She is a talented entrepreneur working to break down racial and gender barriers in the global financial system. She is Durreen Shahnaz, the first Bangladeshi woman on Wall Street, the founder of a revolutionary impact investment firm to empower women, and the author of The Defiant Optimist. She generously gives her time to guest post today on navigating challenges as a minority women entrepreneur, making a difference, and continuing to fight for equality.
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About Author Durreen Shahnaz
Author of The Defiant Optimist: Daring to Fight Global Inequality, Reinvent Finance, and Invest in Women, Durreen Shahnaz, is an acclaimed social entrepreneur and visionary leader. As the Founder and CEO of Impact Investment Exchange (IIX), with a deep commitment to empowering marginalized communities, Durreen has pioneered innovative financial solutions to address social and environmental challenges.
She has created groundbreaking initiatives such as the Women’s Livelihood Bond Series (WLB) to catalyze capital flows towards businesses that uplift women, and Impact Partners, the world’s first social stock exchange. Durreen’s journey as a minority woman entrepreneur has been marked by resilience, defying stereotypes, and challenging the prevailing norms of the financial industry. Her trailblazing work has earned her recognition globally.
Guest Post from Durreen Shahnaz
I have been fortunate to experience life as a woman – a brown woman, at that. Today, I am a two-time entrepreneur, CEO, and Founder of a company revolutionizing the financial system for micro and small businesses worldwide. I am the proud mother of two exceptional young women.
Success as a minority entrepreneur has required me to defy expectations and surpass stereotypes. I have risen above, working harder and smarter to overcome bias at every juncture. My determination to pursue my North Star – amplifying women’s voices, underserved communities, and our living planet and making them a part of the financial system – has fueled me. Every step has been uphill, and I have emerged resilient and more optimistic than ever.
In sharing my journey, I hope to ignite a fire within you. We have the power to challenge the status quo and forge an entrepreneurial landscape that celebrates the diverse potential of every individual.
Underrepresentation of Women and POC in the Financial Services Industry
The challenges faced by minority women entrepreneurs are multi-faceted. Only 12% of the top executives worldwide in the financial services industry were women, emphasizing the predominantly male-dominated nature within the global finance sector. Women hold only 7% of board seats in the financial sector across Asia and women of color are an even smaller fraction. Venture Capital firms are geared to favor certain demographics, and minority women often face bias and intersectional discrimination when seeking to grow their networks or access funding.
“I’d seen how quickly many potential investors had dismissed a brown woman. Whenever I entered the room with a male colleague – even if the man knew less than I did and had a less senior role – all eyes and ears were directed toward him instead of me. Now I was not only a minority woman but also a mother – in their eyes, a double liability.” – The Defiant Optimist
My first entrepreneurial endeavor was OneNest, the predecessor of Etsy in 2000 – a social enterprise connecting handmade goods to global markets. Our offices were nestled in downtown New York, and the story of OneNest became intertwined with the heart-wrenching events of 9/11. In the aftermath, I faced the devastating subsequent wave of discrimination directed at the color of my skin.
I persisted through the birth of my first daughter, the departure of my co-founders, and the arduous journey of raising capital, fiercely advocating for the thousands of craftspeople OneNest supported internationally. However, the story took a disheartening turn when new investors decided to usher in a white male figurehead and relieve me of my duties as CEO.
Despite these setbacks, my determination propelled me forward. With my second company, Impact Investment Exchange (IIX), I have gone to the source where the power lies – the financial system. I was determined to change the financial system and make it inclusive. Through pioneering initiatives such as the Women’s Livelihood Bond (WLB) Series, Impact Partners, and IIX Values, we have set out to redefine entrepreneurialism and create space for minority entrepreneurs.
Guest post from Dureen Shahnaz cont’d.
The Women’s Livelihood Bond Series (WLB)
WLB connects the Back Streets of underserved communities to the Wall Streets of the world. It utilizes a unique fixed income (bond) structure to provide a platform for investors to support underrepresented entrepreneurs, particularly women-led businesses, and impact enterprises creating livelihood for women.
By bridging the gap and facilitating the flow of funding, resources, and opportunities, WLB creates financial inclusion, fosters economic growth, and empowers marginalized entrepreneurs.
Impact Partners established a social stock exchange and private placement platform designed for impact investors and enterprises. By facilitating the flow of capital to underserved and underrepresented entrepreneurs, Impact Partners enables them to access funding and resources needed to grow and scale.
Impact Partners amplifies opportunities for minority entrepreneurs, promoting inclusivity and diversity within the financial system. The social stock exchange has unleashed the power of capitalism in a new direction, transforming finance and the entrepreneurial landscape.
Underlying WLB, Impact Partners, and the quest for sustainable markets is the need for impact measurement and verification to ensure growth happens with integrity. Impact confirmation by the stakeholders is an important step toward building accountability and transparency in the financial markets.
Measuring and publicly reporting companies’ environmental and social impact balance the traditional finance equation of risk and return. It introduces a third pillar, impact, yielding a progressive Risk-Return-Impact (RRI) model.
Collecting data directly from individuals at the last mile and various stakeholders impacted by the company’s operations enables issuers to incorporate RRI comprehensively into financial models. IIX Values is a data-powered technology platform that facilitates measuring, monitoring, and managing social and environmental impact and risks until the last mile. It is giving the voice of every stakeholder a value in the financial markets.
By disrupting existing paradigms with cutting-edge innovations in finance, IIX catalyzes positive change for posterity. Through our commitment to dismantling barriers and amplifying underrepresented voices, we are building an environment where minority entrepreneurs can flourish.
We dare envision a future that offers equal opportunities and levels the playing field for all. My experiences as a businesswoman and entrepreneur have been defined by compounding diversity – and the defiant optimism to keep going against overwhelming odds.
“Why do humans fundamentally fear difference, whether people or ideas? Why do we fight so hard to preserve the status quo? So much of the fear of including people different from ourselves, or breaking free from the status quo, is rooted in our perception of risk.
This risk perception brings out a savior attitude, where we think we know what is best for the people we want to exclude and control. Inclusion simply means sharing power with others, no matter who or what they are. Inclusion means listening to all and embracing ideas and thoughts you may not always agree with. Inclusion means foregoing some of your own power in order to create greater social good. All this can be terrifying or exciting, depending on how you perceive risk.” – The Defiant Optimist
On Empowerment and Impact
Empowered individuals have the power to empower everyone. Every uphill step I’ve taken has been fueled by the aspirations of the poor I once gave alms to every Friday as a child. It was for the daughter I could have been – restricted from education in favor of marriage. It was for the women in Bangladeshi villages seeking financial empowerment, whom I taught to sign their names with sticks in the mud.
My fight continues so that my daughters and those that follow can live in a world that celebrates their multiple identities. Let me remind you of the immense impact that can be achieved when resilience, defiance, optimism, and idealism converge to pursue a more inclusive and equitable world.
I urge you to recognize your own capabilities. Now is the time to stand tall and unleash the boldness within. Together, we can create a future where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
About The Defiant Optimist
Global inequality is growing. Financial markets disenfranchise women, the 99 percent, and the planet itself. But what if we found the source of power and turned it inside out? What if we made the tools of the system available to all?
When she launched the world’s first stock exchange for social enterprises, Durreen Shahnaz started more than a new financial system; she sparked a movement. Defiant optimism–the stubborn belief that systems that enrich the few can be transformed for the good of the many–requires an indomitable spirit.
She’s haring her story for the first time. In The Defiant Optimist: Daring to Fight Global Inequality, Reinvent Finance, and Invest in Women, Durreen illuminates what investing in those excluded from networks of power and opportunity requires.
From growing up with constrained life chances and working as the first Bangladeshi woman on Wall Street to becoming a global leader in impact investing, Durreen takes us on a mesmerizing trek of innovation, compassion, and enterprise. Changing how systems work–and who they work for–isn’t for the faint of heart. But The Defiant Optimist offers strategies for placing women, the underserved, and the planet at the heart of systems. Together we can locate the levers of power and pull them defiantly in a new direction.
New Reviews for The Defiant Optimist by Dureen Shahnaz
This book is receiving stellar reviews. Here are two of the latest:
“An inspiring read by a passionate trailblazer. Durreen Shahnaz shares her remarkable experiences challenging the status quo, beating the odds, and fueling change.” —Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“A reminder that within all of us, there is a defiant optimist who can make a change. Through Shahnaz’s captivating stories and deep insights, this book becomes the firestarter we never knew we needed. I applaud her vision, mission, and courage.” —Claire Chiang, co-founder of Banyan Tree Holdings
Get your copy of The Defiant Optimist on Amazon today. Investing in women creates a better future for the world, inside and outside the workplace.