The following is a speech given at the United Nations General Assembly this week by former investment banker Durreen Shahnaz, founder of the Impact Investment Exchange (IIX), the world’s first social stock exchange. To date, IIX has brought in $75 million from the private sector to benefit 15 million people across 40 countries. Shahnaz believes that reducing inequality will reduce conflict and lead to sustainable peace. She has launched a new five-year initiative that leverages finance to tap $1 billion and help 100 million people. 

I stand before you not only as an expert on innovative finance but also as a woman whose life has been shaped by wars. During the first years of my life, in 1971, I lived through the Bangladesh Independence War, and once I became an adult and created my first start-up in New York City, I was one of the lucky few to live through the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. I have emerged from these experiences as a defiant optimist with a relentless determination to change the way the world works and a resilient optimism that change is possible. To catalyze this change, I have enlisted one of the greatest weapons on this planet — finance — as a tool to create peace.

While I myself, as well as many of you in this room, have lived a life shaped by war, if one steps back and looks at post-World War II history – at history since the creation of the United Nations – the truth is that the world today is the most peaceful it has been in human history.

I truly believe that one of the reasons we have been experiencing relatively more peace in comparison to earlier eras is that we have evolved in how we think about peace.

In the last few decades, we have grown from thinking of peace as something we keep, to acknowledging peace as something we build. We have evolved from thinking of peace purely as a product of policy, to peace as a product of our systems. As a result, today we are advocating for sustainable peace – addressing at their very roots the inequalities and injustices within today’s world that can lead to conflict; and building peace in a new way by changing the existing systems — including the financial system — within which every being operates.

Today, there is no escaping that we live in a globalized world where everything is interconnected — ideas through the internet, people through travel, and capital through the global financial markets. However, the connections are not always smooth or obvious, and not everyone has a ticket to travel in this interconnected global highway. Globalization opens doors to new opportunity — but only to some. The divide between the winners and losers of globalization exaggerates inequalities on a global scale — creating social and economic unrest. If we can promote inclusion and close inequality gaps in our financial and economic systems, we can tackle a crucial source of conflict.