A novel investment exchange in Asia is rewarding entrepreneurs who want to make the world better

A group meets at IIX Impact Institute

Durreen Shahnaz calls herself a “defiant optimist.” She’s the first Bangladeshi woman to graduate from the Wharton School of Business and to work on Wall Street, and she’s spending her life coming up with new ways to invest social capital.

Back in 2013, Shahnaz launched the Impact Investment Exchange Asia. This social stock exchange is going strong today and has funded a number of projects in places like Bangladesh, Cambodia and the Philippines.

“We initially spent a lot of time trying to find these entities [to invest in] who were out there doing this great work but could be financially viable,” she says. “Now we are at a stage where they come to us because we have had a lot of success.”

In all, the exchange says it has helped 12 million people throughout Asia since its inception. How does it work? Shahnaz says an entrepreneur with a socially-focused business or organization will approach the exchange and ask for assistance in reaching “the next stage.”

“We spend quite a bit of time getting them what we call ‘investment ready,’” she says. “We also work with them in terms of calculating the social impact that they’re creating. The whole financial and the social calculations go hand-in-hand, and then we basically put it up in front of our investors.”

In addition to helping social entrepreneurs and communities in need, Shahnaz says the exchange is “changing the behavior of investors.” Once an investor sees that an initiative is making an impact, many contribute more, Shahnaz says, who received the Asia Society's Asia Game Changer Award this fall. And the projects the exchange funds aren’t just helping people, they’re yielding financial returns, too.

“It is social and it is about doing good and using finance to do good, which is really nice,” she says. “For once we are seeing what finance should be doing — working very holistically.”

Check out Shahnaz’s full TED Talk on the IIEA below.


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