a non-English speaking conservative Hindu family, originating from the mud-hut villages of Gujarat with the lowest social class. My early life was marked by constant poverty. My family relied on financial contributions and other gifts from the intricate web of the Indian social system. I was Catholic-schooled, in English, leading to me graduating from university with a Masters in Commerce and International Business, and culminating in my professional qualification as a ’47th all-India ranking’ Chartered Accountant.
Before I founded Maanch, I worked in the world of multinational banking, working with the board directors of India’s largest foreign bank (Standard Chartered) in operational risk and investment banking. As my perspectives were reshaped, I re-trained as a professional life and leadership coach and facilitator. I have coached and consulted over 500 senior executives, entrepreneurs, leaders and organisations through intensive developmental ‘immersion’ journeys.
Feeling a growing sense that leadership development alone was not a full-deployment of my capacities, and the primary route for effecting quick and optimal systemic change, I co-founded Blu-Dot, a global-system integration advisory. This opened up the possibility to develop solutions that converge sustainability, finance and technology and led me to found Maanch in 2018.
Besides the above, I serve on Boards of ‘for profit’ and ‘not-for-profit’ organisations and advise various government bodies and corporations on emerging technologies and ESG strategy.
MB: What Led you to start Maanch?
DG: At every stage, my journey ‘from the bottom 1% to the top 1%’ has informed my vision to create a fairer future for the 100%: all planetary beings. And Maanch is the manifestation of that ambition.
I founded Maanch in 2018, after studying Fintech and Blockchain at Saïd Business School, Oxford. I started Maanch to consolidate all my experience in innovation, leadership, sustainability and finance with the primary aim of leveraging technology to enhance the net impact of capital.
I see unifying the fragmented impact ecosystem as having the potential to set us on a trajectory to life on a planet where all basic needs of all humans are met, within planetary resource boundaries. I also see the important role technology needs to play in enabling decision makers to have access to relevant data in real time to make impact inclusive decisions.
Maanch is an award winning global impact platform that unifies the impact of institutional funders, companies, investors and social enterprises and enables re-allocation of capital and resources towards achieving the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – through data, intelligence, dashboards and networks.
MB: What is the problem you are trying to solve?
DG: My experience – especially professional engagements through Blu-Dot with leading global organisations, governments, businesses, nonprofits and systemic working groups at the UN, Vatican, APPGs etc. – has made it clear that technology is under leveraged within the growing impact ecosystem. The problem we at Team Maanch are trying to solve, therefore, is the lack of funding for the SDGs, and the under-utilisation of technology in achieving this.
The world doesn’t need another platform solving a partial need of some stakeholders.
With Maanch, we integrate and aggregate impact data and enable key insights that drive actions to enable long term sustainability.
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now?
DG: While the business sector accounts for a large proportion of most countries’ GDP, most businesses still need a lot of guidance to help them be a force for good in society and deliver value to all their stakeholders; not just shareholders. This is an important challenge for today’s world, and for Maanch as an organisation, considering that the area of social and environmental impact is relatively new and complex. It is difficult for businesses, especially SMEs or high growth companies, to develop the right framework, tools and data which will be of practical value in understanding their current and potential impact across their activities.
There is also a lack of trust in CSR, in some of the data produced, in “greenwashing” and company’s long-term commitment to ESG and related factors. But there is also huge pressure from all business stakeholders, like employees, investors and customers, to avoid harm to people and the planet and instead make a positive and measurable contribution to their society, community and networks. Our biggest challenge right now is harnessing this and enabling a real and accessible solution that can help the business sector deliver on their stakeholders’ growing demands.
Our biggest challenges right now are attracting investment capital and signing up pioneering organisations to inform our product development as we get it ready for scale.
MB: What is your vision for the future of your business?
DG: Just as Google is synonymous with information and Uber is synonymous with mobility, I envision that Maanch will be synonymous with Impact.
The achievement of the SDGs calls for unprecedented collaboration between governments, businesses and nonprofits. My vision for the future of Maanch is that it will play a key role in creating digital systems that enable automation, interoperability and comparability of impact data among sectors and stakeholders. Looking even further forward, these systems will be able to be fit for ongoing monitoring and allocation of capital beyond the 2030 Agenda.
MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?
DG: In the coming era, ‘sunrise’ organisations, that are for purpose and deliver solutions that our societies need, will be the ones that will be profitable.
‘Sunset’ organisations, who are profitable at the cost of exploitation of humans or nature, will not exist.
So, if you have an organisation that is profitable, get started on your purpose integration. Involve and engage your teams to innovate short and long term strategies to wean out of negative impact generating activities.
And if you are starting a new enterprise, start with the ‘Why?’. Think about the stakeholders, internal and external, animate and inanimate that will be impacted by your business. Make sure your business model factors for increased costs necessary to drive a high purpose business. Profits will follow.
MB – What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
DG – ABC : Always be closing.
MB – Who inspires you?
DG – Nature: Everything we want to know about is right in front of us. We only need to see.
MB – How do you define success?
DG – Success is living an authentic life with no regrets.
MB – What is something you wish you were better at?
DG – Playing the violin.
MB – What is the one book everyone should read?
DG – “The Alchemist“, by Paulo Coelho
MB – What do you do to relax?
DG – I enjoy meditation and yoga. Incorporating these activities into my day-to-day life helps me escape the “monkey chatter” of the mind, helping me to be truly present, appreciative and attentive to what is; in the here and now. Plus, not only are these activities relaxing, but they also increase our chances of insight, breakthrough and success.
Discover the other MB100 leaders recognised for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2020, here.