We sat down with Jeffrey A. Sheehan for an interview about his new book There Are No Foreign Lands. Sheehan’s book takes the reader on a global tour to 21 countries in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and East Asia to introduce the women and men he believes are the harbingers of a potential “Global Spring,” in which all members of the human race can find common ground to settle their differences and work together productively and peacefully.
Based on the acquaintances he made during a 30-year career as Associate Dean for International Relations at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Sheehan presents profiles of 21 people from 21 countries. Our very own CEO and Founder, Durreen Shahnaz, is one of these 21 people that the book features, with a dedicated chapter talking about the work IIX has done and achieved through the decade of impact investing since it was first coined in 2008.
1. Your book opens up with reflections on humanity, the journey of relating to each other in a way where difference is valued, and the potential for people to work cooperatively for a better future. In many ways this has always been core to IIX’s mission—to build a more inclusive, sustainable future by transforming financial markets and making it work for underserved communities. What motivated you to write about this topic now, and why did you choose to focus on 21 individuals—leaders, heroes, originators, innovators, amplifiers, igniters—as the window to a better future?
My book was a lifetime in the making. It is a summary of all that I have learned in my first 71 years, combined with an impassioned plea for understanding and compassion. I am an optimist and an idealist, despite all the pain, agony, hatred, bigotry, and misery that has afflicted my fellow humans. Some people who have read my book think I am naive, or worse. But I agree with Cervantes, who wrote that true madness is seeing life as it is and not as it should be. I chose to write about these 21 people out of the many thousands of people I have met because they all share my values and my beliefs. Durreen is a perfect example. She has broken new ground in many different areas that most people felt were impossible to change. She is a perfectly sane person in a world full of madness. She and I will work together, along with kindred spirits, to change the world, one person at a time if necessary.
2. In looking at the range of leaders and organizations discussed in your book, you discuss six distinct groups of leaders—(1) Those devoted to the commonweal; (2) Compassionate capitalists; (3) Stewards, not of their own wealth; (4) Long Legacy of Echo; (5) Breaking with Tradition. What are some of the common characteristics that you find across these categories that hold the greatest potential for our shared future?
My heroines and heroes share many characteristics, but I chose to focus on thirteen. I chose these thirteen characteristics deliberately to avoid politics, current affairs, business, and other matters that I consider superficial, like hair color or dietary preferences. The characteristics that my subjects share are all internal. Anyone can achieve the same goals; there are no restrictions, requirements, or entry fees. Nor are there right or wrong answers. Importantly, my book is not a work of social science. I do not claim that these characteristics are necessary for success or that the people have been successful because they share these traits. All I am saying is that these are truly good people for whom I have admiration and affection.
3. IIX’s Founder and CEO, Professor Durreen Shahnaz, is discussed as a Compassionate Capitalist who is changing the world. You discuss her and the other individuals as an inflection point in history. Can you explain what this inflection point is, and why impact investing might be considered a “Black Swan”?
A few years ago, I invited Durreen to participate in a panel discussion at a conference organized by Wharton. The other panelists were investors, money managers, and private equity capitalists. Durreen was the outlier, and apologized to me after the panel that she didn’t really fit the format of the discussion. I reassured her that in my opinion the opposite was true. The idea that it makes no difference if you are investing in nuclear weapons, environmental degradation, or cigarettes as long as you beat the market is an outmoded and ultimately suicidal investment strategy. Durreen is the black swan, the totally unexpected event to which everyone must eventually adjust.
4. You spend time exploring the history and legacy of each of the individuals in your book, including Professor Shahnaz’s own journey from war-torn Bangladesh to Wall Street and beyond. Why is this legacy important for your understanding of leaders and how does it impact their approach to changing the world?
In his epic poem Ulysses, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote: “… I am a part of all whom I have met…” and I would add to these wise words “and all who came before me”. Advances in the analysis of the human genome in the last decade have revealed how much of who we are depends on our ancestral lineage. I am not a geneticist, but I do know that the heritage of each of my heroines and heroes tells a lot about why they behave the way they do and why they have the beliefs and values that they share. Coincidentally, this common set of beliefs and values across such a diverse group proves (at least to me) that there are no foreign lands. Samuel Huntington is dead wrong; there is no need for a clash of civilizations.
5. Congratulations on launching the book in diverse countries and languages, including China in August this year! What do you hope Chinese audiences will take away from the book? In your exploration of traditions of conflict – including a history of China “and the West”, what are the key messages you want all readers to take away on this issue moving forward?
I chose to publish my book first in Chinese, in China, for a very specific reason. For the past two hundred years (more or less), the “West” has dominated the “rest” through slavery, colonialism, and unbridled economic and cultural arrogance. This must change. We must treat each other on the basis of mutual respect. No culture or civilization is better or more exceptional than any other. Books do not need to be published in English first and then bestowed on other audiences. I hope to publish my book in Russian and Bahasa Indonesia next, with English only as the fourth language. This means that over two billion people then will have access to my book (yes, I know that is a bit ambitious) before the one-third of a billion Americans can read it.
Do look out for Sheehan’s book There Are No Foreign Lands as the Chinese edition becomes available for purchase online at Amazon. Contact Sheehan at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on his book.