Book Review: The Defiant Optimist

I often don’t do book reviews, apart from my annual listing of my best reads. But this one simply couldn’t wait, considering the impact it had on me. The author of ‘The Defiant Optimist’, Dureen, is one of the accomplished Bangladeshis creating waves in the international domain. Her checkered career in investment banking, microfinance, development finance, media, social entrepreneurship, and academia held her in good stead when she founded Impact Investment Exchange (IIX).

The initial chapters of the book cover her journey from childhood in postwar Bangladesh to the US for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at Smith College, John Hopkins, and Wharton. This was a major feat, especially for a woman from a typical conservative middle-class family in the 1980s. Her indomitable spirit as a young Wall Street professional—probably the first Bangladeshi female—helped her navigate racism, inherent systemic biases, and misogyny. She could have settled for a cushy banking job, but instead, she decided to relocate to Bangladesh and settle for an underpaid but fulfilling job in a microfinance bank. After stints at a multilateral development bank and with a media conglomerate, she decided to try her luck as a social entrepreneur in the US. Her venture, OneNest, was the manifestation of her true calling as an evangelist for alleviating poverty by creating market-driven opportunities for disadvantaged women.

After selling off her enterprise, she relocated to Singapore and eventually became an academic. While conducting extensive research, the idea behind using finance for good started to coalesce, which eventually led to the creation of a stock exchange dedicated to social enterprises with backing from the Rockefeller Foundation. Her contribution to developing a methodology for measuring the impact of social enterprises has further enriched the impact investment discipline. Her ingenuity as a visionary was further manifested as she spearheaded the launch of the Women Livelihood Bond, a first of its kind in the world.

This book is very well written, and I breezed through it over the last few days. I hope Dureen apa will keep taking on the financial system and transforming it in the process in the coming years. Waiting for volume two of her memoir.

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