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There came a point in Durreen Shahnaz’s career at which she describes feeling like a tree falling in a forest with no one to hear. It was not, in fact, when she had been one of the few women, let alone Bangladeshi, working on Wall Street at Morgan Stanley in the financial heydays of the 1990s. It was rather when, during the course of founding and running an online marketplace, she realized how little care many investors had about the impact their money had on the greater good.
And there begins the creation story of the Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) and IIX Foundation, founded by Shahnaz, which went on to create many world firsts: the world’s first social stock exchange, the world’s first gender lens impact measurement methodology, Asia’s first and largest crowdfunding platform for impact investing (Impact Partners), and an entirely new asset class called the Women’s Livelihood Bond Series.
Her objective was to speak to investors in their language – quantifying the social and environmental impacts of their investments and linking them to financial products – and it’s safe to say this has been achieved. IIX has seen more than USD 215 million invested into social capital markets, supporting clean water, reforestation and clean cook stoves; incubators, accelerators and technical assistance for people, households, underserved women, and landscapes around the world.
But among the innumerable awards and accolades IIX has received since its inception, it might be its launch of its Women’s Livelihood Bond that means the most to her. It was the first impact investing instrument to be listed on a stock exchange and quoted on Bloomberg, channeling financial support to more than 3 million women in Asia. The bond is now in its fourth iteration, backed by partners including USAID and Shearman & Sterling.
“In the history of financial markets…the stock markets have listed everything. But we never included women,” said Shahnaz at a Global Landscapes Forum event in 2018. “We never had the backstreets connected to the Wall Street. This was very personal for me.”