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It’s not hyperbole to say that Durreen Shahnaz’s lifelong business model has been defying the odds. But even after climbing to the highest rungs of the global finance world, her playbook for convincing people to invest in “high risk” ventures remains refreshingly practical and welcoming. If you’ve ever found yourself pitching an idea that others say is impossible — because it’s unusual, idealistic, or simply doesn’t align with the interests of whoever is writing checks — then take note, because Shahnaz’s story is a masterclass in the art of winning over powerful allies.
Shahnaz, 55, was born in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world. She came to the U.S. alone at 17, went to Smith College, then got a job at Morgan Stanley — making her the first Bangladeshi woman to work on Wall Street. She worked in microfinancing at Grameen, the World Bank and Merill Lynch, founded an e-commerce company, became the youngest-ever VP at Hearst, heading their Asia operations. And finally, she founded Impact Investment Exchange (IIX), the first-ever social impact stock exchange that connects investors in the world’s wealthiest countries to mostly women-owned businesses in the Global South.