Philanthropy with benefits: Durreen Shahnaz reshapes markets for social good

8 Oct 2018

BONN, Germany (Landscape News) – Durreen Shahnaz likes to shake things up – especially in the “third space” arena where finance and development meet social and environmental reform.

In 2013, Shahnaz launched Impact Investment Exchange Asia (IIX), a social stock exchange, which raises capital to promote sustainable development and economic growth in Asia. With a focus on initiatives centered on climate action, empowerment of women and community resilience, IIX is channelling efforts toward achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

“It is social and it is about doing good and using finance to do good, which is really nice,” said Shahnaz, who will share trade secrets with 2,000 delegates and thousands more online at the Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn, Germany in December. “For once we are seeing what finance should be doing — working very holistically.”

By using a for-profit model to inject cash into enterprises aimed at repairing socio-economic disparity or curbing climate change, IIX allows investors to earn returns.  Investors can buy shares in a social business in the same way investors focused solely on profit do on a regular stock exchange.

IIX, which by 2017 reported it had a positive impact on more than 10 million people and mobilized more than $75 million of impact investment capital, aims to extend its reach to 300 million people by 2025.

This year, the IIX Growth Fund finalized its first Bangladesh investment; into off-grid solar clean energy firm SOL share through a consortium of investors. SOL share will increase access to clean energy for over 19,000 rural households and 14,000 micro-entrepreneurs, addressing climate change by avoiding over 2,200 metric tons of carbon emissions by 2021.

Shahnaz, who originally hails from Dhaka, has been reshaping perceptions of market capitalism in her home country and internationally through a career in finance and banking since she graduated from Smith College with a double degree in government and economics in 1989.

In Bangladesh she worked at Grameen Bank, and in New York at Morgan Stanley, Hearst Magazines International and oneNest, an online impact marketplace for handmade products, she founded and sold.

After cutting her teeth in the business world, Shahnaz returned to school in the United States, graduating from the Wharton School of Business University of Pennsylvania graduating with a joint master’s degree from the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington in 1995.

 

AMPLE ACCOLADES

Shahnaz currently serves on the advisory board for the U.N. Development Programme, U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and the G20 Steering Committee for Impact Investing.

In 2017, she received the Oslo Business for Peace Award for spearheading a transformation in the way financial and capital markets work by focusing on purpose and maximising impact.

“Her work in Impact Investment Exchange, the world’s first stock exchange dedicated to social enterprises – which she founded in 2009, has positively impacted 10 million lives to date,” the award committee stated.

“For me, it became a lifelong quest to use the knowledge of finance to do good for the world and bring about sustainable development to the disadvantaged people across the globe,” Shahnaz said.

Through IIX, she works with entrepreneurs, socially focused businesses or organizations that ask the exchange for help to expand their operations.

“We spend quite a bit of time getting them what we call ‘investment ready’” Shahnaz said. “We also work with them in terms of calculating the social impact that they’re creating. The whole financial and the social calculations go hand-in-hand, and then we basically put it up in front of our investors.”

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