Founder and CEO of Maanch, a multiple award-winning global impact platform for investors, corporates and the philanthropy ecosystem, Darshita Gillies’ journey goes “from the bottom 1 percent to the top 1 percent for the whole 100 percent”.
Born in Mumbai into a “scheduled-class” non-English-speaking conservative family, her determination to create a better future for herself and her family led her not only to the “conventional” kind of success and joy, but also provoked her to ask a bigger question: “What if the whole world is my family? What would I do for a collectively successful future? And my answer to this is Maanch,” says the London-based entrepreneur, impact investor and philanthropist.
Launched in 2018, Maanch is a technology platform that connects impact investors, companies and philanthropists with those who need it the most. Having earned a client base of over 700 organisations in 30 countries in less than three years, Maanch helps companies and asset managers in re-allocating capital and resources towards achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals, while also enabling to them evaluate the impact of their investment and report it to their stakeholders in an efficient way.
On the other side, Maanch serves nonprofits and foundations by enabling operational efficiencies, cutting down the cost of fundraising and impact measurement activities.
“We provide systems for all the ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) and impact needs of our clients – through data, intelligence, dashboards and networks,” says Darshita, who studied fintech and blockchain strategy from Said Business School, Oxford University, and business sustainability management from Cambridge University.
Darshita’s journey has been remarkable by any standards. One of three siblings born to a lawyer father and homemaker mother, they lived with limited means in a poor neighbourhood in Mumbai.
“But we lived a happy life and our parents always found a way to meet our needs. There were days when things got challenging – for example, no food in the kitchen and no money at home. We would go around the house collecting scrap newspaper, boxes, empty glass and plastic bottles and go to the local raddiwala (recycler) to exchange them for money and buy some rice. Sometimes we were tempted to buy samosas, but we knew it wouldn’t feed the family,” narrates Darshita, who is today listed among 100 Most Meaningful Business Leaders 2020 and 100 Most Influential in UK-India Relations.
Her parents instilled in all children the value of education. Working hard day and night, Darshita earned her Bachelor’s in commerce from the prestigious Narsee Monjee College, and Master’s from Mumbai University, while also qualifying as a chartered accountant.
Of the four job offers she had at the time, she chose Standard Chartered. “I enjoyed the fast-paced, stimulating environment and the role gave me an overview of how banking works inside out,” she recalls, adding that she was among the few employees who was promoted three times within two years.
Darshita was 24 when she left home to live in Jakarta, Indonesia. Since then, she has lived and worked in Cape Town, Johannesburg, London and Azores Island besides Mumbai. She met her future partner Rowan Gillies, a lawyer and Director–Asia at Standard Chartered Bank, at work.
“Both of us worked quite hard and often came in on weekends to the office. We developed a beautiful, open and radically transparent friendship over time,” she shares. The two got married in 2008 and had their daughter Tara in 2009.
With Darshita’s experience in finance, strategy, leadership, and passion for fintech and blockchain, her sister’s strength in operations refined by nine years at JP Morgan, and with her brother’s technology skills, the siblings built the first demo of Maanch in April 2018 in their little one-bedroom family home in Mumbai.
“I returned to London and tested the idea with 70 different stakeholders. Each was blown away by the idea and encouraged me to go further. And here we are, a team of over 40 passionate changemakers who have put in sleepless nights and lots of algorithms to bring Maanch to the world,” beams Darshita, who loves dancing – “especially Bollywood!” – and is learning to play the violin under renowned violinist Jyotsna Srikanth.
Motherhood changed Darshita’s approach to leadership and entrepreneurship. “Tara is our collective experiment at parenting,” says Darshita, who takes her daughter along for meetings and conferences whenever feasible. At one such conference at the Vatican on ‘Ending Modern Day Slavery’, Tara made drawings of her key insights and auctioned them to some of the audience during lunchtime, raising €70.
“She taught me how passion plays a huge role in sales and not everyone will buy what you have for sale. So, NO simply means Next One,” smiles the proud mom.
Darshita sees happiness as the state of being able to experience the ups and downs of life with equanimity. “No matter how hard the situation I find myself in, I am constantly looking for the learning and growth opportunity,” she says.
Staying tuned with industry innovation and emerging technology, and meeting people with diverse backgrounds, helps her constantly broaden her horizons. Her vision for Maanch keeps her inspired every day: “When I see children and youth, I feel the urgency of my work. I want our future generations to inherit a very different world where access to necessary resources is not determined by where you are born or which family you are born in or by luck.”
Darshita believes Asian women bring an inclusive and pragmatic approach to solving challenges. “Most of us have lived in very challenging environments and have seen the worst and best of life. Our empathic abilities are quite honed. This makes us great companions to solve complex multi-stakeholder challenges in a fast-changing world,” she avers.
Spirituality is an “experimental and evolving process” for Darshita. Raised with secular values, she trained as a yoga teacher in her 20s, studied Buddhism, attended spiritual workshops and also trained as an ontological coach and trainer.
“I love Sufi whirling practices; I can whirl for hours non-stop. I enjoy Tarot reading, I pull cards for myself and near and dear ones every now and again. I have had life-shifting insights from medicine journeys in Ecuador with the Achuar tribe shaman. Diving in the middle of the ocean in Andaman Islands, Banda Sea, Bali and Galapagos were also spiritual experiences. Often, simply walking in a noisy urban surrounding and observing life passing by alters my state of being! Spirituality is not a pursuit for me; it is infused in my everyday living,” she says. A life rich with purpose and wisdom, indeed.
On Darshita’s Bookshelf:
- Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies by Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaeufer
- Inspired by Marty Cagan
- Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth by John Doerr
- Impact by Sir Ronald Cohen
First published as the cover story of eShe’s March 2021 issue
Syndicated to Money Control