October 29, 2013

The Face of a Leader

“Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.”

Much has been written, discussed, and said about the attributes of a great leader. It’s perhaps easy for us to look to sports or business for those examples because they are plentiful but how often are they right there, in the middle of real life?

Before October 9th, 2012 most of us had never heard of Mingora, Pakistan. It is located in the Swat District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The landscape is stunning, the people are strong, and at one time it was a tourist destination. Queen Elizabeth called it the “Switzerland of the new Empire”. But fear and terror are now part of daily life in Mingora as the Taliban’s presence has replaced peace.

"I am not here to speak against the Taliban. I'm here to speak up for the right of every child."

Three years ago, a young Mingora girl began writing a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban rule, their attempts to take control of the valley, and her views on promoting education for girls. Her perspective was simply from a girl who wanted to realize her potential and for those around her. The New York Times filmed a documentary of her life which created more exposure for her and her cause.

She gave television and print interviews and soon her real identity was known. Her work garnered a nomination for the International Children's Peace Prize by South African activist Desmond Tutu.

"The extremists are afraid of books & pens. The power of education frightens them."

Malala Yousafzai was a brave young girl who was simply sharing her feelings and telling the stories of her town. But the Taliban was paying close attention and October 9th, 2012 they attempted an assassination on her life.

While she was returning home from school, a Taliban gunman shot her in the head and neck leaving her for dead. Malala miraculously survived and has become more vocal than ever, speaking for the rights of girls around the world to gain a good education and realize their dreams.

"I am focusing on women to be independent."

United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown launched a UN petition in Yousafzai's name, using the slogan "I am Malala" demanding all children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015. Time magazine featured her on the cover as one of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World".

Malala has become the youngest person to ever be nominated for a Noble Peace Prize and has won the Pakistan National Youth Peace Prize, Sakharov Prize, and Simone de Beauvoir Prize.

"I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard."

In just over a year, she survived being shot in the head, written a book, shown her bravery in the face of terror, spoke at the United Nations, appeared on countless televisions networks, met with country leaders – including President Obama – to fight for woman’s educational rights, and created The Malala Fund to further the cause.

If you want to see leadership personified, meet 16 year old Malala Yousafzai.


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Kneale Mann | Leadership Strategist, consultant, writer, speaker, executive coach facilitating performance growth with leaders, management, and teams.

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