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Malala Fund co-founder is keynote speaker for Go Big Read

June 17, 2014 By Jenny Price

Shiza Shahid

Shiza Shahid, CEO and co-founder of the Malala Fund, will be the keynote speaker for the Go Big Read program.

Shiza Shahid was a college sophomore when she first met Malala Yousafzai.

Today, the two young women are working together to help the more than 60 million adolescent girls worldwide who are denied a formal education because of social, economic, legal and political factors.

This fall, Shahid will visit UW–Madison as they keynote speaker for Go Big Read, the university’s common-reading program, which selected Yousafzai’s book, “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban,” for the 2014-2015 academic year.

Shahid, 25, is now the CEO and co-founder of the Malala Fund, which supports local entrepreneurs who have developed programs to increase educational access for women. She will be on campus Oct. 27-28 to give a public talk at Varsity Hall in Union South and meet with smaller groups of students.

I am Malala

She grew up in Islamabad, Pakistan, three hours from the Swat Valley where Yousafzai lived. As a teenager, Shahid worked in female prisons and volunteered with a non-governmental organization to provide female doctors to inmates. She also volunteered in a refugee camp after one of her best friends was killed in the 2005 earthquake along the Pakistani border with India.

At age 18, Shahid left Pakistan to attend Stanford University on a scholarship, but continued to follow developments in her home country, especially the issues facing its girls and women.

“When I grew up in Pakistan it was pretty safe; I used to cycle outside,” Shahid said in an interview with Entrepreneur magazine. “I felt like home was being robbed from me. It was a very, very broken place.”

Shahid reached out to Yousafzai’s family after watching a documentary about how Yousafzai was blogging secretly for the BBC about her struggle to get an education in her home country. She organized a summer camp in Islamabad in 2009 for Yousafzai and about two-dozen other girls with the goal of helping them to advocate for their right to attend school.

The two were reunited three years later, after Yousafzai was shot and transported to Great Britain for treatment. Shahid got on a plane to London to offer her help. At the hospital, Yousafzi told her, “I’m OK. Can you ask them to help the other girls?” Shahid quit her job as a business analyst in Dubai to assist Yousafzai and her family with establishing the Malala Fund, which is building on Yousafzi’s experiences to spark global action.

Shahid was recently named one of TIME magazine’s “30 Under 30 World Changers” and to Forbes “30 Under 30″ list of social entrepreneurs. More information about the ongoing Go Big Read program and plans for this fall can be found here.