As a mother, consultant, yogi, and impact entrepreneur, this month's Woman in Control personifies balance. She a TEDx speaker and the creator of Shanti Life, a non-profit working diligently to alleviate poverty India. Welcome Sheetal and enjoy her dynamic perspective on what it means to be a Woman in Control.
Tell us about yourself-
I have been living in the USA for about 4 years now and previously moved from London though I grew up in Canada. This has given me a very international background and I love traveling. Because of my travel I feel at home in many places where I belong to incredible communities of people. I am married to an Irish entrepreneur Paul Walsh and have a beautiful little girl Sara Swati - Hindu Goddess of Wisdom. She has taught me so much about life and myself. I teach yoga, play drums and love the outdoors. I am passionate about Education and getting to know people who are here for a reason. I love fashion and shiny things but I know they are temporary! My parents have played a huge role in giving me incredible opportunities and teaching me values about community and giving back.
Tell us more about the work you do and what you have created.
I started my career in finance and technology and spent many years at Microsoft where I initiated the VC Relations activities on a global level. My own consulting company is about working with entrepreneurs who are making a difference in the world. I am founder of Shanti Life, an international charity that helps alleviate poverty in India and promotes sustainable living. We provide financial literacy, training and access to capital so that poor women can build toilets in or near their home and focus on building small businesses. We give funds directly to the women via bank accounts we help them open. Upon repayment of their loan the funds are reinvested to help others in the community. I also work as Deal Maker (by appointment) for the UK Government’s Global Entrepreneur Programme, and I am on the Board of MetaCert, a San Francisco based mobile security company. I am an angel investor and sit on the Board of UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School in Ireland, I am advisor to London School of Economics mentoring and careers team and I am advisor to the University of Alberta’s venturing mentoring services group.
"We provide financial literacy, training and access to capital so that poor women can build toilets in or near their home and focus on building small businesses."
Shanti Life is an international charity that alleviates poverty in India and promotes sustainable living.
What inspired you to chose your career? And what continues to drive you?
I always wanted to ensure that whatever I do I would be able to make a difference and impact - I also wanted a flexible schedule that would allow me to raise a family. My work has always been international so while it isn't easy, it beats going into an office everyday and I think I can be a good role model for my child to know that she can do anything she wants in the future. What drives me is the interactions I have with the women we work with in India. With very little resources they are so positive and willing to work hard to support their families. They have numerous socio economic issues to deal with not to mention cultural restraints and obligations. Still they don’t complain they just get on with it and that inspires me deeply. I want to expose my child to these experiences so she also develops a sense of community and social impact.
What does being a woman in control mean to you?
In all of my experiences I have felt most in control when I realized no matter how much we want to control we have to go with the flow. That realization has given me so much peace and ability to be more effective. I have always suffered from anxiety and sometimes OCD - both illnesses are symptomatic of control. I have a deep spiritual belief that someone up there is looking after us and we need to do our best and then trust all will work out.
How has yoga influenced your life and developed your teaching?
Yoga has evolved into a way of life for me. I don't always get to a class but when I do I embrace the way my incredible teachers flow and remind us about bigger things in life. Yoga for me is something I think of in my every actions - it is a reminder to get up gracefully when I fall down and that just because I am not on my mat doesn't mean I cannot benefit from a deep practice. I became a teacher not to teach but to learn more about myself and to challenge my thinking and actions. In teaching others I happen to have learned so much more about myself and those around me. Yoga which includes breathing, movement, thoughts and actions has guided me through many difficult times and helped me celebrate through fabulous times. I am appreciative that my mother used to make us participate in satsang and yoga at home. Now, I teach my daughter yoga and she loves it. This makes me feel whole and real.
What are some of your favorite aspects or pieces from the LIA LARREA brand?
Having lived all over the world and being a shopper especially at boutiques in London, I love that Lia’s clothes are multidimensional - I could wear these clothes to work and dress them up or down. The quality of the material she chooses is exceptional and the way they sit on my body make me really comfortable but still confident. The colours are elegant and the style is classic but funky. Lia’s designs make me feel like a woman in control who is content not fighting for control.
How was your experience being a TED Speaker?
It was an incredible opportunity to speak in my hometown Edmonton, Alberta and I was very honored to be asked to speak.I spoke at a venue that I had performed Indian dancing at some 30 years before so it was surreal to see how life had evolved. The topic was about entrepreneurship and access to resources - or lack of in the case of India. It was very early days of Shanti Life and I was keen to debate the method by which entrepreneurs in poor communities manage to succeed in building their businesses with so little resources. Comparing them to entrepreneurs in other parts of the world, especially women entrepreneurs, was the highlight. The Indian women we work with are breadwinners, full time carers for their children, live with in-laws and manage to keep it all together though many of them are not allowed to leave the community. I really enjoyed participating in the event but I was really nervous and find it hard to listen to myself speak!
Can you tell us about your tattoo?
My tattoo is of Goddess Saraswati - she symbolizes knowledge and wisdom. She is elegant and beautiful and brings music to the world. To me, she is a reminder of strength and elegance all in one and she represents the ultimate being in control - who goes with the flow. My grandmother’s name was Saraswati and she was a woman who dedicated much of her life to alleviating poverty. That really gave me goosebumps when I found out about that because it made me feel like she (and my mother) inspired Shanti Life. I also love this Goddess because I teach yoga and her meaning and values are something I like to bring into my practice. Two years after I got my tattoo I had the miracle of a beautiful baby girl. I couldn’t imagine she would inherit the name but it was so fitting and I will forever remind her what her name and her grandmother’s name symbolises.
Can you share an experience where you have felt like a woman in control?
Whenever I walk into a board room (often only men) I feel really in control when I feel confident and dressed well. The way we dress is really important and sends a message about why we are there and sets the tone. Dressing proffessionally is key.
If you could say one thing to a young girl encouraging her to be a woman in control, what would you say?
I would tell her to live everyday to the fullest, be true to herself and never compromise on her goals in life. So often women take a step back (because they think they should) and I think we need to encourage young women to take a step forward in a way that works for them. Most of all I would tell her to behave in an elegant way as it costs nothing to be gracious and direct at the same time.
Photography - Quincy Stamper
Edited by Ashley Tateo
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