Believing you can, first step to changing world, says Shiza Shahid at O’Bannon Institute event

By Michael Reschke 812-331-4370 | mreschke@heraldt.com

On stage at Ivy Tech’s 12th annual O’Bannon Institute for Community Service, Shiza Shahid was asked if all the attention she’s gotten in recent years had changed her.

Shahid is the CEO and co-founder of the Malala Fund, a New York City-based nonprofit organization that is devoted to getting access to education for girls all over the world. She has been named one of Time magazine’s 30 Under 30 World Changers and Forbes’ 30 Under 30 social entrepreneurs. She is a graduate of Stanford University, but before all that she was a teenager volunteering in earthquake refugee camps in her native Pakistan.

The recognition she’s gotten in recent years hasn’t necessarily changed her, she said, but it has increased her confidence in the impact she can have, and that’s the most important thing for someone who is trying to make a difference. She said that’s what sets entrepreneurs and successful people apart from others.

“It’s not crazy intelligence or charm,” she said. “It’s believing you can.”

Shahid got to where she is today thanks to a young girl who believed she could change her own circumstances.

Malala Yousafzai, the namesake of the Malala Fund, was born in 1997 in the Swat District of northwestern Pakistan. The daughter of a poet and educational activist who runs a school, Yousafzai began writing an anonymous blog in 2009 for the BBC, expressing her views on education and life under the threat of the Taliban taking over the valley where she lived. During this period, the Taliban issued edicts limiting women’s education.

Shahid first made contact with Yousafzai when she heard about the teen’s blogging and education campaign and wanted to help.

After the blog ended, Yousafzai was featured in a New York Times documentary. In 2011, she received Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize, and she was nominated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize.

Then, in October 2012, Yousafzai was shot while on her school bus by masked Taliban gunmen. The bullet went through her head, neck and shoulder, but she survived.

“It was their way of saying ‘we’re in power and you don’t get to speak out against us,'” Shahid said.

Yousafzai was moved to England for further treatment at a specialist hospital. Shahid had known Yousafzai for six years at that point and took a leave from her job as an analyst at McKinsey & Co. in Dubai to be with her.

The world had heard about what happened to Yousafzai, and it wanted to know more. Shahid said it was an opportunity to create a movement. She talked with Yousafzai’s parents and they came up with the idea for starting a fund. And they wanted Shahid to run it.

“I was a year into my job; I had a Pakistani passport … and no idea how to run a foundation,” she said. “But OK.”

In 2014 contributions helped the Malala Fund commit more than $3.5 million over three years to 11 local education projects and global initiatives promoting girls’ education in six countries.

“What we do has so many ripple effects,” Shahid said. “And what we don’t do has so many ripple effects.”

Shahid’s talk concluded this year’s O’Bannon Institute for Community Service, which is three days of activities aimed at giving the community an opportunity to come together and discuss topics related to nonprofit organizations, education and political and civic service. It’s named after the late Gov. Frank O’Bannon, in recognition of the role he played in the formation of Indiana’s community college system and in commemoration of his lifetime commitment to community service.

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