The Defiant Optimist

Daring to Fight Global Inequality, Reinvent Finance, and Invest in Women

The Defiant Optimist

Daring to Fight Global Inequality, Reinvent Finance, and Invest in Women

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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 made the tools of the system available to all?

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 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.


"An inspiring read by a passionate trailblazer. Durreen Shahnaz shares her remarkable experiences challenging the status quo, beating the odds, and fueling change."

Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author

"A reminder that within all of us, there is a defiant optimist who can make a change. Through Shahnaz's captivating stories and deep insights, this book becomes the firestarter we never knew we needed. I applaud her vision, mission, and courage."

Claire Chiang, co-founder of Banyan Tree Holdings

"As the world pushes for gender equality and women's representation in the global financial system, Durreen Shahnaz is one of the few who has rolled up her sleeves and done the work of lifting women up. This book is timely, necessary, and most importantly, empowering for all who want to create change, however small."

Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Prize winner

"Durreen Shahnaz details her boundary-pushing experiences with candor, wisdom, and vivid storytelling. Documenting her journey from war-torn Bangladesh to the pinnacle of the financial markets, Shahnaz reveals the importance of finance in sustainable development and women's empowerment. She is a wonderful role model for girls and women everywhere."

Dr. Judith Rodin, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation and former president of the University of Pennsylvania

"This book is a rare window into what impact investing really means on the ground. It reminds us that a revolutionary change starts from a small step. Let that step be The Defiant Optimist, and it will inspire you for miles to come."

Antony Bugg-Levine, co-founder of the Global Impact Investment Network

"Durreen Shahnaz's poignant account of her life's journey will inspire readers to embrace what she calls the 'defiant optimist' mindset as they strive to create better futures for themselves and for the world."

Kathleen McCartney, president of Smith College

"Few in the field of global impact investing have been as steadfast and engaged in advancing a vision of finance with justice as Durreen Shahnaz. The opportunity to learn from her journey and lessons in activism and financial innovation is not to be missed!"

Jed Emerson, Global Lead of Impact Investing at Tiedemann Advisors

Product Info

  • Publisher Broadleaf Books
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506480763
  • eBook ISBN 9781506480770
  • Dimensions 5.75 x 8.75
  • Pages 247
  • Publication Date June 27, 2023