By Julia Gessner and Sara Wray
Shiza Shahid recently spoke at Texas A&M University-Commerce as part of the William L. Mayo Prestigious Speaker Series. Featured on the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, Shahid co-founded and served as CEO of the Malala Fund, an international organization created with the goal of keeping girls around the world in school for 12 years.
Shahid grew up in Pakistan and came to America after earning a full scholarship to Stanford University. When Shahid learned that young girls in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, only four hours away from where Shahid grew up, were being prevented from going to school by the Taliban, she decided to spend her summer creating and running a summer camp. One of the girls attending the summer camp was Malala Yousafzai.
“What I never could have predicted, what I never could have imagined is that one of the little girls who I had then started mentoring would go on six years later to become the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner,” said Shahid.
Shahid returned to Stanford after finishing the summer camp. After graduation, she earned a job in business consulting. The job was a dream job for many Stanford graduates, and Shahid moved to the Middle East with her company to learn how to operate business in emerging markets.
“I was just a year into my job when I got a text message that would make my heart stop,” said Shahid. “Malala has been shot, the text message read.”
On her way back from school, Malala’s school bus had been stopped and two masked gunmen entered the bus. The men asked for Malala and then shot her in the head and injured two more of her friends.
“All over the world Malala’s story had shaken the earth. She was constantly on breaking news. People from everywhere were praying for her,” said Shahid. “For the first time people came to understand what girls across the world suffered.”
Shahid dropped everything and went to Birmingham to be with Malala’s family. Support came from around the world. Much of the support went to Shahid because she was with Malala. While the family needed to focus on Malala’s recovery, Shahid saw the opportunity to start a movement.
“Someone needed to take this work froward and help establish the early foundations of a global movement. I had a decision to make, in that moment, would I go back to my job or would I take a leap of faith and put my heart into helping Malala inspire girls and fight for their rights? I didn’t feel prepared to embark on the journey, but it was now or never,” said Shahid. “Malala and her father had urged me to stay and my heart had a clear answer. I took the leap and I never looked back.”
Shahid worked to tell Malala’s story and encourage people to act and build a fund. Shahid spent two years working to build Malala’s books, movies and the Malala fund.
At the event, Shahid discussed four lessons that she said guided her in life to inspire the audience. Her lessons were the importance of self-growth and self-discovery, power, the importance of living a life of passion and the importance of constantly innovating.
“I believe that is it us, together, who decide what our world looks like,” said Shahid. “We are the caretakers of our combined human destiny. Now, that’s a heavy burden, and also a great privilege that all of us have.”
Shahid focused much of her speech on the importance of not waiting for someone else to try and fix the problems of the world, but for people to start changing the world themselves.
“I believe that there are certain moments where you have to decide who you are,” said Shahid. “In those moments, make the decision from your heart.”
Shahid has been involved with the Malala Fund for several years. She is now beginning to turn her focus onto finding and supporting other innovators and “Malalas” to create more leaders fighting to solve world issues.
Shahid finished her speech by discussing the issues of the world, and how to think about solving those issues. She ended with the question, “What is it that you plan to do with your one wild and miraculous life?”
The William L. Mayo Prestigious Speaker Series Committee is composed of students, faculty and staff who collaborate to bring high caliber speakers to the A&M-Commerce community. The next speaker will be Laverne Cox from Orange is the New Black. Cox will be speaking at A&M-Commerce on February 3, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. in Ferguson Auditorium.