Malala and Me

She co-founded the Malala Fund with No­bel Peace Prize-win­ner Malala yousafzai. Now Pak­istan-born Shiza Shahid is try­ing to change the world as a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist, writes Madeleine Ross

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life -

he bru­tal shoot­ing of 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai, when gun­men stormed her school bus in Pak­istan’s Swat Val­ley in 2012, pen­e­trated the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness. De­spite suf­fer­ing ma­jor head in­juries, Malala made a full re­cov­ery and has gone on to be­come one of the world’s most pow­er­ful women’s rights ad­vo­cates, win the No­bel Peace Prize, star in a ma­jor doc­u­men­tary and grace the cover of Time.

Less fa­mil­iar is the story of Shiza Shahid, Malala’s close friend and men­tor. Not quite 10 years older than Malala, Shiza grew up in Pak­istan’s cap­i­tal, Is­lam­abad, be­fore study­ing at Stan­ford Univer­sity on a full schol­ar­ship. She was work­ing as a busi­ness con­sul­tant in Dubai when her friend was at­tacked. “Malala is like a lit­tle sis­ter to me,” says Shiza over mint tea in Hong Kong. She ex­tends her hand and shows me a ring Malala gave her as a wed­ding present. “She also gave a beau­ti­ful toast at our wed­ding.”

Shiza flew to Malala’s side as soon as she heard of the at­tack and was there when the school­girl re­gained con­scious­ness. “I told Malala that the whole world wanted to help her,” Shiza re­calls. “She looked at me and said, ‘I’m fine; tell them to help the other girls.’ It was in that mo­ment that I re­alised that what Malala had been through could be much more than a day in a news cy­cle—the story of an­other vic­tim. I didn’t want her to be known as the girl that was shot by the Tal­iban, so I helped her and her fa­ther think about how they would tell their story in a way that would en­dure and in­spire oth­ers to help and cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for girls’ ed­u­ca­tion around the world.”

The girls teamed up to launch the Malala Fund, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that ad­vo­cates at lo­cal, na­tional and in­ter­na­tional lev­els for the re­sources and pol­icy changes needed to en­sure all girls com­plete 12 years of school. Shiza, then 24, quit her job and moved to New York to be CEO of the foun­da­tion. “Phi­lan­thropy is very tra­di­tional and you have to earn your stripes, so start­ing the foun­da­tion as a young per­son was very dif­fi­cult,” she says. “A lot of peo­ple very rudely say things like, ‘Oh, you need more grey hair,’ or, ‘That CEO looks like she’s 20.’”

Shiza has since been named a Time 30 un­der 30 World Changer, a Forbes 30 un­der 30 Social En­tre­pre­neur, and is a mem­ber of the Global Agenda Coun­cil on Ed­u­ca­tion for the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum.

But Shiza wasn’t new to ad­vo­cacy. As a young girl grow­ing up in Is­lam­abad, she had reg­u­larly sneaked out of home to at­tend protests and of­ten vol­un­teered with a lo­cal NGO that sup­plied med­i­cal relief to women in pri­son. “I came to re­alise that Pak­istan was one of the worst places to be born a woman. There was a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship, ter­ror­ist at­tacks were com­ing closer and closer to my home. I wanted to un­der­stand why so­ci­ety was de­cay­ing the way it was.”

In 2005, when she was 16, a mas­sive earth­quake had hit Pak­istan and killed 70,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing some of her clos­est friends. She be­gan vol­un­teer­ing at a relief camp. Be­cause she was the camp’s only reg­u­lar female vol­un­teer, she was given much re­spon­si­bil­ity. There she met and be­friended many girls dis­placed by the quake. They would chat about boys and clothes—then some­thing re­minded her that a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter was not, in fact, a lev­eller. “It was re­ally hot one day so I said to these girls, ‘Why don’t we go for a walk,’ and they said, ‘No, our fathers and brothers are wor­ried about men see­ing us.’ It was like their very ex­is­tence was a source of shame.”

A year later, in search of greener pas­tures, Shiza ap­plied to Stan­ford Univer­sity for an

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