HomeBreaking BambooDurreen Shahnaz makes waves on Wall Street for gender equality

Durreen Shahnaz makes waves on Wall Street for gender equality

By Xintian Tina Wang

Growing up in postwar Bangladesh, the young Durreen Shahnaz witnessed how other powerful nations could control an impoverished country. She says she lived in a society where traditional roles for Muslim women were deeply ingrained. Shahnaz found that being a woman entrepreneur was viewed with shame. 

“Entrepreneurship is a very sexy word in the U.S., but I basically knew no women who started a business growing up,” Shahnaz told AsAmNews. “In most cases, you’ll be a good housewife and a supportive spouse. But I did not want to accept what the society had determined for me nor to accept what the system had determined for women like me,” says Shahnaz. 

Hoping to find her own path when she was 10, Shahnaz created a stamp collection business to sell stamps to her peers. However, her early venture encountered obstacles when neighborhood boys failed to pay for the stamps they received. This has led to a valuable lesson about accounts receivable and the challenges of doing business. But Shahnaz did not stop trying.

She discovered a community of like-minded individuals who shared her passion for entrepreneurship during college after immigrating to the United States for her education. As one of the first Bangladeshi women to get a degree at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Shahnaz rebelled against cultural norms and embarked on a journey to reshape the global financial landscape. She understood the power these systems held over people’s lives and saw an opportunity to make them more inclusive.

In 2009, Shahnaz took a bold step by launching Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) Global, one of the world’s first social enterprise stock exchange companies based in Singapore. Shahnaz sought to bridge the gap between investors and entrepreneurs, creating a platform for underrepresented communities around the world to channel capital toward high-impact enterprises. This groundbreaking initiative unlocked $233 million in investment capital and empowered more than 140 million lives, making a tangible difference in the lives of countless individuals.

Shahnaz’s relentless efforts have not gone unnoticed. She has been honored with prestigious awards, including the Joseph Wharton Social Impact Award and the Oslo Business for Peace Award. The Asia Society’s Asia Game Changer Award recognized her as a true trailblazer, making a significant impact in the social capital market in Asia.

Bias and personal preferences work against women

Recognizing that women and people of color often face significant challenges in securing investment, she delves into the concept of risk management and its impact on investment decisions. She says biases and personal preferences often lead male investors to choose projects led by individuals who resemble themselves, further perpetuating the underrepresentation of marginalized groups in entrepreneurial endeavors.

“Fundamentally, I really believe in an equitable system that works for everyone. I believe everyone should get an opportunity,” says Shahnaz.

Shahnaz shares her remarkable journey and offers insights into the transformative power of impact investing in her new book, The Defiant Optimist: Daring to Fight Global Inequality, Reinvent Finance, and Invest in Women (June 27, 2023, Broadleaf Books). This book serves as a testament to her influential contributions and aims to inspire a new generation of socially conscious investors. 

She highlights the importance of building a support network and surrounding oneself with like-minded individuals. She advocates for the creation of new systems that level the playing field and empower underrepresented entrepreneurs rather than relying on existing systems that favor certain groups,.

“The most important thing to always remember for entrepreneurs of color is the fact that you have to have a North Star. The North Star leads you to do something to change people’s lives. The money will come to you if you’re doing the right thing and creating an impact,” says Shahnaz. 

With an unwavering spirit, Shahnaz continues to revolutionize the world of finance, demonstrating that profit and purpose can coexist to create a more equitable society.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Please consider making a donation and following us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and TikTok. Information about interning, joining the staff or volunteering is here. We are supported by a grant from the California Library Commission and its Stop the Hate program. You can find more resources here.


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