Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden has revealed how lending to entrepreneurs in developing countries reaffirmed the importance of community in her own business ventures.
The BBC TV investor, an ambassador for the micro-financing scheme lendwithcare, said seeing how small loans were helping people trying to work their way out of poverty had brought community “back to the forefront” of her mind.
Calling on Brits to unite in festive generosity, she said charity programmes such as Care International’s were particularly important in a society divided over Brexit.
The initiative has seen more than £21 million lent to mainly female entrepreneurs in some of the poorest global communities since its 2011 launch.
More than 52,000 lenders have taken part – the vast majority from the UK.
Meaden, who set up a glass and ceramics import company aged 19, met women in Cambodia whose businesses were beginning to thrive.
Asked if she felt her involvement has changed her, Meaden said: “I think it has. I’m always saying business should be used as a force for good.
“It just reinforced my view that business does and should add to the community. It plays a massive part in the community… it really should consider the community aspect, particularly now when we’re all quite divided.
“It’s a great moment to remind everybody we all need to come together for a common cause and business has a big part to play in that.
“It’s not something I didn’t know and didn’t think, but sometimes we need these things brought back to the forefront of our thinking and it certainly did that for me.”
Programme head Tracey Horner said much of the scheme’s growth had been driven by people giving the vouchers – a “refreshing antidote to the day’s rush to consume” – to their friends, family and colleagues.
Last Christmas more than 5,000 gift vouchers were gifted to the value of £140,000, which is on track to be surpassed this year.
People can lend as little as £15 and browse online profiles detailing business plans to decide who they wish to support.
Once the money has been repaid it can be either withdrawn or reinvested.
Companies such as Heathrow Airport have been using the vouchers in the place of Secret Santa present swaps in some of their teams.
Meaden urged last-minute Christmas shoppers to eschew the annual consumer panic and consider a gift that could transform someone’s life “for the price of a trinket”.
Every December she loans money on behalf of the businesses she invests in, which she says goes down “immensely well”.
She said: “It’s very easy, particularly the last-minute Christmas shopping moment, where you actually end up buying something you don’t really think fits, you don’t think really they would want but you’re in a complete blind panic.
“Don’t do that, do something that you are pretty much guaranteed that they are going to be very chuffed with, which is a lendwithcare voucher, and change somebody’s life over Christmas.
“It’s a lovely, lovely thing and I’ve seen it work.”
Kerry Fletcher, from Winchester, is one of the scheme’s most prolific lenders, having made 291 loans that have helped 2,424 entrepreneurs.
Her initial loans, which amount to £1,100, have increased almost tenfold through reinvestment to £10,836, creating 432 jobs.
The 48-year-old said it was “really quite amazing” to see how her money had transformed lives.
She said: “I like the aspect of it increasing, rather than (being) an amount that gets used – the impact is far greater.
“And I think for me, as someone who started their own business in 2005, it’s a case of that common connection, and also being divorced and bringing up my child, who’s now an adult, it’s that sense of achievement and purpose where you have your own family and you have thrived and prospered for your family.
“It’s about women’s empowerment and women’s business and then their family are the ones that ultimately benefit.”