WWS Blog

Me and Malala

Nov 11, 2014
Published by:
Shasti Conrad, MPA '15

This summer, I had the great privilege of working for one of the new Nobel Peace Prize 2014 winners, Malala Yousafzai. After previously working for the federal government, I decided that I wanted to gain experience working at a smaller NGO in the philanthropic sector focused on international development issues. So, when the opportunity presented itself to work with the Malala Fund, I jumped at the chance. The Malala Fund was founded in 2013, a year after Malala was shot by the Taliban for going to school in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. The Fund focuses on girls’ secondary education in the developing world through advocacy and investment. As the Fund was less than a year old, I had an incredible opportunity to see how a young venture like this gets started.

Due to the small size of the organization, I had the opportunity to work on a myriad of different aspects of NGO management with the team. I assisted with managing the budget and putting together budget reports. I was able to participate in the grant-making process by helping to select grant recipients and working with international development organizations on the ground to ensure we had the proper information to process the grant. I worked on helping to create some of the foundational documents for the organization, as well as developing press, partner and outreach materials.

The two largest projects that I worked on during the summer were the launch for Malala Day in July and the Yousafzai family’s United States tour, which included stops in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City. For Malala Day, I helped to support the social media campaign, manage the outreach to over 55 partner organizations including Save the Children, the United Nations and Oxfam, and support the design of the campaign and press materials for the launch. I also assisted with the international travel logistics for Malala and the organization's staff.

For Malala Day, which commemorated her 17th birthday, Malala travelled to Nigeria to meet with the girls who had escaped Boko Haram and the parents of the girls who were still missing. She gave an impassioned speech, connected with the girls and their families and met with President Goodluck Jonathan. We were so proud of her when she called on the President to meet with the girls’ parents, (which he hadn’t done in the several months that the girls had been missing). A week later, the President made good on his promise and met with the families. However, one of the difficult lessons of doing this kind of work, that although these special moments do occur, they do not always change the harsh reality, as the girls were still missing more than six months later.

During the U.S. tour, which was three weeks on the West and East Coasts, I managed the travel logistics and schedule for Malala, her family and the Fund’s staff. I worked with our team to deepen partnerships that will help to further the Malala Fund’s work. I had the amazing opportunity to get to travel with Malala and her family on the tour. It was a true pleasure to get to spend time with Malala and see how gracious and kind she is, while also remaining very much a teenage girl. Some of my favorite moments were getting to spend time with her and brothers as they teased each other and supported each other as any other family would.

Also, during the tour, I was able to see how truly special Malala is in the way that she carries herself, her eloquence and her deep, calm demeanor that belies wisdom well-beyond her years. We met with a number of supporters, and Malala never wavered in expressing her ultimate goal that all children should be able to go to school. She did interviews, shook many hands and took lots of photos, but she always came back to her message: “Where Weakness, Fear, and Hopelessness died; Strength, Power, and Courage was born.”

I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to spend the summer with Malala and the Malala Fund. I learned a great deal about how to run an organization, what it takes to get something off the ground and how important the narrative and storytelling is in order to promote real policy changes. I already knew that Malala was an extraordinary young woman, but it has been a blessing to have the Nobel Peace Prize confirm that she is a true champion and embodies what we are taught here at the Woo: To stand up for what you believe in and that each person can make a difference!



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