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She's The First Bangladeshi Woman to Work On Wall Street. This Is The Mindset Shift She Made to Convince Skeptics to Invest In Her Longshot Mission. As every entrepreneur knows, getting others to believe is the first major hurdle. Durreen Shahnaz, founder of the world's first social impact stock exchange, shares her hardwon insights on selling unconventional ideas.

By Frances Dodds

Key Takeaways

  • Learn how to defy the odds and get others to believe in your mission.
  • Where to find allies to change established systems.
  • How to look beyond labels and foster action in your community.

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.

But that's just an abridged version of her resume. In her new book, The Defiant Optimist: Daring to Fight Global Inequality, Reinvent Finance, and Invest In Women, we get a deeply raw and human glimpse of what it means to fight your way past seemingly immovable obstacles for decades.

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