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Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity: Malala Yousafzai


Malala Yousafzai

Girls’ education activist and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has been speaking up against gender inequality since the very beginning of her role as a vocal personality in front of leaders of the world. And while she advocates for change, she is considered by many as change itself. In a conversation with Nadja Bellan-White, Global Chief Office of Vice Media Group, Malala address the barriers standing in the way of the new generation and how change is fostered.

If you were to discuss the Malala fund in three words, what would they be and how do these values show up in your work?
I would say creative, ambitious and intentional. We want to bring girls to the center of some of the most important conversations. We know that girls’ education can help us in addressing the world’s pressing issues like climate change, income inequality and poverty. We are also finding innovative and creative ways to address these problems. We know that it’s not easy to ensure that millions of girls can go to school. We are intentional in our work because we make sure that girls come to the decision-making tables. My father has always said don’t ask me what I did to Malala, it is what I didn’t do, which is not clipping her wings. The Malala’s fund is for girls by girls. We do projects and work with local activists in more than nine countries.

As you travel around the world to advocate for change, what are some universal concerns that you see in this young generation?
Young people today are leading the change for climate, education and health, but at the center of it all is the need for justice. Young people seek justice for everyone. They know that things are unfair. People are discriminated because of their gender, religion and ethnicity. Younger generations want to envision a world where everyone is treated fairly, they want to make sure everyone’s dreams can come true. I was 11 years old when the Taliban banned girl’s education, something that unfortunately is happening once again in Afghanistan. My brothers would put on their uniforms and go to school, I wouldn’t. It was the story of many girls and not only mine. I realized that things had to change, and if we expect others to speak up for us it might take forever. So, I needed to speak and be the activist for my own self. And what I like about young individuals is that they know that things won’t change by themselves and are pushing governments, companies and individuals to be more responsible and prioritize goodwill over profits.

And how can companies support activists?
It’s important that they don’t support a campaign just verbally but rather take action and to reflect on how they work inside and outside. If we as leaders don’t believe in girls’ power, how can we expect others to do so? I encourage companies to bring the voice of the people they want to support to the center and involve them in the decisions they are making. Denial of girls’ learning for example can’t be defended from any perspective, religious, cultural nor political, so companies can help against that.

You are known for the power of storytelling; can you talk about one that you look forward to telling?
Eleven years ago, when I first started, I didn’t know all the statistics or facts, I was just aware that education is a change-maker and that it’s not accessible to all because of the infrastructure or social rules. I never took it for granted and this remains at the center of my storytelling, my digital platforms, and production company Extracurricular. My company brings the ideas and perspective of more women forward, gives them an opportunity to share their stories and ideas and to entertain us. These girls are incredible, they have everything it takes, and I make sure to bring them with me when I meet leaders and political figures.

And who is inspiring you to continue?
So many people, Greta Thunberg for example, she speaks the truth and pushes for it. Vanessa Nakate is also leading the change in Africa. And so many women-led movement are inspiring and give me hope for a better future. We highlighted girls’ education and climate change with Greta. In a society where women have the tools to participate in climate change the solution is better and quicker.

You once said that traditions aren’t sent from heaven or from God, it’s we who make culture, and we have the right to change that. Talk to us about the power of we
There is first the power of an individual, somebody has to say it and initiate it, and once this person steps out, other people will join. It becomes more powerful when they collectively solve the problem. An individual on their own can’t make changes and that’s when the power of we comes in. We are extremely strong when we come together as a community. 

By Victor N.