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The collective power of UK diaspora to tackle critical issues in South Asia

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Interview with Abha Thorat Shah of the British Asian Trust.

The British Asian Trust was founded by The Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, and a group of visionary British Asian Business leaders. Working across India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka with a special focus on children, young people and women, British Asian Trust invests in strategic, sustainable, and scalable solutions in the areas of education, livelihoods, anti-trafficking, mental health, and disability.

British Asian Trust’s impact and accomplishments span the realm of education, livelihoods, anti-trafficking and mental health issues.  Even a quick glance at BAT’s impact shows how impressive its track record is. British Asian Trust has supported over 200,000 children to receive a quality education in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with a focus on supporting girls and the most marginalised groups.  It has reached out to nearly 140,000 urban youth, rural women and disabled people to access vocational training, entrepreneurship skills and coaching in core life skills and provided support to over 18,000 vulnerable girls in India, empowering them to take control of their lives and wellbeing, and building their resilience to abuse, exploitation and trafficking.

BAT does not believe in doing everything alone.  It has developed long term relationships with the best partners including social enterprises, private sector and NGOs to deliver high impact programmes.

Abha Thorat Shah is responsible for British Asian Trusts programs across South Asia. As a founding member of the team she developed a unique grant giving model that has ensured that donors were directly connected with the work of grassroots organisations in the region.

Before joining the British Asian Trust, Shah was the Chief Operating Officer of the UK India Business Council.  She grew up in Mumbai, India, and came to the UK to study Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge University.  Shah has extensive experience of creating and nurturing philanthropic, business and cultural relationships between the UK and South Asia.  She also has a keen interest in theatre and the arts and has worked at Asia House in London and the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai.

Abha will be in New York and other parts of the United States drumming up support and building partnerships for BAT in the United States, besides sampling some of the interesting street food of New York!  She spoke with Venky Raghavendra in advance of her arrival.

Abha Thorat Shah, British Asian Trust

Venky Raghavendra: Please tell us a little more about British Asian Trust and what some of it recent achievements have been?

Abha Thorat Shah:  Our vision it to see a South Asia that is free from inequality and injustice where all people can achieve their full potential. We are the only diaspora-led organisation in the UK that brings the most successful leaders from across the British Asian community to support positive social change in South Asia.

Over the years, we have worked in partnership with several organisations (private and not-for-profit) to identify and invest in exciting innovations, new approaches and digital technologies with the potential to transform lives at scale.

How long have you been with British Asian Trust and what keeps you inspired and energized to do the work that you do?

I have been with the British Asian Trust since 2008. I led on developing and establishing our model of work in the early days and now lead our growth and expansion. I am inspired by the great opportunity for social change in South Asia and the amazing opportunity to provide a vibrant platform for the diaspora to engage with this social change.

You are coming to New York to reach out to like-minded organizations and philanthropists.  What is bringing you here?

I am in New York to talk about social finance, diaspora and our wider work in the region in the areas of education, skilling, gender and human trafficking.

Improving education quality in rural Rajasthan.

Surely you must have done some research about the diaspora philanthropy in the United States.  How do you think it is similar or different to what you have been experiencing in the UK?

Yes we have, and this work will deepen in the coming months with a survey we are launching with YouGov in the UK on diaspora giving. I think the philanthropy sector is further evolved in the US and we learnt a great deal in our early years from partners such as the American India Foundation. Philanthropists from both countries are keen to have an impact, achieve scale and support causes they are passionate about!

It is hard to point to any key differences as we have such wide and varied experiences that the only common theme that emerges is the distrust of the NGO sector in the early days that over the years has slowly changed and we do see a lot of enthusiasm for the social entrepreneurs who are leading development work now.

What would be your ideal takeaway from your New York and San Francisco trip?

Stimulating meetings, thought provoking conversations, amazing opportunities for partnerships and collectively making a positive impact in South Asia.

You are a long-time Londoner.  What fun element of London would you like to see embraced by New Yorkers?

I love eating out and in recent years London has had a flowering of street food markets that have given the big restaurants a run for their money and added a lot of diversity in our cuisine! I live near Brixton which has been transformed by this movement, and I would warmly recommend this for New Yorkers – unless that’s already happened there which I shall find out on my trip!

Venky Raghavendra is a philanthropy expert and currently serves as Vice-President at Safe Water Network.  He writes regularly about development issues and social innovations.