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
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