An Evening with Malala

Sonaly Patel and Duncan McCullough

(Pictured on the left: R4D's Sonaly Patel meets with education advocate Malala Yousafzai at an event in Washington, DC)

In the ongoing conversation around the post-2015 education agenda, Malala has been a strong and relentless voice for girls’ education and in reminding us that all children deserve a complete, quality education beyond primary.  Most recently, Malala initiated the BooksNotBullets advocacy campaign for 12 years of fee-free education for all at the Oslo Summit on Education for Development.

Leading up to the Summit, Results for Development Institute (R4D), the Center for Education Innovations’ parent organization, had the pleasure of working with Malala and the Malala Fund on a technical paper on costing and financing upper secondary education, which was used to inform potential solutions presented by Malala and her organization.

Collaborating with the Malala Fund as a member of the technical paper research team has been rewarding in itself, but last month, when I received an invitation to meet Malala in person, I grew even more excited to meet the young woman who has inspired me and so many around the world. The private reception took place during Malala’s recent visit to DC and both commemorated the work of her friends and partners and celebrated the upcoming launch of the documentary, “He Named Me Malala”.  

As many who have heard her speak know, Malala has developed a striking ability to capture the attention of a room in her own quiet, confident style – a gift that is even more evident in person.  She spoke movingly about her firm commitment to the advocacy of a full and free 12 years of education for every boy and girl around the world, and the undeniable value secondary education holds in her own life.

After a riveting welcome and words from Malala and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, we watched the trailer for the film, directed by Academy Award winning director Davis Guggenheim, and I can tell you I am very much looking forward to seeing it in full.  To see the trailer for yourself, click here.

An engaging question-and-answer session followed, where Malala answered candidly as people around the room asked her about memorable experiences she has had (meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the first time), and how it felt to win the Nobel Prize.  I even had the opportunity to ask her about plans for her next level of education.  She spoke diplomatically about a number of great higher-education institutions in the world, but was especially excited about potentially studying political science and history at Oxford.

What I remember most about that evening is Malala’s insistence that, despite her outsized role, what truly is important to her is empowering other girls to raise their voices and that she unabashedly believes that education is the best path to making this possible.

I left that night even more proud of the work we as an organization have done in support of girls’ education, both with the Malala Fund and at the Center for Education Innovations.  As part of CEI’s continuing commitment to improving the access and quality of education, we work with a number of innovative organizations striving to improve prospects for girls.  Our Girls’ Education topic portal has a database with 111 programs focused on the educational development of girls, and is a valuable resource for advocates, practitioners, and policymakers alike. As a team, we continue to support these organizations to grow stronger and in the process extend quality education to more young women and girls. 

It is inspiring to be contributing to the critical need of girls’ education at such a pivotal time, and my time with Malala solidified the notion that behind her inspiring voice is a passionate multitude of people committed to the power of education in transforming the world.

Sonaly Patel is a Program Associate at the Results for Development Institute (R4D), where she supports the Education team's work around Evaluation and Learning and Innovations.  

Duncan McCullough is an Intern at the Center for Education Innovations.

Photo Credit: World Bank Photo Collection

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