Make Reality: Questions with Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai

Activist Malala Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel Laureate, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 at the age of 17. Her fierce belief in educational opportunity for every girl made her a target for extremists. After surviving an assassination attempt, she established the Malala Fund which aims to eliminate barriers to girls’ education in their communities.

After graduating from Oxford University in 2020, Malala joined PMI at a session of the Virtual Experience Series (VES) to discuss the importance of adapting to change and the project she would most like to make reality.

PMI: What is the most challenging project you are managing right now?

Yousafzai: At Malala Fund, every project is challenging because we're working in the most marginalized areas of different countries from Nigeria to Pakistan and India. I think that the lack of access to technology and to the internet are the key issues, as well as transport—the time it takes to get to these areas. One of the projects is in my own village in Pakistan—Shangla—which is quite far away from the main cities. It's very difficult to work in the rural and distant areas. It has been very challenging, but at the same time, it has been a great learning experience for us to find ways in which we can provide all the facilities required for a school to operate.

PMI: What is the most significant project you have ever worked on?  

Yousafzai: To be honest, every project is significant, so I find it very difficult to compare them and pick one. But for me, especially in this time of COVID, I really appreciate how our champions have adapted to the change and are finding new ways in which they can ensure that girls, while they're sheltering at home, continue to learn. As the result of brainstorming, our champions in Nigeria are using the local radio channels to continue spreading educational content, and in Pakistan, they’re using mobile phones and national television. This is an amazing effort to ensure that children do not miss out on learning and continue their education, despite the global pandemic.

PMI: How have you applied a project management mindset to your work? 

Yousafzai: Malala Fund has offices in the U.S. and the U.K. and works with regional representatives and local champions. This has been a challenging year with many people working from home. We are using various technological platforms to ensure that our work continues, and I really appreciate that the team is still able to work on these projects together. Our Malala Fund team and our champions have been monitoring the impact of this health crisis on girls’ education. Their recent research revealed that 20 million girls are at risk of dropping out of school to be forced into early child marriages or to become the financial supporters of their families. This research was very much needed and has been one of our learnings in how to adapt to change quickly and see the impact of it on your work.

PMI: Do you have one piece of advice for the project management community to help manage projects better?

Yousafzai: In any project, I actually believe in the advocates and activists. I do not think they need more advice, other than our support and appreciation that they're doing an amazing job. I think it's very important that we all ask for help and support whenever we need expertise in research fields and knowledge in technology and education. This has been what I have been learning through my work at Malala Fund—to work with the right people to find what you have and what you don't have, and to ask for assistance. I really applaud and appreciate all the work that everybody does. I’m here to stand with them and support them. 

PMI: What is your moonshot idea that you would love to assemble a team around and make reality?

Yousafzai: To be honest, there are so many things I want to fix in the world. We do not have a world that is equal and fair to everyone. When I was a school girl in Pakistan, I saw that many girls could not go to school either because of poverty, lack of facilities, or cultural norms. I wanted to see a world where every girl could go to school. And when Talibanization started, my own education was taken away.

Since then, I have been on this mission to find ways in which we can ensure that we create a world in which everyone—including every child and especially every girl—can go to school to complete their education and achieve their dreams. I know so many girls who miss out on their education, who are never able to achieve their dreams, who get married at an early age. I saw it in front of my eyes when I was very little and I could not understand why this was happening, but I want to see that it does not happen anymore. I do not want to see any girl forced into marriage and be limited to their house and not allowed to do a job or have a profession.

So it's important that we continue this mission that's really close to my heart. Other than that, I want to fix everything. I want clean air. I want to fight against climate change and reduce poverty. I’d like to create a world that is better for everyone; one that does not discriminate against you based on your skin color, your ethnicity, your language or where you come from. So there's a lot that needs to be done even though my focus right now is on education. It's important to acknowledge that it's not easy to find answers. The world is huge and the difficulties that girls face in their education vary depending on the region. It is a big mission, but the solution is working together, working with the people who have expertise, working in the field and joining hands together and staying committed. 

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