The esteemed professor and entrepreneur talks to Artsteps about her vision and the impact that the IIX Foundation has had on the lives of underprivileged women all over the world

By Annita Apostolaki

When Artsteps launched as a platform for the creation of 3D digital spaces to host virtual exhibitions, no one could imagine the massive interest and broad spectrum of user stories on the platform following the first Covid-19 lockdown. Presenting your content inside an Artsteps preset template or personally built space has become a form of creative expression for hundreds of thousands of forward-thinking web users, who acknowledge the importance of 3D digital environments in a globalised contemporary society that is increasingly looking for phygital experiences to boost engagement and raise awareness on issues affecting its vulnerable groups. Through this process, various initiatives have found a means to showcase the incredible work that they do to support these people and the impact that they have on their everyday lives all over the world.

One such example is the IIX Foundation, a Singapore-based charity that supports underprivileged women and their grassroots initiatives in the global South, with which we partnered last year for the virtual exhibition of their annual SHE IS MORE campaign. #SheIsResilient was a great success, attracting hundreds of donations and artworks created by children and teenagers, who were inspired to share their own stories and versions of female resilience. In this context, Artsteps talked with the driving force behind the initiative, Professor Durreen Shahnaz, founder of Impact Investment Exchange (IIX), in order to learn more about their efforts to help a billion people lead sustainable lives by 2030.

Artsteps: Can you explain to us the concept of “impact investing”, based on which IIX was established?
Durreen Shahnaz: 
Impact investment is one of the most dynamic fields in the world today. Women, especially those from underserved communities in the global South, do not have access to financial systems and markets and that hinders their ability to transform their lives and communities. In very broad terms, impact investing aims to transform the financial system so that those underserved communities can participate in financial markets and give value to their voices.

IIX was founded in 2009 with the goal of connecting the backstreets of the world to the Wall Streets of the world by giving access to financial systems to those from underserved communities and providing innovative solutions for women empowerment, climate action, and community resilience.

AS: How important are donations to achieve the mission and vision of the IIX Foundation?
 IIX Foundation, the nonprofit sister entity of IIX, was founded in 2010 and is focused on working with women, underserved communities, climate refugees and the disfranchised at the ground level to make them active participants of society through grass-root initiatives. Although women are of crucial importance to bringing change in our communities, they suffer more due to gender disparities and are more vulnerable to economic challenges. The philanthropic donations to IIX Foundation allow these women to get access to better opportunities and take their place as change-makers in society. So far, the foundation’s work has impacted more than 6 million lives worldwide.

AS: Can you share with us the story of someone among all those people whose life the IIX Foundation changed?
: One of the most memorable stories in IIX Foundation’s work is definitely that of Rani, who lives in a hard-to-reach and underserved community in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Rani, like millions of others in Bangladesh, did not have access to technology and was engaged in informal low-paying domestic work. IIX Foundation engaged in providing 120 women with access to basic computer and digital literacy training over six months, allowing them to have a whole new livelihood and to access new and better-paying employment opportunities. The training and subsequent job in a pharmacy to input data helped Rani take control of her life and build a better future for herself, as well as for her family.

AS: How did the SHE IS MORE flagship campaign start?
DS: I have always had a great passion for art, as I believe it is a powerful expression of beliefs and aspirations. Art can be an effective medium to help young people communicate their feelings, while making them understand complex socio-economic issues regarding gender equality. The process of creating art can be deeply enriching, and so can the process of appreciating it.

That is why in 2019 we launched the SHE IS MORE initiative, IIX Foundation’s annual fundraising campaign: to fulfill its mission and celebrate women through the eyes and art of children and youth. The global art competition enables young people to share their voices through their personal artworks, which celebrate the value of inclusivity. This year’s theme was Resilience, in order to prompt children and teenagers to think of the resilience that women across the world have shown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and change brought by the climate crisis, while leading their communities on the path of progress and development.

AS: What were the committee’s impressions of the participants’ response to this year’s theme?
DS: When receiving the artwork, our entire team at IIX and the panel of judges were absolutely blown away by how deeply young people understood the importance of women’s resilience. Artists as young as 10-year-olds showcased their talent and ability to understand the value of women’s contribution to society during the pandemic in an absolutely touching manner.

AS: Are you satisfied with the result of this year’s art competition?
DS: We are extremely proud of the way young artists worldwide have come together to celebrate women by sharing untold stories of their resilience. While not everyone can come to a physical gallery to enjoy these marvelous artworks, since the competition is global, thanks to our partnership with Artsteps to create a virtual exhibition, they can be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere in the world.

If you want to support the efforts of the IIX Foundation to empower exceptional but underprivileged women, you can make a donation here.

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