Malala Yousafzai on How Everyone Can Inspire Change
In this View From The Top podcast episode, the activist shares her vision of uplifting girls through education.
“My story is not an exceptional story. It could have been the story of any girl if their fathers and brothers had allowed them to speak out.”
In this View From The Top interview, activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai shares her mission to ensure that all 130 million girls who are not in school can have access to education.
“My goal is to meet these girls, but also uplift their story so leaders listen to them rather than me. And this is my goal in every meeting… to say, ‘Let’s listen to these activists. They have something to say to you. You have been ignoring their voices, so hear from them and they will tell you what the issues are in this country for girls and women.’”
Stanford GSB’s View From The Top is the dean’s premier speaker series. It launched in 1978 and is supported in part by the F. Kirk Brennan Speaker Series Fund.
During student-led interviews and before a live audience, leaders from around the world share insights on effective leadership, their personal core values, and lessons learned throughout their career.
Malala Yousafzai: My story is not an exceptional story. It could have been the story of any girl if their fathers and brothers had allowed them to speak out. Many were stopped by their family members. Many were stopped by men in the society.
Rustom Birdie: Welcome to View From The Top, the podcast. That was Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize winner and cofounder of the Malala Fund. Malala visited Stanford Graduate School of Business as part of View From the Top, a speaker series where students, like me, sit down to interview leaders from around the world. I’m Rustom Birdie, an MBA student of the class of 2022. This year I had the pleasure of interviewing Malala here on campus. Malala shared with us how she stays motivated in the fight for girls‘ education, how girls around the world continue to inspire her, and how each of us have an important role to play in realizing the changes we want to see in our future.
You’re listening to View From The Top, the podcast.
Rustom Birdie: Okay, As-salamu alaykum, Malala.
Malala Yousafzai: Wa alaykum salam. Thank you.
Rustom Birdie: Clearly, Stanford GSB is very excited to have you here today. Before we start, want to just say a personal thank you, Malala. As a fellow Pakistani, a brother to two sisters, a son to a mother back in Karachi, I’m humbled and filled with gratitude to share the stage with you today.
Malala Yousafzai: Thank you so much, and I’m also honored to be here. Thank you so much to everyone for your presence, and I’m so excited to have this conversation.
Rustom Birdie: Great. There are a lot of important topics we have to cover today. We don’t have too much time. I want to start with one which is very important to the both of us — that’s cricket.
Malala Yousafzai: Yes, yes.
Rustom Birdie: Have you been following the World Cup in the last week?
Malala Yousafzai: Yes, I always follow cricket, and I even, like, I would watch any league, any match that is to do with cricket. And I watch matches as well that are five days long. But T20 is the shortest in the international ones, and Pakistan is doing really well this time. It started with India, then we beat them, then New Zealand — again, we won. And today, it was Afghanistan, we won again. I think in the last two overs, a lot of people had given up, and they thought Pakistan was going to lose, but I had full faith that Pakistan was going to win today, and my intuition is never wrong.
Rustom Birdie: Wow, there you go. Great.
So, let’s perhaps start with Pakistan. Before you were even 10 years old back in Swat, you were a loud advocate in your community for girls‘ education and girls being in school. That’s not I would say typical of a 10 year old girl in Pakistan. What made you do that at that early age?
Malala Yousafzai: I think people oftentimes hear about my story, and they are surprised that I was speaking out for my right to education at age 10, 11. And it is an unusual story, but also, this was the case because what I was experiencing was unusual for girls. And that was because at that time, the Pakistani Taliban had entered Swat Valley in 2007. They started spreading this ideology of establishing this so-called like Islamic State, and they wanted to bring in their own so-called sharia system. And they wanted to like, Pakistan was already an Islamic country, so how do you make another Islamic country in an Islamic country?
But then along with that, they also had this narrative against women. And they carry a very patriarchal mindset. As soon as they entered, they banned women from going to markets, they banned women from having any profession, from going to work. They would not allow them to go outside their houses without wearing a full shuttlecock burqa, and you had to have a custodian with you. It could even be like your little brother.
And I remember my mom or me or any woman going outside to see a doctor or somebody, and they would have these little boys with them. And I’d always question, how is this little boy going to protect me? They can’t. Instead, I’m protecting them.
But at that time, they also announced a ban on girls‘ education. And I could not go to school. My friends could not go to school. So, I had no choice but to speak out for my right to go to school.
Rustom Birdie: And I want to touch on the role your father played, Ziauddin. You’ve spoken about him previously. How much of an influence was he in that upbringing at that early age, especially when it comes to education?
Malala Yousafzai: I’m really proud of my dad. He is a proud feminist, and he saw that his own five sisters could not get their education. And they, you know, did not have access to a future that he had. And he knew that his life was different because he was a boy, nothing else. Gender played a role in deciding the destinies of the siblings. And he was really passionate about bringing equality into society, so he decided that when he has his own children, he would ensure they’re not discriminated based on their gender.
And you know, he has always loved me, and he has been a proud dad. He has encouraged me to believe in myself. And I always tell people that my story is not an exceptional story. It could have been the story of any girl if their fathers and brothers had allowed them to speak out. Many were stopped by their family members. Many were stopped by men in the society.
What’s different in my story is that my father did not stop me. And that’s what he says when you ask him, what did you do for your daughter? He says, don’t ask me what I did, but ask me what I did not do, and I did not clip her wings.
It’s a message to women and girls all around the world that they don’t need any sort of superpower or anything special to go ahead in their life. There are so many barriers in front of them that makes it more difficult for them to go ahead. So, we need to fight against those barriers, the glass ceiling, the iron bars in their way. And men have a role to play in that.
So for me, my dad has always been supportive, and I have always been this sort of, I like giving advice. So, I’m always there telling my dad how things should be and what we should do. You know, when you’re a kid, that’s your thing and that’s how you talk to your family members. So, I have carried it on since then. But he always listens. He’s a great dad.
Rustom Birdie: Great. And just on your father, I read somewhere that he also named you Malala — it’s a beautiful name. Can you tell us more about the story behind your name?
Malala Yousafzai: So, Malala means grief-stricken basically in Pashto, but the name has a more historical meaning as well. And it was a name of this Afghan heroine, Malala of Maiwand. And she came from this Maiwand area in Afghanistan. And her story goes like this, that there was the Second Anglo-Afghan War, and the Afghan soldiers were losing that battle and they were leaving the battlefield when this young woman went to the mountaintop and she raised her boys and told the soldiers that if you do not die on this battlefield today, you will live your life in shame forever. And her voice was so powerful that all the soldiers returned, and they fought that war, and they won.
I think it has meaning, it has more meaning in our culture. And she is probably the only Pashtun hero that we have who’s known by her own name. And so, my father was just really proud of her, and he wanted to name me after somebody who was known by her own name.
Rustom Birdie: Right. And I think that’s beautiful just based off the life you’ve lived so far, how it mirrors Malala and that story.
Let’s perhaps just move on, fast-forward a few years. You’re 17 years old now — this is late 2012, early 2013, after the Taliban attack. You’re recovering, the months are rolling by. You’re in a different country, you’re in the UK. Take us back to that time. And it’s a time of helplessness, of despair. You’ve gone through such a lot. How did you think about what you wanted to do next in your life? And just put us in that position, and how did you think about that?
Malala Yousafzai: So, when I was in the hospital, I had no idea that I was receiving so much support from around the world. I was not seeing any television, any mobile phone, and I was going under all the healthcare and treatment. And then one day, this staff member at the hospital brought this basket of cards and letters. And I was opening those cards and reading messages from people from all over the world — a letter from a five year old girl to a letter from an 80 year old person in the US or in Japan. And I was completely amazed and surprised that people had heard my story and they were sending their prayers, and they were sending me even like gifts, like from shampoo to scarves to shoes to anything you could possibly think of.
I was completely amazed, and then the staff member told me this is just one box. There are like so many boxes there with us. You have received thousands and thousands of cards from people all over the world. And that’s when I realized that I can speak out for girls globally.
The Taliban tried to silence me, but they made a huge mistake, because I am in a position where I can not only speak about my right to education, and for girls in Swat Valley, but I can speak out for girls globally. And since then, it has been my mission to ensure that all 130 million girls who are out of school can have access to education.
Rustom Birdie: That’s beautiful. So that’s the mission, the 130 free, safe, quality education for girls around the world. How did you come up with the idea of a fund or a foundation? You know, who helped you, who guided you at that early age? Take us, walk us through that process of why the fund was the best vehicle to achieve that mission.
Malala Yousafzai: So I’ll be honest, when I started this foundation, I wasn’t really sure how these things worked. I was I think 16 years old. I was also studying. I was a bit behind in my studies because I had missed a few years because of my treatment, so I had to do my homework and I had to be in school, and then I had to do these events because I was invited to different places. And then I started a foundation as well called Malala Fund.
And initially when I was asked what do I want to focus on, I said on girls‘ education, I want all girls to be in school, that’s what I want to work for. But then they said no, you have to be a bit more specific. Do you want to work in this country or that country, and do you want to build schools or do you want — like, so many questions. I was like no, I want to do everything. I want all girls to be in school. I can’t pick.
So, this has been the mission for us since then, that we fight for all girls who are out of school. And we currently work in more than eight countries, including Pakistan, Nigeria, Brazil, Indian, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and our mission is to ensure that we work with local activists and we support local-led projects that address the issues and values that girls face in their [path] to education. So, it could be from training female teachers to changing legislations to addressing social norms and engaging the local communities.
And the work has been remarkable when you work with local activists, because they identify the problems, but they also identify solutions to those problems.
Rustom Birdie: That’s great. You mentioned earlier studying, and you graduated from Oxford last year in the summer. But you’ve been an activist well before that. Before Oxford, back in Swat, and since the attack as well. What did you get from that classroom education? I believe you were at BPE at Oxford. How did the classroom education over those three years change your view on how to approach this problem, and just your approach and advocacy and activism compared to what you knew before?
Malala Yousafzai: I’ll be honest, when I was studying at university at Oxford, education was still important to me, but it was not a priority, because they tell you that you will learn a lot from your textbooks and from your lectures, but you also learn a lot from meeting people and socializing with people. And I will be honest, I met incredible people there, I made amazing friends, and I’m friends with them now forever. And I also got the opportunity to engage and interact with incredible professors and these amazing intellectual people whose books I’ll be reading for my essays. So, it’s just great to have that opportunity.
And then, Oxford is just so beautiful, so you spend a lot of time in the beautiful gardens and libraries there, and you spend amazing time with your friends. And then you go through essay crises, and then you are awake the whole night just to finish your essay that you left to the last date. It’s your fault, and every week you’re depressed, why did you do this to yourself again, but it happens. And then, you don’t regret having all those incredible experiences, so you’re like fair enough. And then you submit your essay and go back to sleep at 8:00 AM in the morning.
Rustom Birdie: I’m sure there are many people who can relate to that experience. You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. I want to go back to the fund’s mission, 130 million girls you want to get back into school, K-12. This last few months and the last year has been difficult for that mission on a number of different reasons.
Perhaps let’s go back to August of this year, the Taliban recapture Afghanistan. How did you receive that news, how did it sit with you, what was your initial reaction, having already lived through that nine years previously?
Malala Yousafzai: No one expected the Taliban to take over Afghanistan, no one. And I remember just like two weeks before the Taliban took over Kabul, I had a call with all the activists that we were supporting in Afghanistan, our education champions there. And some of them still had hope that Afghanistan can never fall into the hands of the Taliban. And so, just like everyone else, the whole world was shocked, I was shocked as well, to see that the Taliban were now in the whole country and they were ruling over people.
And I think it’s again a gloomy time for women and girls there, and we already see the impact of that. Women have lost opportunity to walk freely to their job places, many of them have not returned to their workplace. And girls at this time are not sure if they can go back to schools or not. The Taliban announced I think 43 days ago that boys can return to schools, but they did not give any clear statement on whether girls can return to their schools or not.
So, we started then a petition together with Afghan activists. It’s on avaaz.org, and we’re asking the Taliban to immediately let girls be in schools. We’re also G20 leaders and the Muslim countries to take a bold stand for this. They must protect the rights of girls, and they must protect the right to education for girls. Afghanistan right now is the only country in the world where girls are not allowed to be in school.
Rustom Birdie: And just on that issue, Malala, sometimes it’s difficult for us to visualize the 130 million girls who are not in school. We’re in Stanford, in California, dare I say very much a bubble compared to the issues we’re all seeing on the front lines. Can you help us understand why is this not just a women’s or girls‘ issue but an issue for everyone, and this is not something that countries in another part of the world need to worry about, but this is truly a global issue for everyone around the world?
Malala Yousafzai: I think firstly we need to remember that the Taliban government in Afghanistan right now is a forceful government. It’s not by the choice of the people of Afghanistan. They had no say in this. The Taliban have captured those cities by force. Even though they claim they have not fired their guns, but they still were holding guns on their shoulders, and they still had this [unintelligible] on their shoulders. So, they are using power, they are using their military power to suppress people, to force people to accept them.
But also, they’re denying people their basic human rights, and they’re not very clear about that. They are giving very vague statements on protecting the human rights of people.
So I think this is the time that all the world leaders who speak about protecting humanity and who speak about standing up for human rights, that they stand up for the rights of the people of Afghanistan. And it’s really important for them to protect the rights of women and girls, to protect the rights of minorities especially, but also ensure that all the humanitarian assistance and aid is provided to people there.
We know that the presence of the Taliban has impacted the lives of people, but there’s also other issues like COVID and severe drought as well. Those issues cannot be denied either. Like, it’s going to a state of famine as well. And these are issues that must be considered. So, this is what our advocacy and our activism is asking, for leaders to act soon.
Rustom Birdie: You mentioned advocacy, activism. Typically those are, that’s work done by the government, by the nonprofit section, by foundations and so on. A lot of us here will graduate from Stanford GSB and enter the business community and the private sector potentially. What is the role of businesses and the private sector in partnering in various ways in solving this problem?
Malala Yousafzai: I think this is a question and this is a challenge, and I don’t have answers to all of these questions. But I will say that everybody has a role to play in ensuring support to those who do not have a voice right now, who do not have the support they need. A lot of people right now in Afghanistan need safety, and there have been many organizations, including businesses, who have helped in the evacuation of so many people
So, I think the top priority is to ensure the people in Afghanistan, especially the activists who are under threat from the Taliban, that they receive safety and protection. We did that for our activists in Afghanistan and for other families, and a lot of other organizations and government officials have done that for many families there. So, that is essential.
But along with that, we also need to explore other ways in which we can use our expertise and resources to make education more accessible for children in Afghanistan. And I think this is something where business community can help. How can we use the technology we have to ensure that education is given to girls in Afghanistan in other ways rather than formal schooling?
And along with that, I think still humanitarian assistance and support is needed, and businesses have the opportunity to support the work that is happening there for the safety and protection of people, for ensuring they’re given their basic needs.
Again, there are so many ways in which people can help, but it also requires collective effort to think through this, and also engage the people of Afghanistan in these conversations.
Rustom Birdie: You mentioned technology. I believe you recently had a partnership announced with Apple, based here in Silicon Valley. Tell us more about what’s the vision behind that partnership with Apple?
Malala Yousafzai: So with Apple, Malala Fund has been working over the past many years, and Apple has supported our projects. So it was also covering the work we’re doing in Afghanistan, and then other countries like Nigeria, India, Pakistan. And we run this activist program which is called Malala Fund Education Activists, and we have I think more than 50 activists in all of those countries right now. And they are working on addressing the problems that girls face in their local communities.
For instance, when COVID started, our activists in Nigeria conducted research straightaway, and they were looking at the impact of COVID-19 on girls‘ education. And they realized that girls miss out on their education because they don’t have access to digital tools. They are also more likely to be forced into marriages when they’re stuck in their houses. And they also could be supporting their families financially or in the household chores.
And so then, our activists, they started doing lessons through radios, so they would ensure that even if the girls cannot attend their schools because of COVID, they’re still learning their lessons through radio. And that is the best form of technology in those areas. Other technological devices and tools may not work. That is just one example of how they are ensuring their children do not miss out on education and they keep on learning. So Apple has, they are one of our biggest supporters, and it’s great to work with them.
Rustom Birdie: That’s an example of your time commitments, your priorities, partnering with Apple. And you’re obviously, you travel around the world, do a bunch of speeches, you’re meeting students. You’re also at the grassroots level visiting refugee camps and schools and so on. As you think about your personal time, where do you feel your own time is best used in that fight getting the 130 million girls back into school? What’s most important for your time?
Malala Yousafzai: I think I’m always there when my voice is needed. And I was very fortunate that I got the opportunity to visit countries and to join girls who needed their voices to be heard. I have been to Nigeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and I have met incredible girls who are fighting for their right to safety and education. And many of these girls have faced displacement, and they have seen wars and conflicts in their hometown, and they are living in refugee camps or informal settlements. But they have not given up on their dreams.
Oftentimes, I’m expected to inspire them, but it’s the other way around. They inspire me and everyone else who are joining us. And I remember there was one girl I met — her name was [Najulah] in Iraq. And she was a [Yazidi] girl, and her family decided that she should get married. She was only 14 years old, and she was in her wedding dress, and on that day she decided she does not want to be forced into marriage, she does not want to miss out on her education. So, she took off her high heels and she ran away to protect herself from that.
And then, later on when she came back, she tried to convince her father and her family to allow her to be in school, and she started going back to school. But then, when ISIS came into her hometown, they had to evacuate again, and now when I met her, she was in this informal settlement. But she was still passionate about learning and getting her education. And I saw that she was carrying a dictionary with herself. And I asked her, I said, why do you carry a dictionary with you? She said, I want to learn a few words every day.
So, this is the passion that girls carry for education and learning, and despite all the difficulties they face, from walking long distances and not having all the resources like books and teachers, they still are committed to receiving their education.
And it was, Najulah’s incredible. Then she also came to the US, and she spoke at the UN platform, and she shared her story. So, my goal is to meet these girls, but also uplift their story so leaders listen to them rather than me. And this is my goal in every meeting that I go to, is that the activists and girls are with me. And I introduce myself, but I’m like, let’s listen to Najulah, let’s listen to these activists. They have something to say to you. You have been ignoring their voices, so hear from them and they will tell you what the issues are in this country for girls and women.
Rustom Birdie: That’s beautiful. Hearing the stories themselves is a lot more powerful than advocates and so on and so forth. Previously you’ve also mentioned potentially interest in politics. Is that still on the roadmap? What kind of — now that you’re done with Oxford, what’s next?
Malala Yousafzai: No, not yet. No interest in politics. I think, when I said that I wanted to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan, at that time I was 12 or 13 years old, and I was really disappointed with the role of our political leaders, because what was happening in Swat was just taking so long. And for me, it was just absurd that no one would take any action. And as days went by and I thought, like, girls in Swat Valley cannot go to school. There is a conflict, our schools are bombed, we hear firing every night, we are having sleepless nights, and we are under threat. And no one does anything, and it happens for two years.
So at that time, I said okay, I asked [you guys], you didn’t do anything, so I’ll one day become the Prime Minister and I’ll fix it. But then, you know, I was really fortunate that I have so much experience and I have met so many amazing and incredible people, and I have been able to visit so many projects. I know that the world is a bit more complex.
But, you can bring change in many ways. You don’t have to be a politician to be a change-maker. You can bring change in any role you take in your society, from becoming a doctor, engineer, businessperson, to a politician or to a human rights activist. All of these opportunities gives us some ways in which we can contribute to the change we want to see in the world. So, I hope to continue my activism and ensure we see that day when all girls can go to school.
Rustom Birdie: And on the topic of change in many ways, there’s this wave of young activists in the last few years, and it’s very refreshing to see the younger generation standing up and having their voices heard. Different activists, advocates have different styles in how they engage with the issues they’re tackling, the community. How would you describe your style, where does that come from, what brings that out in you?
Malala Yousafzai: I think for me, there are a few rules that I follow in my advocacy. One is that my voice and my words should reflect me, and who I am, and what my values are. So, and then along with that, it’s also important for me that whatever I say is the truth. So, as long as you are speaking the truth, and as long as you are yourself, that should be your form of advocacy.
But I also think we are all in different positions and in different places. And some of us want to work from the inside, some of us want to work from the outside. And I think we all have a role to play, and we are all helping each other.
So, I do not underestimate or undermine the activism that other people are taking in different forms. I think it’s incredibly powerful. And you know, all the activists should just realize they’re all on the same side. They’re all on the same side, and they must support each other because that helps them in achieving their goal. They have a lot more in common, and they must not lose focus on the issues they want to address and the change they want to bring. So in the education field or in other fields when there’s activism happening, I appreciate the role of every person in there.
Rustom Birdie: And speaking about different types of activism and different causes and so on, the Malala Fund in your vision is for girls‘ education, but there are so many other issues, injustices reported in the media, some not even mentioned in the media, happening all around the world. Given your voice, your platform, Malala, how do you think about when to speak up and when not to?
Malala Yousafzai: There are some issues that have impacted me, and that have been part of my story, and I think I should be speaking out about those issues. And that issue includes girls‘ education, I speak out for girls‘ right to education all over the world.
But then I also speak out about what is happening in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, because we had also been part of that long, decades-long terrorism that the people have faced there, whether it’s the Pakistani Taliban or Afghan Taliban, they all carry the same ideology and the same acts, and we all have been their victims. So, I speak out about that as well. And I speak out about the issues that impact girls‘ education.
But there are other issues as well in which it connects to girls‘ education and my mission, but sometimes I’m not the best person to speak out for that. There are so many other people who have expertise in that, and I ensure that the platform is theirs and I support them. So, there are many things which I do not speak out about, because I just want to ensure that my voice is for girls‘ education, and that is understood, that this is my mission and this is what I will use my voice for.
Rustom Birdie: You’re traveling around the world, you used to be a student as well, you’re juggling a lot of different things, we see you on TV and in the news very often. How do you think about world/life balance, and just personal health? Is work and life, is there even a blur, or is there a balance there?
Malala Yousafzai: I would say it was very difficult when I was in school, because I used to have homework every day, and I had to attend my classes from like 8:00 AM until 4:00 PM in the UK. So, it was quite challenging. And I remember one time, I had a flight to Norway to attend some event, and I think it was over the weekend or something, but I was arriving the next morning, in the morning time. So I was like, I can’t miss my school day, so I took my school uniform with me. And then on the way back, I went straight to my school, changed into my uniform, and I was like, I can’t go home. I would miss my classes.
So, it was challenging, but it was important for me that I focus on my education, but also I give time to my activism for the education of all girls all around the world. But I had to focus on my education because if you [unintelligible] for education and don’t focus on yours, you are I think missing the point. Yeah.
Rustom Birdie: Great. Are there any just day-to-day activities, mindfulness, is there anything you do on a daily basis that helps you stay committed to that work/life balance you mentioned?
Malala Yousafzai: I really like staying in touch with my friends and talking to them. I like spending time with people. It could be our family friends and my own school friends or university friends. And I like playing games as well. At one time it was Among Us, if anyone played it. But then I think we are all done with that, right? We have moved on.
After that, I like playing cricket with my brothers, and badminton. And I watch TV shows as well. I have seen Squid Game. The first episode literally shocked me, and I was like, what is happening? But then after that, I think you get used to it. That was good. And then, in the middle I had to stop. I was like okay, I need to switch to something else, so I went to Ted Lasso, and he made me laugh and realize life is more positive and easy. Yeah.
Rustom Birdie: Got it. I want to move onto just perhaps criticisms that you face. It’s shocking to me personally, but given the work you’re doing, the work you’ve done, and what you’ve been through, there’s no shortage of pushback. Why do you think, where does that come from, where does it [butt] out from, that criticism?
Malala Yousafzai: I think firstly it depends what the criticism is, and if you clarify and explain that. But if somebody says that I should do this and not that, and I haven’t done enough of this or that, sometimes I have to remind people, I am not a government. I don’t have trillions of dollars, and I don’t have a central bank. I am not that person, but my goal is to use my voice and the resources I have to convince governments to invest in education, in women, and ensure that the resources are allocated into the right areas that benefits our society, that empowers women and girls.
But I think then there are also things like, but my focus is always that I am working for girls around the world and the right to education, so I feel like I’m only answerable to myself and the people I have made commitment to, to ensure that we make a better world. Other than that, people can say anything, right?
And I think also, on social media you see comments and things like that, and you will see 20 positive ones and just one negative one, and then all our focus is on the negative one. We dismiss all the positive ones. But I think it’s important to remember that sometimes the social media world does not actually represent the real world that we live in. And I will say that so far I have not seen anyone in person who has been hateful to me, who has said anything negative. They have always been supportive, and even if they have been critical, they have done it in a very polite way. So, I don’t worry too much about that.
Rustom Birdie: That’s great. Specifically maybe lasering in on Pakistan, you visited since the attack. The pandemic has obviously made that more difficult. What is your long-term ambition with Pakistan and what you want to see there and the role you want to play there?
Malala Yousafzai: I hope I can go to Pakistan more often. And I was planning to go already, but then the pandemic made things a bit more difficult. I have, we have been working in Pakistan since we started Malala Fund. Our first project started from Pakistan, and that was to announce this project, which was the education of 40 girls who were in domestic child labor, so to give them education. And they’re still learning, they’re still continuing their education. They’re in higher grades now.
And since then, we have now done even more and bigger projects since then. We have started a school in the hometown of my parents, Shangla. And Shangla is considered to be one of the most deprived areas in Pakistan. It’s a mountainous area, and this is the first school there, first school for girls there, where girls can complete their secondary education. And every year, we get hundreds and thousands of applications, and we can only pick a few students.
But what you realize is that when quality education is available, when the state of the art school is available, and when parents feel safe for their children to go to school, then the social norms and all that stigma that’s been associated with education for girls changes really quickly. And we see so many families sending their daughters to school. And so, the positive change has already been seen.
And along with that, we do our advocacy through the Champions Project. And in Pakistan we have many champions and activists there who we are supporting in their work for girls‘ secondary education.
Rustom Birdie: That’s great. What do you miss most about living in Pakistan?
Malala Yousafzai: I miss my home. I miss Swat Valley and Shangla. Those are very beautiful places. And I miss my time with my friends. Yeah, and the food as well, of course. I live in the UK, so I always miss the food.
Rustom Birdie: Got it. So just before we move onto the audience questions, the mission and the vision, Malala, that you’ve taken on is vast. It’s 130 million girls. We hope it happens as fast as possible, but it’ll take multiple years and it’s a fairly long-term vision. How do you stay motivated on a day-to-day basis? In a business sense, you can win a deal and see tangible success on a regular basis. This is more long-term. How do you stay motivated on a daily basis?
Malala Yousafzai: I think that inaction has worse consequences. Things remain as they are. So, keeping your work going is important. So, staying active is important for me. And I believe that the work that we have done and the work that people in the past have done for women’s rights and girls‘ education, and the work that all the organizations and everyone is doing, has brought us to this stage and has helped us see progress.
So, this work needs to continue and we need to accelerate it and we need to make it better, and we will see progress. What’s worse and what I think is dangerous is us all giving up. We should not give up, we should not stop this work. So we have to carry on.
Rustom Birdie: Inaction as complicity, yes. The theme for our View from the Top Speaker Series is Beyond Expectations. And we like to ask all our speakers, Malala, what motivates you as a 24 year old girl from Swat, Pakistan, to grow beyond the expectations of a girl from Pakistan?
Malala Yousafzai: I am very ambitious, and I was like that in my childhood as well. And I would always question society and the world, and why it could not be better than it is. Why do we see inequality with our own eyes and don’t do anything about it? Why do we see that so many people live in extreme poverty? Why can’t we change that? that millions of girls are out of school, and nobody does anything about that?
But then on the other end, I also remain ambitious that we can change that, we can see that change in our own life. And so, this is something that I have taken with me from my childhood, is that you have to remain ambitious, and you have to be a bit more optimistic. So, I remain optimistic and ambitious in my goals to see all girls in school in my lifetime.
Rustom Birdie: In Shangla.
Great, let’s open it up to audience questions. I believe we have one right over there.
[Taliha]: Hi Malala, my name is Taliha, I’m an MBA1 here. As a fellow Pakistani woman, it is incredibly inspiring to see you here. Thank you so much for coming here.
My question is, as someone who has personally navigated the challenges of a patriarchal society, I know there are millions of girls and women back home who personally face restrictions, whether it’s access to education, whether it’s professional opportunities, or even simply to have an independent opinion of themselves. On a more personal basis, what is your advice to them in terms of keeping hope alive for a more freer future? What was the thing for you that allowed you to continue staying so resilient in your difficult times?
Malala Yousafzai: Thank you for that question. I’ll share one story. When I started speaking out, and my activism, I was only 10 years old. But then as I was growing older, at age 13 and 14, and especially in our society in the north of Pakistan, it could become a taboo for a girl to be on a TV screen and speak out to media publically, not cover her face. And some families may completely oppose that.
And I remember one time, my dad asked my cousin to take me to this press conference area, and my cousin felt extremely uncomfortable, and then he told my dad that Malala should not speak. And my dad told him that this was none of his business. He should not be deciding anything for his daughter, and that everything Malala does should be her own choice.
Today, that same cousin is the biggest supporter of my cause, and he’s actually involved in the work, and he is so passionate about girls‘ education, and he supports me in my work. So initially, you would see this unease among people. You might even hear hateful comments, or you might hear people feeling very uncomfortable to see women in different roles and in different positions, and women having a loud voice, and women being at the table. But with time, they’ll get used to it. And in a few years, before we know it, things have already changed, and things already become customs and new norms.
So, it’s important for us to remain ambitious and committed, and consistency is really important. So, we have to stick to it and ensure that we carry this work on. And hopefully, things do change. We are already seeing so much progress in Pakistan. We have women in the Parliament, and we have women in different jobs and in different sectors. And hopefully it will get better, it will improve. And a lot of women are speaking out about women’s safety at work and in other spaces. And they’re speaking out again harassment and sexual harassment. So, there is this campaign going on for women’s equality in Pakistan, and that gives us hope.
Rustom Birdie: Next question? Here.
[Bruno]: Hi Malala, I’m Bruno, an MBA1 here from Stanford GSB. First of all, I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts, your brave story. Definitely motivated us to make the world a better place.
I’m from a developing country in Latin America, where education is not a right, it’s a privilege, and I feel very privileged to be here at Stanford, as I know many boys and girls didn’t have the opportunity to go to a proper elementary school in my home country — that is Brazil.
So, I’d like to ask you, what are your thoughts about our role as students from top universities like Stanford, Oxford, to minimize the gap between basic education across the countries?
Malala Yousafzai: Thank you for that question. I think you are all the future of this world, you are all the future of your countries, and I would say remain ambitious about your goals and you can bring change in your countries, you can bring change in your communities. And you already might be a role model to so many young kids who may not have thought about themselves completing their school and going to a university and taking a role in society. So, you are already giving hope to so many people, so many women especially here who could be coming from developing countries or from difficult backgrounds, they’re giving hope to so many women and girls.
And when a child sees somebody else in their dress, in their outfit, and when they see somebody who looks like them, they can imagine themselves in that person’s role. So, you are already giving hope to so many.
Rustom Birdie: Another question?
[Hoprey]: Yeah. Hi Malala. So, my name’s Hoprey, I’m an MBA2. And you may not remember this, but we met a long time ago.
Rustom Birdie: Do you remember?
Hoprey: In all fairness, [Restin], the reason she won’t remember is because she’s suffered a very bad infection and she was in ICU after having just been shot in the head. The reason I remember is because I was your doctor at the time. And I’ve followed your journey ever since, the difficulties you’ve had integrating in new cultures, followed you through your new school in [Edgbaston] High, tried to be part of the Malala Fund when I was at McKinsey as well. I thought I was a natural fit.
But I come from a family of strong feminists, and I’ve benefited from that as well. But I have seen a massive conflict in tradition versus progression and culture. And I know we’ve asked a similar question, but now that you’ve lived — you’ve had the Pakistani experience, you’ve had the westernized experience — what do you think you can take from the experiences you’ve had in the western world, and how do we take them back to areas where they could benefit?
Malala Yousafzai: Thank you for that question, and thank you for all your support, and nice to see you again. I think for me, when I started living in the UK, there were so many things that surprised us. We were living in cold weather forever, and we were missing our nice warm summer days in Pakistan.
But other than that, I started studying in a school where we were getting quality education. That was the first time when I realized that education is not just about sciences and math and learning English, but students also learn cooking and sports and textiles, and these are not the subjects that you often see in schools in Pakistan. And it really challenges you to think about education in different ways, in which the goal is not to make somebody a doctor or engineer only, but to ensure that anyone can go to that institution, they can explore their abilities, and they can explore their specialties, and then realize and reach their full potential. So, when I was studying in the UK, I realized that education is not just limited to sciences and math and those subjects.
But then also along with that, there is a good health system, and you are much safer. But, your home is your home, and you miss so many things about your home. When you are with your friends and family, and you are sitting in your dining room with your family friends, and you’re enjoying nice food, and you are surrounded by this beautiful valley and these lush, green hills, you’re happy and you’re still having a joyful time.
So I think for us, even though we were having all those facilities, we would still miss Pakistan all the time. And I have seen this in many places — people consider the west to be the standard of prosperity and development. And I think we need to challenge that a bit, because the pandemic and the recent events have exposed how the systems in many countries are not the ideal systems. They are still not favoring the most marginalized people in society. They are discriminating against people based on their income background, based on their skin color, based on their gender.
So, we need to be a bit more critical of the system that we idolize. And it’s possible for Pakistan and other countries to improve their systems — and this is a challenge for countries all over the world — to improve their systems, to ensure that they provide welfare to all its citizens, and its‘ based on a just and equal system so nobody is left out and nobody is treated unfairly.
Rustom Birdie: Great. Thank you for those questions.
Before we end, Malala, [we’ll have to end] with a lightning round. So, I’ll share a phrase, and just give me your quick thoughts on those. Ready?
Malala Yousafzai: Yes.
Rustom Birdie: Yes, okay, perfect. This one should be easy. Ted Lasso or Squid Games?
Malala Yousafzai: Ted Lasso.
Rustom Birdie: So is that Apple TV over Netflix?
Malala Yousafzai: I mean, I’m partnering with Apple TV, so it has to be Ted Lasso.
Rustom Birdie: That’s the right answer.
Malala Yousafzai: Yes. Yeah, by the way, I started a production company, Extracurricular, just for the context, and we’re partnering with Apple TV+. So yeah, it has to be Ted Lasso.
Rustom Birdie: Favorite Queer Eye actor?
Malala Yousafzai: I don’t have any names. I’m so bad at names. So, you can suggest and I can pick one.
Rustom Birdie: Jonathan Van Nass, but no?
Malala Yousafzai: No. I’m bad at this.
Rustom Birdie: No worries, no worries.
Malala Yousafzai: The only name I usually, like when you talk about actors and actresses, I know all the Bollywood ones, and then I know Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, and that’s it.
Rustom Birdie: Okay, how about this one, a world figure you have not met but want to?
Malala Yousafzai: A world figure I have not met but want to? So, it’s, I, so, okay. It’s not a politician, it’s not a politician, but I really want to meet Vanessa Nakate. She’s a climate activist, and I have been following her journey, and I would want to see her in person.
Rustom Birdie: Great. Favorite social media platform?
Malala Yousafzai: It has to be Instagram. No, I think it’s Twitter, I think it’s Twitter. It’s hard to pick, but it’s between those two. Sometimes it’s Twitter. I mean, when anything happens, you want to go to Twitter, just to see tweets on it. And then, Instagram is also good, but yeah, whenever I’m following cricket, I just go straight to Twitter and see what people have said. It’s very funny.
Rustom Birdie: Same here, yeah. Where do you store your Nobel Peace Prize?
Malala Yousafzai: That’s confidential. You’ll never know.
Rustom Birdie: Confidential, okay. Great. And then last one, favorite Adele song?
Malala Yousafzai: I would say Hello.
Rustom Birdie: Great. Awesome, well, Malala, this has been a lot of fun for me personally, and for you as well, and we appreciate your time.
Malala Yousafzai: Thank you so much, thank you.
Rustom Birdie: Absolutely.
Malala Yousafzai: Thank you. Thank you so much, thank you, thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you, so nice to see you, thank you. Thank you.
Rustom Birdie: You’ve been listening to View From The Top, the podcast, a production of Stanford Graduate School of Business. This interview was conducted by me, Rustom Birdie of the MBA Class of 2022. Lily Sloane composed our theme music and Michael Reilly and Jenny Luna produced this episode. You can find more episodes of this podcast at our website www.gsb.stanford.edu/. Follow us on social media @stanfordgsb.
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