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Durreen Shahnaz, Professor, Founder and CEO of IIX and IIX Foundation

Professor Durreen Shanhnaz

Professor Durreen Shanhnaz

Please give us a bit of background on yourself, and how your organization plays a leadership role in the impact investing space.

I have been extremely fortunate to live, experience, and contribute to diverse worlds – from the back streets of war-torn Bangladesh to the Wall Streets of the world. Before founding IIX, I built a career as a banker at Morgan Stanley and Grameen Bank, a media executive at Hearst Magazines International, a social entrepreneur with my first company OneNest, and an academic at the National University of Singapore.

IIX began ten years ago as an inspiration at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, and a vision to transform the world by innovating a new approach to sustainable peace. Since then, our work has grown to span the entire social capital markets value chain – empowering impact enterprises that are addressing the root causes of inequality and conflict; valuing and including their most vulnerable beneficiaries in financial markets; changing financial systems to drive sustainable development; and building opportunities for anyone, anywhere to contribute to a more inclusive world. In practice, we accomplish this through our proprietary impact assessments and catalytic accelerator program; our innovative and blended financial products; and our education and advocacy work.

 Through our journey and the commitment from fellow travelers, IIX has achieved many firsts – creating the world’s first social stock exchange; the world’s first crowdfunding platform for impact investing; and the world’s first Women’s Livelihood Bond to be listed on a public exchange.

What will you be discussing at The Economist's Impact Investing event in New York on February 12?

The impact economy is at an important crossroads in this time of national and global turmoil. While capturing the hearts and imaginations of society at large that a more equitable future is possible, the movement must face a moment of truth. If impact investing was born out of the need for a new set of values, one that respects people and planet even in the poorest of neighborhoods, how far have we come and whose voice is included in our measure of success? If the promise was to impact those most vulnerable in society, why do women continue to be trapped in the back streets without avenues to financial markets? If the movement emerged out of the dust of two worlds – both development and capitalism –have we shown the courage to build a new world, or have we merely given old habits and structures new names? Finally, what will it take for us to create a new value system that is truly inclusive, no matter who you are or where you’re from?

In what ways is impact investing making headway, and where is it lagging?

I have been inspired by the growing number of countries, companies, investors, and communities that are joining the impact economy. From billion-dollar funds to INGOs, the space has gained well-deserved recognition for its potential to transform the world.

At the same time, we are seeing a growing gap between those who are mobilizing capital at an astonishing scale, and those who are on the ground making impact a reality for vulnerable communities. These gaps have created significant blind spots and concerning trends, including a dramatic mismatch between the size of funds and the availability of investment-ready, high-impact enterprises; the lack of risk appetite at both the multilateral and investor level to make game-changing investments; and a deafening silence around the struggles that enterprises face, and how difficult it is to build viable pipelines for their growth.

 It will take a village to realize the potential of impact investing. In order to effectively grow to a material scale, the impact economy must move beyond niche, fragmented players. To bridge the fragmentation and overcome these blind spots, IIX has developed an ecosystem approach in order to include everyone in the capital markets value chain – bankers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, academics, policy makers, development professionals – and to build sustainability across the impact economy –from capital to enterprise, from assessment to exit.

Through this approach, our work has grown to span 46 countries, and we have unlocked nearly $94 million of private sector capital to support 140+ enterprises, avoided over 1 million metric tons of carbon and impacted nearly 24 million lives. 

Can you really tell when businesses are “being good”?

What has always grounded IIX’s work – from our impact assessments to our innovative financial products – is our commitment to measure what matters most to vulnerable communities. By giving value to those who are excluded and invisible to financial markets, we can better ensure the long-term sustainability of impact enterprises, as well as the sustainability of investments. By tying the voices of beneficiaries to impact assessments, and impact assessments to investment dollars, we also hold everyone accountable to building an equitable and inclusive future.

In the coming year, IIX is excited to build on our decade of experience in impact measurement and data analytics to bring value to every company, and to help them give value to “being good.” In other words, the clear way to tell when businesses are “being good” is to ask their customers and beneficiaries, and to account for their voices in the company’s value.

What are the payoffs and costs associated with impact investing for all parties? 

As IIX looks back at our ten years of work helping enterprises grow and raise capital, we are encouraged by the growing number of investors participating in the space. We were excited that the majority of investors in IIX’s Women’s Livelihood Bond (WLB1) – the world’s first impact investing instrument to be listed on a stock exchange—were from Asia. This is a positive sign that investors in emerging markets are also thinking about value beyond purely economic terms. But beyond the binary of financial and social return, which forces us to think about the world in terms of payoffs and costs, IIX wants to challenge investors to think about value in a new way. For example, when we report that investors received a three-fold holistic growth of wealth in the first year of the WLB1, we are challenging them to account for wealth and value creation that comes from a sustainable livelihood, a more resilient community, and ultimately a safer and more peaceful world. 

Where have you seen impact investing make the biggest strides in recent years?

There is much for the movement to celebrate—reaching US$228 billion in market size, transforming the way that financial markets work, and doing so with a courage and defiance that can bring us to the next decade.

Another positive development has been the increasing commitments by forward-looking countries to gender-lens investing. We’ve been honored and inspired by the support from American, Canadian, Australian, and Korean governments who empowered us to bring women to the forefront of change - whether through our Women’s Livelihood Bonds or through our accelerator programs. As we look forward to the future of impact investing, we will need more countries to take on the risk of innovation so that we can unlock greater private sector capital.  

About IIX

We are defiant optimists transforming the world through a new approach to sustainable peace. To achieve sustainable peace, we must address the root causes of inequality and injustice in the world today that lead to conflict. We believe that peace must be built by valuing and empowering everyone – especially those excluded from existing systems – to be a part of the solution for a sustainable future. Over the past decade, we have built the world’s largest crowdfunding platform for impact investing, Impact Partners, created innovative financial products such as the Women's Livelihood Bond, operated award-winning enterprise technical assistance programs such as IIX ACTS, and established an Impact Institute for training and education. The basis of all this work - connecting the financial markets with impact - is IIX's proprietary Impact Assessment which is now widely used across Asia. To date, IIX's work has spanned 46 countries, unlocked nearly $94 million of private sector capital to support 140+ enterprises, avoided over 1 million metric tons of CO2 emissions and impacted nearly 24 million lives. IIX has received numerous awards for its work including the Oslo Business for Peace Award, the ‘Nobel Prize for Business.’ Currently, IIX is exploring a series of Women's Health Bonds to bring affordable, accessible and effective healthcare for women in the US. Learn more at: iixglobal.com