Conversation with: Shiza Shahid
March 19, 2015
As Make Some Noise kicks off in Austin, we turn the spotlight on Shiza Shahid, entrepreneur and social activist of Pakistani origin. Shahid is the co-founder and global ambassador of the Malala Fund, the organization representing the young Pakistani activist who was shot by the Taliban because of her campaign for girls’ education. Here, she shares her passion for social justice and her favorite designer.
NM: As Co-Founder and Global Ambassador of the Malala Fund, you’ve made it on to two “30 Under 30” lists – TIME magazine’s World Changers and Forbes’ social entrepreneurs. How do you hope to change the world?
SS: I believe we can be the generation to end poverty and create a world where a child born in rural Pakistan or South Sudan can have the same opportunities as a child born in Silicon Valley. I am also deeply passionate about women’s empowerment, helping women across the world rise above gender inequalities – through education, job-creation and entrepreneurship.
NM: As a teenager, you volunteered in women’s prisons and worked at a relief camp for earthquake victims. Who or what first inspired your passion for social justice?
SS: I was growing up at a time when Pakistan was going through severe turbulence. It was already a country with many social issues: poverty, poor governance, and severe gender discrimination. But during my youth, it was also facing rising insecurity and terrorism. I was fortunate to have a loving home and a good education. But I wanted to help society reverse its decline into violence and chaos, and become socially progressive and economically strong. I didn’t know how to bring change, so I thrust myself into the heart of the social issues I wanted to understand. I would volunteer in underprivileged communities working with women and children: in prisons, earthquake relief camps, slums, and other areas of need. That began for me a journey of understanding social issues and supporting social entrepreneurs – that carries on in the work I do today.
NM: Our Make Some Noise campaign celebrates bold women, bold voices. What advice would you give young women who are still finding their voices?
SS: Your story is yours to write. You are unique, and there is no one like you – there never will be. So you get to decide how compassionately you live, how whole-heartedly you love, how boldly you create, how vulnerably you explore your self. So embrace who you are, the parts you love, and the parts you struggle with. And embark on a journey to be the best version of you, to chase your wildest dreams, to care about the world and make a difference, and leave behind a legacy you are proud of.
NM: If you could share a meal with any woman, present or past, who would it be? What would you ask?
SS: I would love to have met Maya Angelou. I admire her strength and her powerful advocacy for black people and women. I would ask her what gave her the will to fight through the toughest battles, what brought her the greatest joy, and what she would do differently.
NM: You’re always beautifully dressed. Do people find it surprising that someone who fights for social justice can care about fashion, too?
SS: I think when it comes to fashion, you have to do what makes you feel most beautiful. For me that is sometimes yoga pants, sometimes a flowy boho dress, and sometimes a power-suit. In Pakistan, where I grew up, it was quite common to design your own clothes. So I grew up going to the market with my mother to get loose cloth, sometimes pairing it with beadwork, lace, and other embellishments, designing the cut, and then getting it custom-stitched at a local tailor. I still love those colors and cuts. But you’ll often find me working all day in my yoga pants. As a busy entrepreneur, for me it is important to be comfortable and to be able to hit the gym when I can take out an hour or so – yoga pants are my go-to. And sometimes, when I feel the need to be more formal, I’ll put on a dress and blazer.
NM: Do you have any favorite designers?
SS: I love boho designers that remind me of the colors and prints I grew up wearing in Pakistan. Free People, Anthropologie, to name a few. I also love classic DVF wrap dresses; from the newer designers I’ve recently bought a Clover Canyon dress that I love. I live in Soho now, so I frequently visit the sales at boutiques trying to get a deal on a unique piece!
NM: What do you like to do when you’re off-duty?
SS: I love working out, it helps to quite my mind and bring back my focus. I enjoy music and dancing. I love eating good food from different cuisines, and bringing together the people I love and respect over cozy dinners. I love the theater in Manhattan, long talks with my family, and lazy days staying home and catching up on sleep.
NM: On staying connected: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Skype…What are you into and what do you skip?
SS: I love reading all the news my friends are sharing on Facebook from the four corners of the world. I struggle to keep to the brevity required by Twitter, but I do use it frequently! I’m still too private for Instagram.
NM: What are you most thankful for?
SS: My loved ones, our health, and the opportunities I have to live a life of meaning and impact.
NM: What are you most proud of?
SS: Founding the Malala Fund and supporting Malala’s campaign through to the Nobel Peace Prize.