Last week, I attended the annual conference for the National Association of Independent Schools, this year held in Long Beach, CA.
Amongst the various speakers and workshops, including one given by Oscar King, LWHS’ Junior/Senior Dean, about recruitment and retention models for faculty of color, many of the speakers spoke to the needs of women and girls in education. As we celebrate and reflect during International Women’s Day, one speaker in particular resonated deeply and reminded me of the power of people to make a difference in the world.
Shiza Shahid, co-founded of the Malala Fund with Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, and led the organization as founding CEO. Shahid focuses on creating access to high quality for all children around the world. Ms. Shahid’s story about how she came to her work is incredibly moving. As a high school student, in a middle-class family in Pakistan, she was able to access a decent education. She knew, though, that her curiosity and desire for learning could not be fully realized in Pakistan, and with the support of her family, she “randomly” searched the internet for the top universities in the world and applied to them. She ended up at Stanford with a full scholarship, having never heard of the school before she arrived on campus.
During her sophomore year, Ms. Shahid began reading secret letters smuggled out of the Swat Valley in Pakistan from girls distraught about the closing of their schools, and the voices of these students resonated so deeply that she and her friends started a “summer camp” in Islamabad for girls from the Swat Valley, which was actually a school. One of her first “camper/students’ was Malala Yousafzai. The camp (they can’t call it a school for fear of it being closed) is now in its 21st year. Ms. Shahid talked about how empowering women through education and financial independence is one of the most effective ways to address poverty and scarcity in the world. She cited one statistic that noted that 70% of every dollar invested in a woman goes back into the community, while approximately 40% of every dollar invested in a man impacts the overall health of the community.
Ms. Shahid’s voice is a powerful reminder that support and investment in girls and women is one of the most effective antidote to societal ills. Through tremendous obstacles, and threats to personal safety, Ms. Shahid harnessed the courage and perseverance that often accompanies young people throughout the world to say that the world can change, and that I can change it. She is but one example of the many women who are shifting male dominated paradigms, and who need and deserve our support.
Ms. Shahid ended her talk with a cogent reminder that women do not need mentoring. As she said women receive a lot of advice from a lot of men in their lives. What women need, Shahid says, is championing, our enthusiastic and active lifting up of talent. My hope and expectation is that LWHS is part of this championing of women, helping to educate the next generation of change making women.
Head of School