Shiza Shahid believes that education can change lives.
Armed with that idea, Shahid played a key role in the creation of the Malala Fund. The organization seeks to empower girls through education and ensure that every girl has access to a quality schools and teachers.
"I believe that change begins with us," Shahid said. "It begins by challenging our own beliefs and pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones by believing we have the power to change the world."
Shahid spoke at Mount Mary University on March 28 in front of a room full of MMU students, faculty, high school students and area leaders.
The university invited her to campus as part of MMU's Voices of Leadership program. She talked about her experience growing up in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, her pursuit of an education in the United States and her return to her home that inspired her current endeavors.
"I decided when I was young that I needed to understand what was wrong with my society," Shahid said. "At an early age I began spending time in communities that had suffered hardships."
In those places Shahid realized that women did not have access to doctors and that led her to beginning to comprehend "what it means to be discarded before you are even born." When she was 16, she volunteered to assist in relief efforts to aid victims of a major earthquake in Pakistan.
"I was the only regular female volunteer," Shahid said. "One day I was sitting with teenage girls, chatting away like teenage girls do, and it felt normal — for a minute."
Shahid invited the girls to go outside and get some air, but learned that her fathers and brothers would not allow them outside because their families did not want them to be seen.
"It was at that moment I knew what it was to be a woman in one of the harshest cultures," Shahid said. "And have your very existence be a source of shame."
When Shahid was 17 she began applying for colleges and looked to the United States where there would be fewer barriers to her education. She was accepted to Stanford on a full scholarship and moved to California.
Surrounded by the tech businesses of Silicon Valley, the inspiration and empowerment that came with an education led her to desire to create a business that the world needs. She desired to create a company that would do more than simply provide a living.
"I became obsessed with this interaction of business, technology and entrepreneurship with a social impact," Shahid said. "I decided that would be my path."
In the effort to bring that to her home, she returned to Pakistan during her summers and held camps in Islamabad to further opportunities for women. One of the camp's challenges was to stay off the radar of those who would seek to shut it down.
It was at these camps Shahid met Malala Yousafzai. After returning to Stanford,she received the unsettling news that her friend Malala had been shot by the Taliban.
"I was devastated. I immediately flew to be with Malala and her family," Shahid said. "People around the world were outraged that a girl in the 21st century could be shot in the head simply for wanting to go to school."
While in the hospital recovering, Malala told Shahid that she should not focus only on her but also on other girls in the ward who deserved her attention. This moment was the inspiration for Shahid to create the Malala Fund.
The organization seeks to facilitate funding from governments and businesses toward educating girls around the world for a full 12 years.
MMU asked their students to embark on projects that reflected the message that Shahid was on campus to impart. Mount Mary collaborated with Divine Savior Holy Angels High School to enhance students' independent, but like-minded, experiences by working together to fight for and honor women’s education around the world.
With that in mind students shared visions of prospective projects that displayed the connection of organizations to causes. Examples displayed at the event demonstrated tackling topics such as food waste, plastic water bottles and the sexualization of women by the media.