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Today is Malala Yousafzai’s 21st birthday! An activist and advocate for girls’ education, Malala is the world’s youngest Nobel Prize laureate, founder of the Malala Fund and author of I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.
Since age 10, Malala has been a voice for the 130 million girls around the world who are prevented from going to school. In her honor, the United Nations designated today, July 12, Malala Day in recognition of her efforts campaigning for the rights of girls and women, not just in her home country of Pakistan but across the globe.
We had the pleasure of learning from Malala when she spoke at Leadercast Live 2015. She was only 17 years old at the time, but her wisdom for leaders goes well beyond her years. Here are a few of the biggest takeaways from her talk in 2015.
1. Don’t let fear stifle your courage.
At the age of 15, Malala and three of her friends were shot by the Taliban while traveling home from school. Luckily, all of them survived and remained vigilant in the fight against the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education. Where many people may have let fear from the experience put a stop to their brave acts, Malala did the opposite. “There was fear, but I never let that fear overcome my courage. I let my courage win,” she says.
2. Don’t wait on someone else to begin making the change.
Malala became a voice for girls’ education at the tender age of 10 years old. At 11, she began writing a blog for the BBC about the realities of what life was like for girls living under Taliban rule. She didn’t wait for anyone to begin making the change that she and her peers needed. Malala put it this way at Leadercast:
“If we all want change, then who are we waiting for? If Martin Luther King Jr. waited for someone else, then maybe the change would have come quite later… if women were waiting for someone else to speak up for their right to vote, then that change wouldn’t have come. If we want to bring change, then we, WE, have to step forward. It’s important we realize that it’s our duty. Sometimes we think that it’s the politicians’ and the world leaders’ duty—it’s right, it is their duty to contribute to the development and to contribute to the going forward—but it’s also our duty as public, as common people, that we say, ‘How can we help? Let’s join this journey and let’s contribute from our side as well.’”
3. Realize we’re all in this together and contribute to others.
No matter what community we serve, what country we live in or what culture we’re integrated in, we are all on this earth together. Despite our differences, we are all the same at our core. “This is our world, and we all are living here together, so it’s important that we think of each other,” says Malala. “If we want to stop terrorism or conflict from spreading, if we want to stop these wars, and if we want to see every child going to school and getting quality education and having safe schools, then it is important that we contribute from our side.”
4. Fight for what is just.
Malala put her life on the line to fight for what she believed to be right. As a kid, she was surrounded by war and destruction—bombs lit the night sky around her home. When she went to sleep at night, she thought about the very real fear that she would wake up surrounded by Taliban forces. But each morning, she started her day with hope of a better future. She stood firm in her beliefs and had the courage to become the face of a movement. “Brave are the people who fight for what is true, what is just,” she says. “It’s not just limited to politics or social work. In every field of life we find brave people… Bravery has no limit.”
No matter what your circumstance or who you are leading, never give up on what you believe in. As leaders, we have a duty to use our platforms to do what is right and just, to be a voice for those who have none, and to be the change we wish to see in our organizations, communities and the world. Happy Malala Day!