Featuring Malala Yousafzai

Malala stood up to the Taliban and reminded me again that anyone, whether a 12 year old boy named Iqbal or a young girl in Pakistan, has the power to change the world.

Malala was born in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. When the Islamic Taliban movement took control of the valley in 2008, girls’ schools were burned to the ground and prohibited from seeking an education. 

Malala kept a diary of the events, which was published in 2009 by BBC and later turned into a documentary film that drew international attention. She used that attention to expose the Taliban for their crimes and oppression of women and girls.

The Taliban took notice and determined that she needed to be silenced. On the morning of October 9, 2012, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was riding a bus when it was ambushed and she was shot in the head by the Taliban.

Miraculously, she survived and fled to the UK with her father. Since then she has been a tireless activist for girls’ and women's rights and their right to seek an education.

At the first ever WE Day UK in 2014, Malala was one of the featured speakers where she delivered a passionate speech, telling the audience “The most powerful weapon you have is your voice".

We had the pleasure of hosting Malala on her first ever trip to Africa in 2014 when she came to deepen her understanding about the barriers limiting girls’ education in countries outside of her own. 

Malala quickly bonded with the Kenyan girls she met at our schools, inspired by their dreams and determination to get an education. She learned about their fervent enthusiasm to go to school and the many obstacles they encounter, including discrimination, poverty, child labor and forced early marriage. 

Malala’s trip to Kenya with us was featured in a film about her life named “He Named Me Malala”.

Working side-by-side to build school rooms, we spent days discussing how to ensure that Malala’s story could sustain global attention and how to engage youth around the world in a campaign for girls’ education. We all recognized the opportunity to inspire youth activism worldwide when someone who was still a child, under 18-years-of-age, became the first-ever recipient of Nobel Peace prize. Malala was modest and initially dismissed the idea, but agreed with the potential for impact as we strategized how to build a coalition of support to advance her candidacy for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Later that year, in October 2014, Malala became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Amazingly, she shared the prize that year with Kailash Satyarthi, who hosted me during my first trip to Asia almost two decades earlier and we funded the construction of his rescue home for freed child slaves. 

I truly believe Iqbal would be smiling knowing that Malala and Kailash shared the Nobel Prize, something that Iqbal himself may have won one day if his life had not been tragically cut so short. Malala, Kailash and Iqbal’s stories show us the power that is in all of us to change the world. 

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