What do you value most in life?
As a Christian I believe God has gifted me the best job in the world. I run a charity in Nepal, called Women Without Roofs, that cares for vulnerable women and their children. We pay their rent and medical bills and help them get back on their feet. In order to qualify for our help the women have to be alone so perhaps their husband is in prison, has died or has simply disappeared. I don’t get to Nepal as often as I would like (I’m currently living in the USA, more on that below) but we have a great team of Nepali staff there and wonderful trustees in the UK who are devoted to changing lives in one of the poorest countries in the world. It is a privilege to be making a difference, and last year I wrote a book called Destination: Transformation, to help other people do something similar.
I feel strongly about inequality and the unfair distribution of wealth both between nations and within the UK. The lottery of birth still plays a huge role in determining one’s future success and it pains me to see how women and children in Nepal can be ostracised and overlooked because they are poor or from the wrong caste.
Favourite things and who inspires you?
Naturally, I love my family and have a wonderful husband who through his career in the Army has allowed me to live all over the UK and also in Nepal and the USA where we are now. We’re about to move to our 14th house. I’m missing my son at the moment as he’s in boarding school in the UK (near Bristol actually) but my daughter attends school here and now has a very strong American twang! Both my children enthuse me as they are each different from me; my son is curious about everything and inspires me to ask questions. My daughter lights up every room and though I’m naturally far quieter than her, I can see how people enjoy having her about and I would love to be more like her.
What is the most valuable lesson you think you have learnt?
To do something to help, even if it isn’t a perfect solution, is better than doing nothing at all. We have certainly made mistakes in Nepal, we constantly walk a tightrope between not doing enough to help the women in our care, or over supporting and risk making them dependent. With a good team of local staff and together with my wise trustees I feel that so far we have done well to achieve a balance between these two extremes.
Can finance be a force for good in the future?
Absolutely. It’s my belief that every purchase we make, or investment in the case of Triodos, is a vote for that company or product. By choosing fairtrade, or an ethical product, we are cheering on that business. Many people complain that in a political sense we don’t have a strong enough voice, we only get to vote every four/five years; but if each purchase or boycott of a product is viewed as a vote, it feels very empowering.
In Nepal we adamantly support buying and spending the money we raise in the country, so as to support Nepal’s economy. Charities that send clothes and other supplies to developing countries, though they have good intentions and are important in the wake of a natural disaster, do nothing to help the country develop in the long term. As an example, we train women to sew and make clothes to sell, so if Kathmandu is flooded with second hand clothes given away for free from well meaning foreigners, these women struggle to make a living.
What would you like to share with our Colour of Money readers?
The opportunity to live abroad always helps to open your eyes to the positives and negatives of your own culture, and that of your host culture. It has been an interesting time to live in America with the rise of Donald Trump; our state, Virginia, chose him to be their presidential nominee in the primaries.
When I studied for my Masters in Poverty Reduction a few years ago, our final reading was about the ‘elephant in the room’ and it discussed how little progress will be made to tackle global inequality and halt climate change unless America gets on board. I can vouch how true that is, taking action to save the planet is simply not on the radar of most Americans, and many don’t see it as a personal issue at all.
The article also pointed to the very positive effect that initiatives such as Comic Relief have had on the entire British population in terms of making us much more compassionate towards the poor overseas. America needs this same awareness and I would encourage anyone with friends and followers on social media in the US, or when they see them in person, to bring up issues that they care about. Make sure your American friends know you are concerned about the environment, let them know you’ve chosen to bank ethically and why, tell them if you give money to charities overseas and share images that highlight these points. As Brits we ought to be a lot prouder of our compassion!
Subscribe to The Colour Of Money
Keep up to date with the latest news and opinion on The Colour of Money. Subscribe and we'll let you know when we publish new articles.