At 25-years old, Shiza Shahid already has an impressive list of social causes attached to her name. Born in Pakistan, she became passionate about women’s rights at an early age, volunteering in a women’s prison when she was just 14 and serving as the only regular female volunteer at a Pakistani relief camp when she was just 16.
As a sophomore at Stanford in 2009, Shiza founded a summer camp in Islamabad to empower young girls and advocate for their education. Eleven-year-old Malala Yousafzai attended the camp.
When she received word that Malala had been shot in 2012, Shiza left her position as a McKinsey business analyst, flew to Malala’s side and joined her campaign then and there, co-founding the Malala Fund with Malala and her father, Ziauddin, a nonprofit aiming to ensure all girls receive an education.
At 17, Malala has become the youngest-ever Nobel Prize recipient. Her work has achieved international recognition, and so, Shiza has stepped out of the spotlight, relinquishing her role as CEO and co-founder of the Malala Fund, to once again focus her efforts on championing a new cause, advocating for women’s rights on a global scale.
We sat with the incredibly inspiring Shiza to find out more about her philosophy on driving change and making a difference.
We each have a finite amount of time
Getting involved in a cause that you care about is one of the most intimate forms of work that you do. Look at your life and ask, “what’s made me happiest? What excites me most? What have I done over and over again?” Once you identify something, try it out. It doesn’t mean it’s your lifelong passion, but you get closer as you experiment and try new things.
Be authentic in your involvement
Are you passionate about connecting people? You could be a fundraiser. Are you a painter? Organizations are always producing artwork to use on their websites, invitations and campaigns. Are you a writer? A businessperson who’s accumulated wealth and wants to invest in something meaningful? Evaluate your own strengths, passions and interests. Be clear on what your skills are when you take them forward to an organization. I’ve interviewed people who say, I have no idea what I can do for you, but I’m a lawyer. Great. Keep in mind your experience and the things you’re uniquely qualified to do.
Don’t undervalue your impact
Like any organization, just because it’s cause-oriented doesn’t mean it’s going to be immediately more interesting. If you’ve volunteered to write letters, it may not be exciting but it’s a meaningful task. Don’t think you’re not having an impact.
The issue of age
My young age has often been perceived as a sign that it’s too early for me to be a leader. We exist in a society where age and experience are valued. Being young and starting things young has led to an extra question mark on my capability. It’s been an asset in many ways, and a detriment in others. But I started things because I cared about them, not because I got an advanced degree in them or grew up in the ranks of an organization. I learned on the job and very quickly. I’ve always had an openness to asking questions and wanting to learn.
Forge your own way
I’ve always been very independent. I like to create things and drive things that I’m passionate about—not deliver on tasks that I’m assigned. Take risks. Realize that you will do things wrong and be able to pivot, change course and change paths.
Failure is the norm
We don’t recognize how much grit and perseverance it takes to get to where you want to go. When you fail at something it’s not a reflection of you. It means you’re trying something big and you’re learning. You don’t have the answers because nobody does.
The whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts
Build a team around you that will strengthen you. Determine what you’re good at and what you’re not and hire accordingly.
Life is a process
I can’t overstate the importance of looking back, trying things that might be exciting as a way to demystify them and consulting with people who know you best—telling them, “here’s where I am. What do you think?” I have friends who have life boards, where 7-8 of their closest friends come together several times a year to weigh in on their lives. This reflection helps them to move forward when they’re stalled.
It’s more about your work than your career
We’re no longer in a time when you have to decide what you want to be at 16, get a degree, get a job and simply climb the corporate ladder. People will have multiple careers. Have fun. Work to drive impact and maintain a sense of self-awareness. Focus on making more good choices than bad ones.