Malala Yousafzai celebrated her 24th birthday a few weeks ago.
We can celebrate with her because she proved that, with an entrepreneurial spirit, we can bring about disruptive innovations that empower people to create compassionate change – even in a resistant world that values dominance more than equity.
You may recall that Yousafzai was the 15-year-old girl who, in 2012, was shot in the head by Taliban terrorists because she would not stop going to school or advocating for girls’ education in Pakistan.
She was granted the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in 2014 – the youngest person ever to receive one.
Leadership for innovation, social disruption or adaptive change is not simple or easy.
It requires an entrepreneurial spirit using conscious intention and empathy. The ability to hear, speak and lead from the heart with creativity, along with following the higher, spiritual power, is also essential.
Yousafzai and her family – her father was the founder/teacher at her school – demonstrated courage with an entrepreneurial spirit that empowered them to stand up to their violently aggressive oppressors.
Personally, I was also inspired by my meeting of Shiza Shahid at her presentation, “How to Leverage Philanthropy, Venture Capital, Technology and Entrepreneurship to Drive Social Impact,” at the University of Kansas School of Business in Lawrence, Kansas, on Oct. 16, 2017.
Shahid had been 11-year-old Malala’s teacher in a summer program in 2008. She told us that one result of her education at Stanford University was that she was a co-founder of the Malala Fund.
Shahid proclaimed, “Malala’s survival was the greatest miracle that I will ever see!”
Such a great testimony to the power of prayer coupled with modern medicine – Yousafzai was treated at Oxford Medical Center in England.
Pakistan, where Yousafzai and Shahid grew up, had been gradually taken over by Taliban terrorists in the first decade of the 21st century. That ruined the tourist economy, especially in the picturesque Swat Valley that was Malala’s home.
The Taliban imposed many edicts against everything that was deemed a violation of their fundamentalist interpretations of Islamic scriptures.
Although the Pakistan Army was present, the Taliban ruled by terror, implementing a very rigid and violent system of human oppression under the guise of religion.
Yet, the entrepreneurial spirit of innovation continues to thrive in Pakistan as more girls are going to school despite the Taliban’s terrorism and their edict prohibiting female education and equality.
Even so, The New York Times reported on July 16 that the provincial police in Pakistan recently began confiscating books that included information about Yousafzai, including the full inventory of textbooks from an Oxford University Press office in Lahore.
The Malala Fund continues to work to fight terrorism through education, rather than war.
It promotes an entrepreneurial spirit and delivers not just basic literacy, but also the tools, ideas and networks to help create a better world. They have started projects (schools) in many countries from Nigeria to Jordan (for Syrian refugees).
Yousafzai, who is now 24 and an Oxford alumnus, said that she still dreams of going back to Pakistan and being an influential politician as she has committed her “second life” to girls’ education. However, her homeland is still a battleground, so she continues to reside in the U.K. for now.
In her Sept. 2013 speech at inauguration of the Library of Birmingham, Yousafzai stated, “I truly believe the only way we can create global peace is through educating not only our minds, but our hearts and our souls. This is the way forward to our destiny of peace and prosperity.”
Engaging the power for constructive change is a matter of perspective. The entrepreneurial spirit is a mindset open to alternative viewpoints, including optimism, creativity, abundance, spirituality and social innovations. It is the ability to see things from above.
Thanks to the courageous, persistent, entrepreneurial spirit of Malala Yousafzai, the world is a better place.
Tim retired after 30+ years as a psychotherapist. He is the co-author of From Distrust to Trust: Controversies and Conversations in Faith Communities (Judson, 2023) and a blogger at timothybonner9.medium.com.