Girls Leading Change: Malala Yousafzai

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Leadership is not about title, position, or age. No one reminds us of that more than Malala Yousafzai.

Long before the October 2012 attempted assassination of Malala shocked the world, the teenage blogger from Swat Valley, Pakistan, was an activist. She wrote under a pen name about life under the Taliban, sharing the struggles she endured as she and her family advocated for girls' education.

At 15, Malala is a leader. She shows us that leadership is about vision. It's about values that endure, uncompromised. It's about sacrifice and conviction, about the resolve to take risks and persevere.

In her first interview since the attempt on her life, Malala told the world, "I want every girl to be educated." Her message is clear: girls' education leads to empowerment.

What I've seen in my work around the world, and what research proves to be true, is that denying a girl her education means denying her chance to a future. Education leads to economic growth and improved health; it reduces the risk of child marriage and increases the likelihood that girls will escape if they are threatened by physical abuse. And yet, this basic human right is denied to 61 million children of primary school age, including 32 million girls.

There's so much more we need to do to support the girls of the world, the rising voices -- just like Malala -- who will be the ones to guide us forward as tomorrow's leaders. At Vital Voices, we invest in emerging and established women leaders who hasten progress. We invest in women and girls because they pay it forward. When you train, mentor and support a woman, you're reaching her family, her community, and her country.

We choose to work with women leaders who use power to empower others. This is just what Malala has done. Her courage motivates other girls around the world to choose leadership, to recognize that they have a voice, a platform, and the right to be heard. She has spurred a movement that reaches around the world to bind people in rural towns and wired cities in a collective commitment to preserve every child's right to education.

In partnership with initiatives including the United Nations Foundation's Girl Up, Vital Voices and a small group of committed individuals--education entrepreneurs, lawyers, teachers, filmmakers, business and tech leaders, engineers, innovators and NGO representatives, and the Yousafzai family -- came together in late October 2012 to form the Malala Fund in just six days. If we want to honor Malala and invest in the girls of the world, we need to make her dream a reality.

The Malala Fund will make grants to organizations and individuals supporting girls' education in Pakistan and around the world. Our core committee, comprised of education experts and entrepreneurs, as well as the Yousafzai family and Malala herself, is nearly ready to administer its first grant, which honors Malala's wishes by giving girls at high risk of entering the workforce the opportunity to enroll in school instead.

When I met with Malala's father in Birmingham in December, he told me that Malala woke up to a flood of messages from girls all over the world. Many thanking her for her courage and telling her she should get the Nobel Prize for being a voice for girls. Her response? Malala simply told her father that all she wants to do is return to Pakistan and help girls go to school. Earlier this year, Malala became the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

We are committed to keep Malala's mission thriving while she recovers and rebuilds her strength. And when she's ready, Malala will lead the fund and have resources ready to continue her work and realize her mission. Join us and learn more, visit Malala Fund.

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