Bristol News

The Big Interview: "Do something good" - Charity Deki founder Vashti Seth

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Written by: Michael Yong | Posted 06 November 2015 17:31

The Big Interview:

Plenty of people will not hesitate when it comes to donating to charity. Many have gone on bike rides, runs or cake sales to fund raise. But for Deki founder, Vashti Seth, changing lives has a deeper, personal meaning.

Reporter Michael Yong finds out why.

 Do something good – that was the mandate given to Vashti Seth, founder of Britain’s first peer-to-peer microlending charity, Deki.

The 38-year-old from St Werburghs in Bristol was handed £2,000 in cash by her late dad John Richards, with a note reading: “Do something good”.

She did not disappoint. A few years after her dad died in 2005, she set up Deki, with an aim to change lives and bring people out of poverty.

Vashti has a varied upbringing, best described as unconventional. Spending most of her childhood in Bristol, various communes around the UK and then as far as Morocco and Australia, she learned different life skills.

When she was just four, Vashti’s dad and brother moved across the world to Australia, while her mother and her stayed in Bristol.

After leaving St Katherine’s School in 1993 with a handful of GCSEs, she travelled across Asia, trying to find her place in the world.

Seven years later, then 23, she settled in Australia, looking to reconnect with her dad.

It was also there she started a career in television production. Based in Sydney, she started working as a freelance production manager in the film industry, moving from runner and progressing up the career ladder.

By 2003, she had a number of high-profile clients, such as Pepsi and Pizza Hut, while doing shows such as Home and Away.

Two years later, she moved back to Bristol, hoping to launch a film career here. Then she found out her father had terminal cancer.

“I found out my dad wasn’t very well, and I had to hand in my notice and went out there to see him,” she said.

“He had lung cancer. We thought he’d have 18 months to live, but it was only 11 weeks.

“When he died, that was shocking for me. I am one of seven siblings, and when dad passed away, my family were all given something quite personal except me.

“But I found out at the end of the will he had left about £2,000, with a note saying ‘do something good with it’. I didn’t know what it meant.”

She stayed in Australia a little while longer, but soon travelled across India to meet a Tibetan refugee whom her father had sponsored for many years.

The 16-year-old girl, Deki Dolkha, had been sponsored by John since she was just four years old. He had been to see her three times before he died, and committed to putting her through school until she was 18.

He believed it would give her a better start to life, but Deki was living in such abject poverty it was proving difficult.

“I didn’t even know what to do. She had very basic education, so did a lot of the girls there,” she said.

Vashti came back to England, and started a degree at the University of the West of England (UWE).

In 2008, combining her business acumen, her dad’s inspiration and her interest in microfinance, she set up Deki, named after the little girl. Spending the £2,000 to fly to Nepal, she met with her first field partner. UWE the provided her £8,000 to set up her website and launched her business.

Two years later, Deki was given charity status, and within a year, started taking on members of staff.

There is an old saying – give a boy a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish, and he’ll never go hungry again.

That certainly is the idea behind Deki. The idea is simple – Vashti’s charity gives out small loans and training to entrepreneurs in developing countries, and they apply that into their business.

Partners in the UK and overseas lend as little as £10 or more to a chosen entrepreneur. All of the money goes directly to that person, and is paid back within a year. It can then be withdrawn, or re-lent.

In its five years, Deki has loaned more than £500,000 to about 2,700 people across seven countries, changing 14,000 lives.

She said: “People are generally quite charitable. I know many successful business people who want to do something to help, to give something back.

“We’ve had a lot of success stories, some of which are just amazing you can’t help but smile when you read them. Going through these stories just makes you think how far we’ve come, and how you can change lives.”

Being the mother of two small children is a full-time job, as is changing the world. But the 38-year-old takes it in her stride.

Last year, she was awarded an honorary MBA by UWE. Earlier this year, she was awarded Third Sector Director of the Year prize, and was a nominee for Red Magazine’s Woman of the Year back in 2011.

Her network of partners are incredible. They run from Ghana to South Africa, in South Sudan and Malawi.

But she also has a heart for home, where she works with Bristol schools to talk to them about entrepreneurship and how it can help other children less fortunate.

There is no time for resting on her laurels. Vashti wants to see Deki grow even more. By 2020, she hopes to lend more than £2 million a year, and aims to see more than 100,000 lives improve.

Last Friday, the charity completed a six-week exhibition at the Engine Shed, showcasing the story of entrepreneur Halima Namutosi, a South Sudanese refugee who changed her life with a crowdfunded Deki loan.

For someone who has achieved an incredible amount in just a few years, there is no aloofness when she talks about her achievements.

She added: “I would hope dad would be proud.”

We are sure he is.


My working day

5.30am: Woken up by a hungry Jago, my two-year-old son.

5.45am/6am: Run my eyes over my emails and flag up anything high priority to my team – sometimes I’m lucky enough to fit in some meditation and yoga.

6.15am: My daughter Isla wakes up.

7am: I make porridge for the children.

8.30am: The school run!

9am: I make it into work, where our marketing assistant, Antonia, usually starts listing off all the important things I need to do that day.

9.30am: Every Monday we have a team debrief, where we talk about our goals for the week and how we can help each other achieve them. I’ve worked hard to make sure our team meetings as productive and proactive as possible – so we talk in bullet points and only have five minutes speaking time each. Less talk, more action at Deki HQ.

10.30am: I usually pop to Wise Beans in Stokes Croft, exactly opposite our office across the road. Their coffee and breakfasts are amazing.

11am: I was given some great business advice: “Eat that frog” which means get all of your biggest tasks done in the morning. So I bite the bullet and aim to get the biggest thing on my to-do list ticked off by 11.

1pm: If I’m not having a working lunch at my desk with my marketing and fundraising team, you’ll probably find me at Marks and Spencer.

2pm: I’ll meet with our marketing or fundraising team so that we’re all aware of what our plan is for the next 90 days.

4pm: I’ll have a meeting with one of our trustees; they hold me to account and keep me on my toes. It’s National Trustee Week at the moment so I’ve spent the week expressing my gratitude to our dedicated team.

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