The story of Malala Yousafzai is known around the world. As a young girl living in Pakistan, she was shot in the head by militants who sought to keep her and other girls from getting an education. She survived the shooting, became an advocate for girls’ education around the world, and received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.
Shiza Shahid first met Yousafzai two years before she was shot. Shahid was attending Stanford University at the time, but had returned to her native Pakistan to run a summer camp for girls from rural parts of the country. After Yousafzai was shot, Shahid changed her post-graduation plans and co-founded the Malala Fund to support global education efforts.
Now, Shahid is the leader of a company called NOW Ventures, which helps fund start-ups around the world working for social change.
Shahid was in Milwaukee to speak at Mount Mary University’s Voices of Leadership event, where she emphasized how the students, educators, and professionals in the audience can channel their energy into activism.
"Inspiration is important, but action really matters," she explains.
Shahid uses the Japanese concept of "ikigai" as a way of exploring this concept. Ikigai can be translated to "a reason for being" and is the result of a person trying to find their calling or purpose in life.
"I think sometimes it can be complicated to know where to start, and I think sometimes we believe that the various elements of ikigai or 'purpose for being' are incompatible with one another. So, 'I want to change the world, but will I really be able to build a strong career and support my family,'" says Shahid.
Part of the problem, according to Shahid, is that people "don't feel empowered to actually make a difference."
Transforming the world takes a lot of work, and can feel like a task for people with official titles. "It's not the we don't care," she continues, "It's that we think it's not our place."
But Shahid is quick to note that so many of the issues plaguing society are caused by people, and can therefore be changed by people. "Most things - wars, political upheaval, murders, crimes, poverty - these are all things that are manmade... We don't have more people doing bad things. We have some people doing bad things, but most people being apathetic," she says.
Shahid continues, "Bad things happen when people are apathetic, and if we don't show up, that's when we may go two steps backward. And I think giving people the tools and the empowerment to feel like they have a voice, they have a choice, they have a responsibility is how you prevent that."