Reclaiming Multiple Identities in the Age of Extremism With Shiza Shahid

Hi Heroine,

I’m thrilled about today’s interview. Shiza Shahid co-founded The Malala Fund along with the youngest Nobel-Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. I’m sure you already know this, but just in case, Malala was the young girl in Pakistan who was shot in the head on her school bus by the Taliban for going to school, but she survived and became internationally recognized. So Shiza, who I speak to in this interview, was one of Malala’s early mentors. While in college, Shiza started a secret summer camp for girls in Pakistan, which is also her home country. Today, Shiza is a venture capital investor and many other things. Named one of Time's "30 Under 30 People Changing the World" and Forbes "30 Under 30 - Social Entrepreneurs," she’s also host of the USA Today news show "ASPIREist," which activates millennials to have a positive impact.

In this episode, we talk about why empowering women around the world is so important and what Shiza sees as global trends as she travels to different continents. As a fellow immigrant, she shares how culture helped her shift perspectives, and what it means to reclaim your identity when you grow up cross-culturally.

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Highlighted Excerpt:

Majo: You do so much. How do you stay grounded? How do you avoid overwhelm or do you just feel overwhelmed?

Shiza: How do I avoid overwhelm? I think perhaps by  not comparing myself. I think a lot of the overwhelm comes from comparison. Now when we do good things we have to put it on Instagram and count how many likes it got, and I think a lot of that comparison causes dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Because if you go and truly help someone, the way that will make you feel will give you so much satisfaction, it will calm the fatigue and help with the overwhelm, so as long as you don’t go to that place of you know, “Is this good enough?Am I good enough?” and allow the satisfaction of doing your work become overshadowed by the comparison, which I think we’re constantly in the middle of particularly here in the West. I was in Pakistan for a while, and I realized that I didn’t buy anything for weeks, and I was barely on social media, and I came back to the U.S. and started getting hit by all these ads and all these things I felt I needed to buy, and information about other people doing other things.

Majo: When you came back you started noticing that you were comparing?

Shiza: Absolutely. I think that over here, there’s a lot of that comparison, even when you’re doing so called social impact work, you’re still comparing –

Majo: Right. Like, who’s doing more social impact work.

Shiza: Right. I think avoiding that. Getting outside this place which can really do that to you, and focusing on direct impact.

Show Notes:

  • Shiza’s parents and upbringing in Pakistan [3:20]

  • On volunteering as a teenager in women’s prisons and her passionate activism as a young woman [5:36]

  • Applying to college in the U.S. on a whim and her decision to go to Stanford where she was first exposed to technology and entrepreneurship, but still feeling connected to help women and girls back in Pakistan [6:58]

  • The online diary of Malala Yousafzai (at the time, 11 years old), inspiring Shiza’s creation of a secret summer camp amongst dangerous circumstances [11:30]

  • Joining McKinsey and receiving the news of Malala being shot [14:00]

  • On co-founding and building The Malala Fund at age 22 and leaving the safe, predictable path [21:00]

  • Witnessing Malala become the first child to win The Nobel Peace Prize and how it shifted stereotypes about what courage looks like [26:00]

  • On the polarization of technology, tech utopianism, and how social media creates a divide and leads to a rise in extremism, as well as the need for a representative group of people making decisions [28:00]

  • On being a global citizen and how that perspective-shifting encourages entrepreneurship [32:20]

  • The patterns she sees across the world, particularly around the false facts and news, as well as untapped opportunities such as supporting women in computer science in the Middle East [36:00]

  • How to deal with feelings of overwhelm and unhappiness in a culture of consumerism and comparison [40:00]

  • On reclaiming identity having grown up cross-culturally [43:00]


Learn more about Robin Berzin and Parsley Health here.


Brigid Cabry Nelson leads Lettershop, an award-winning creative studio that serves a wide range of clients—from boutique retailers to large corporations—approaching each and every project with vigor and enthusiasm. Learn more about Brigid and her work here.

Bianca Wendt, an award-winning art director and graphic designer based in San Francisco and London. Learn more about Bianca and her work here.

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by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs