Leading social entrepreneur urges Trump to back impact investing

Durreen Shahnaz is the founder and managing director of social stock exchange IIX (Impact Investing Exchange Asia). Like Donald Trump, she's also a graduate of the Wharton Business School. Here, she writes to the US president, urging him to support the transformative potential of impact investing.

Dear President Trump,

Congratulations on your recent victory.

Like many others, I remain hopeful that, despite your administration’s numerous missteps during your first month in office and despite several indications to the contrary, you do aspire to have a positive impact on the world in which we live.

I am writing to you today with a request that you use your business acumen to support sustainable development in communities across the globe in need by promoting investment in enterprises that aim to create positive impacts on society and the environment.

This is the second time in my life that I am writing to a President of the United States. The first time was in 1980 when, as a 12 year old growing up in Dhaka, Bangladesh, I hand wrote a letter in broken English to President Ronald Reagan — then recently elected to the office.

I wrote asking him, as the most powerful man in the world, what he would do to help countries like mine to climb out of poverty and whether he could make the men of my country treat the women better. (I thought that, as a former cowboy actor, he could beat up all the bad people). I told nobody about this letter. I secretly mailed it to ‘President Reagan, White House, Washington DC, USA’.

Imagine my surprise (and my family’s shock) when a few months later a beautiful white envelope embossed with the golden Presidential seal arrived addressed to me. President Reagan had written back to me! He told me how proud he was that I had written to him and promised me that he would do his best to honor my request. That letter pretty much made my year.

I write to you to share our commonalities and our differences and to request that you use your power to promote impact investment

Now, 37 years later, I am writing to you — currently the most powerful person in the world — as a fellow American and a fellow Wharton graduate. I write to you to share our commonalities and our differences and to request that you use your power to promote impact investment to help ensure that business and investment are a force for positive impact in this world.

Surprisingly, you and I have quite a bit in common. To start off, we are both graduates of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Wharton taught both of us the power of finance and of markets to create and multiply wealth. It also taught us the ability of finance and business to bring about incredible sustainable changes to communities and to people’s lives — for better or for worse.

We both used our knowledge from Wharton to become entrepreneurs. You built a real estate empire, and I became a social entrepreneur and created companies, including IIX, that use market forces to solve social and environmental challenges.

Like you, I have been fortunate to achieve success in business, so that IIX is now a market leader in the ‘impact investing’ space (a space dedicated to unlocking private sector investment for social and environmental causes) and has impacted millions of lives in Asia. A few years ago, I received the Joseph Wharton Award for my work at IIX — the same award I believe your daughter Ivanka received (though, in a different category).

Now, for the things that set us apart: I am a woman, a Muslim and a passionate feminist. Like many immigrants to the US, I came to the country alone. At the age of 17, I arrived with two suitcases and a heart full of optimism. America and many Americans embraced me and helped me reach my potential by allowing me to believe that I could do anything.

This new-found confidence allowed me to be as comfortable working on Wall Street as on the rural paths of the developing world. I may have been born in Bangladesh, but I was nurtured to be a banker, media executive and entrepreneur in the US. I am very grateful for the opportunities that America has given me.

After returning to Asia 12 years ago to contribute to the sustainable development of my country of birth and other countries in Asia, I feel the need now to turn my attention back to America and give back to my adopted country.

Helping impact investing go mainstream will cost you far less than building a wall or fighting another war

I have to thank you for this intense new desire to help the US in the same way that IIX has been helping the developing countries of Asia. With the environmental and social policy changes you seem intent on putting in place, the US will be in dire need of innovative solutions.

As a courageous company, IIX has broken down boundaries of finance and used it effectively to bring health care, education, sustainable agriculture, clean water and clean energy to millions. In these extraordinary times, I feel it is our duty to bring this innovative approach to America to help address the challenges that America is facing.

At the same time, we will continue and even expand our work in Asia and across the globe. If the US pulls back from its leadership position in the world, we will do our best to fill in the gaps and to continue to help women, the environment and disadvantaged communities. I know we can succeed in this.

All I am asking from you is that you use your power to make it easy for your Wall Street friends to work with IIX and others in the impact investment community and to embrace the power of using investment to promote sustainable development. You have the power to help impact investing become mainstream and show the world the positive changes that business solutions can bring about.

Helping impact investing go mainstream will cost you far less than building a wall or fighting another war, and will do much more than either of these to keep radical terrorist groups at bay. This is because impact investing will engage people around the world to invest in their communities, create jobs, bring economic growth and perhaps even create climate solutions.

I am not expecting a response from you, but I hope you will tweet this note and inspire your colleagues, supporters and challengers to embrace the solution of impact investing to create a better world.

Thank you for your kind consideration.


Durreen Shahnaz

This letter was originally posted at the IIX website. It is reproduced with the kind permission of IIX.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden/Unsplash