Shiza Shahid showed a video to hundreds of students in the University Student Union Ballrooms of a summer camp she started for Pakistani girls living in the Swat Valley who were fighting to receive an education. Clips of 26 girls playing games, creating friendships and learning to read and write flashed on the projector and ended on a 12-year-old girl telling the newscaster her ambitious goals of becoming the president of Pakistan one day.
“Did anyone recognize the little girl?” Shahid asked a silent crowd. “That was Malala Yousafzai. I never could have imagined back then that the little girl would become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the most influential people in the world.”
The CEO and co-founder of the Malala Fund spoke to Long Beach State students as part of ASI’s An Evening With series, sharing her experiences and answering questions from the audience.
The story of the 15-year-old Pakistani girl who stood up to the Taliban and demanded educational rights for women is widely recognized. Before she was shot by the terrorist group and went on to become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, she was just another girl at Shahid’s secret summer camp.
“All of [the girls] were defiant and ready to change the world,” Shahid said. “They spoke with so much passion and so much fearlessness, it was entirely different than what I expected.”
Shahid thought of the secret camp with the goal to instill confidence and the importance of education into young Pakistani girls when she was studying at Stanford.
“I was watching my classmates create all of these apps to help them do their laundry and get a date, all things their mother used to do,” Shahid said. “Here I am getting this incredible education and 300 miles from where I grew up, girls can’t even go to school.”
The camp is where she met Malala, who she would later partner with to bring education to millions of girls around the world.
Shahid shared the story of how she got into activism as a young girl volunteering at refugee camps, when she realized the privilege and right to education and the moment she decided to leave behind her five-year plan and co-found the Malala Fund at just 22 years old.
“There are certain moments in our lives that changes who we are and the best thing to do is to be guided by our hopes and not our fears,” Shahid said. “In those moments I hope you will be bold.”
She also shared jarring statistics with the crowd: 130 million girls are denied access to education, how women give back to their communities twice as much as men and that the United States is on track to achieving gender equality, but it’ll take us 217 years.
“I thought it was super informational, especially in today’s political climate,” Lizbeth Castillo, third year, international studies major said. “She talked a lot about change and pursuing that and trying to make change out of that so I think that’s definitely something I’m going to start doing.”
After creating the Malala Fund, Shahid went back to her business roots and founded Venture NOW, a business that invests in mission-driven startups with the goal to create better change for the world. With an incentive to give those who have gone underrepresented a seat at the table, she has invested in and supported companies that help others as part of its mission, not as an inauthentic extra factor to lure in customers.
“There’s been a lot of money it just hasn’t been spent well. The real shortage is talent and expertise. Use the influence you have and change something for better,” Shahid said. “When you act to change something for better, when you choose to show up for something you care about, your work is transformative, and you can’t begin to imagine its effects.”
The activist touched on issues in the United States that students could take action on including education reform and equal representation in businesses. She encouraged the audience to find a passion and invest in something local that will make a difference in the community. Shahid answered questions from business majors and health science majors, telling them the same thing: “The first step is to show up, everything starts from that. Take the first step and you will be surprised by the opportunities that come.”
Yusra Daya, third year health science major was one of many students who took Shahid’s advice to heart.
“I thought it was beneficial how she talked about her experiences and the experiences of Malala, she’s one of the most inspirational people in the world,” Daya said. “I like how she gave advice on how to diversify the field of education in America and how that’s important to create a better future. It’s important to have different voices in different communities to create change.”
Watch our video coverage of the event here:
VIDEO | Alexandra Apatiga