The Defiant Optimist: Reinventing Finance to Fight Global InequalityVIEW EVENT DETAILS
Asia: Beyond the Headlines
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 could share this power with women across the world whose voices often go unheard? And what if you could play a part in making it happen? Join us for a conversation with the author and Asia Society Asia 21 Next Generation Fellow Durreen Shahnaz, followed by a book signing.
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. In these pages, Shahnaz illuminates what investing in those excluded from networks of power and opportunity requires.
From growing up with constrained life chances, to working as the first Bangladeshi woman on Wall Street, to becoming a global leader in impact investing, Shahnaz’s journey takes us on a mesmerizing trek of innovation, compassion, and enterprise. We accompany her to villages in Bangladesh where she helps women entrepreneurs learn to proudly sign their names, and on visits to venture capitalists who walk past her to shake her male employees’ hands. We go to a garment factory where women labor for low wages, and to a town in India where microfinance offers women enough capital to run grocery stores and tailor shops. Along the way, the birth of her two daughters only fuels her relentless pursuit of a world where girls are valued. Finally, armed with financial backers and a plan, Shahnaz crafts the world’s first tradeable financial product geared toward investing in underserved women’s livelihoods. 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.
Durreen Shahnaz is a Bangladeshi-American entrepreneur, CEO and Founder of Impact Investment Exchange (IIX), and a member of Asia Society's Asia 21 Young Leaders program. A global leader of sustainable finance and impact investing, she is a 2017 Oslo Business for Peace Award Honoree (often referred to as the ‘Nobel Prize for Business’), a financial rainmaker in Forbes 50 over 50, and an Asia Society Game Changer Awardee. Drawing from a rich career through which she broke down walls and built bridges to connect the backstreets of underserved communities to the Wall Streets of the world, her work has helped millions of women, thousands of entrepreneurs, investors, governments, and impact stakeholders around the world play a role in sustainable development and women’s empowerment. She continues her mission to build a more inclusive and sustainable world by bringing the intersection of climate action and gender equality to the forefront of capital markets. Her newest book, The Defiant Optimist: Daring to Fight Global Inequality, Reinvent Finance, and Invest in Women (2023), provides a compelling account of the author’s unparallel journey from a constricted girlhood to becoming a global leader in the impact investing movement and launching the world’s first social stock exchange. She and her husband have two daughters and live in Singapore.
Sue Suh (she/her) (moderator) most recently had the joy of serving as the first Chief People Officer and Chief Impact Officer for the 100-year-old global media company TIME. Before joining TIME her career spanned philanthropy and public service around the globe, including with The Rockefeller Foundation and the U.S. Departments of State and Defense, beginning her federal government career as a Presidential Management Fellow. She currently sits on the Center for Public Integrity’s Board of Directors, the Emma Bowen Foundation’s National Advisory Council, and the Board of Advisors for Columbia Journalism School’s Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Business and Economics. She was also honored to be named one of the Top 100 Women Leaders of New York for 2021, a 2021 New Yorker for New York and a 2019 Folio:100 member in the C-Suite category. Outside of media, she serves on the Board of the Classical Theatre of Harlem, and recently served on the Boards of Special Olympics Asia Pacific and the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation.