Darshita GilliesDarshita is Founder and CEO of Maanch, an award-winning global impact platform that leverages the power of emerging technologies to revolutionise the way that philanthropists connect with the causes they care about.

Through the development of smart tracking and measuring tools, Maanch enables donors to see the impact of their giving as part of a joined-up global picture, benchmarked by progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This puts Maanch at the heart of a growing community of change-makers who demand a more conscious and strategic way of addressing complex challenges.

Described as ‘a beacon of collaborative technology’, Maanch was awarded Start Up of the Year 2019 in the India Inc. UK/India Awards, while Darshita was included in the 100 Most Influential list.

It has been a remarkable upward trajectory for Darshita, whose early life in Mumbai was marked by constant poverty. Her family relied on financial contributions and other gifts from the intricate web of the Indian social system, but these roots made her as resilient as she is compassionate. Having earned her Bachelor & Master of Commerce degree from Mumbai University and qualifying as a Chartered Accountant, Darshita went on to study finance technology and blockchain strategy at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford and business sustainability at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

Today, Darshita’s professional experience spans finance and strategy, leadership development, planetary sustainability and technology. She serves on Boards of ‘for profit’ and ‘not-for-profit’ organisations and advises various government bodies and corporations on blockchain strategy. In this capacity, she works closely with the UN, religious institutions, governments, multinational corporations, nonprofits and fellow impact investors.

At every stage, Darshita’s journey ‘from the bottom 1% to the top 1%’ has informed her vision to create a fairer future for the 100%: the whole world community. And Maanch is the manifestation of that ambition.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role ​

In essence, my life journey is ​from the bottom 1% to the top 1% for the 100%​. From humble beginnings in Mumbai, India I have experienced what it is like to live with very little and with hard work and ​grace I have also experienced conventional success and high-flying life and lifestyle.

With a drive to improve life for the 100%, I started Maanch – the world’s first global impact platform. It was the perfect opportunity for me to channel all my professional expertise and network as Chartered Accountant, Investment Banker, Executive Coach, Impact Investor, FinTech/ Blockchain Specialist, and Board member/ Advisor of leading ‘for-profit’ and ‘non-profit’ organisations, towards a singular purpose of creating a fairer future for all.

At Maanch, we deploy the power of emerging technologies to serve the global communities in need of support, in the most effective, collaborative and integrated way and measure progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In response to COVID-19, our Coronavirus Global Dashboard and Coronavirus Response Fund aim to provide a blueprint for opening up the philanthropy ecosystem to engage in a radically collaborative way by using Maanch technology and ensuring we keep our focus on building long term resilience.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No. Not once.

At 18, I chose to qualify as a Chartered Accountant because all my friends signed up for the exam. So almost by chance, I found myself embarking on a career in banking.
About four years later, I was pregnant and decided to pursue a more challenging and purposeful path without knowing what I would do exactly. The first step was to quit and then figure things out.

I was curious about leadership development, systems change, sustainability and emerging technology… and all of that has come together in Maanch.

I didn’t set out to have a successful career; I set out to use my life, skills and resources where they could make the greatest impact… and all movements and decisions have been natural transitions.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Yes, I have been challenged in every way possible – and I believe this will continue. Even though I’m a Virgo ‘perfectionist’ I recognise that practice only makes one better, not perfect…

I don’t see challenges as challenges, I always see them as opportunities for growth and expansion. I also think that the universe rewards those who persevere.

Most recently, just after the Coronavirus lockdown, one of our prospective investors wanted to reconsider. Closing this deal was significant as it would determine whether or not I would have the funds to continue the business in the immediate future. And I know the work we do is more crucial than ever during this time when charities and donors need the technology to make effective decisions. I also wanted to acknowledge that these unusual circumstances require a considered response and pushing to close the deal would not be in anyone’s best interests. And after a few days of dialogue and sharing an understanding of each other’s worlds and the possibilities as well as the requirements, we came around to a mutual enabling arrangement.

A long way to say that when facing a challenge, I breathe, I continue to focus and work on what’s important and to engage with the challenge – by understanding why it exists and exploring what can be done creatively to come around it.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Yet to come!

Achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for a better future for all by 2030.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

My roots and upbringing have made me quite resilient, strong and compassionate. Essential ingredients for success.

I was born into a non-English speaking, conservative ‘scheduled caste’ family, where I lived in a one-bedroom flat with my family of five; I shared the same bed as my brother and sister until I moved overseas at the age of 24. My early life was marked by constant poverty and debt and it was primarily through financial contributions and other gifts we received from the intricate web of the Indian social system that we survived. Even through all the difficulty, my parents and siblings inculcated within me the value of sincerity and discipline. IpassedtheextremelycompetitiveCharteredAccountantsexamwithanallIndia47t​h​rankandthat’swhatgot me my first role, working with the Board Directors of India’s largest multi-national bank.

I was still a ‘rough diamond’.

Without the unconditional support of my dear playfully provoking and inspiring husband and partner in life(times), none of who I am today would be possible.

He knew that conventional success would never be enough for me. His constant nudges to push me out of my comfort zone and unleash my full potential, have helped me discover my purpose and set me on the path to achieving it.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

  • –  Careers in tech are fast paced and can be all-consuming. Find time to breathe, nurture yourself and connect with nature. It may sound like an odd tip, but I have had most of my tech innovation breakthrough ideas during these ‘off’ times!
  • –  The devil is the detail in tech – Demonstrate care and attention to little details and you will become the most cherished team member.
  • –  Join the dots – Make inter-connections with related tech or processes and work towards integrating them further.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes. There are systemic barriers for women in tech.

Firstly, women need to embrace their innate ability to create integrated tech and processes. The world needs it now more than ever before. And so when it comes to study, work experience and passion, we need to demonstrate proactively that we are ready to join forces.

Secondly, we need companies and HR directors and recruiters to align in ensuring preconceived biases are not getting in the way of hiring female talent in tech. Any organisation that doesn’t have a gender balance in tech teams, needs to question whether it is due to lack of talent or unconscious bias.

Policy makers/industry alliances can also play a role in creating incentives to ensure these unconscious biases are proactively dissolved.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

Besides more enlightened recruitment, companies can host hackathons to improve company processes and give women who demonstrate strong leadership in tech a chance to laterally shift within their organisation – especially if that means a greater opportunity for them to excel and progress in their careers.

Creating opportunities for vocational training, ad hoc tech projects and so on can also be creative ways to give women a chance to showcase their talent. If this is then rewarded, more women can then be inspired to participate and this fuels further positive change.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Digital learning opportunities are booming. I would create a super comprehensive vocational tech training school with a focus on innovation, product management and leadership and link with major corporations to build a continuously flow of women ready to work and lead on tech from day one.

That said, gender biased challenges such as violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, lack of access to education, social conditioning, etc. keep more than 60% of women population out of the employment.

My wand would cast a spell to provide deserving women globally access to education that would fast track their employability and career.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I highly recommend e-learning programmes.

I personally found the Oxford Said Business schools’ Fintech & Blockchain programmes very enriching – and the network is great too.
Senior Women in tech must definitely join networking groups for Non-Executive Directors. There is lot of demand for Women NEDs and tech experience is always valued.

I regularly read with interest newsletters from Peter Diamandis.

I have a long list of tech related books I have learned a lot from. Some that stand out are The Lean Product Playbook by Olsen, Inspired by Cagan and High Output Management by Grove etc.

CogX, Tech Open Air Berlin and quite a few tech conferences in the US attract a well-curated audience. And of course, a forum like this one is ideal because of the intentionality as much as the networking and learning opportunities.