Shiza Shahid is an activist, entrepreneur, investor, technologist and world-renowned impact leader. She is the founding CEO of the Malala Fund with Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, which focuses on creating access to high-quality education for all children worldwide. Due to her achievements, Shiza was named one of TIME’s ’30 Under 30 People Changing the World,’ Forbes’ ’30 Under 30 – Social Entrepreneurs,’ and a Tribeca Institute Disruptive Innovator. She has also been featured in numerous publications, including Al Jazeera, Forbes, Fast Company, Elle, Glamour, Town and Country, The Edit, CNN, ABC, MSNBC, and others.
Growing up in Islamabad, Shiza’s mother had a master plan for her daughters that did not include the kitchen. “My mother never wanted me to cook,” she adds. “She had spent most of her life cooking, not by choice but because she was born into a patriarchal family. So she wanted my sister and I to have a choice and not be held back by household chores.”
Due to her mother’s encouragement and teachings, Shiza grew up into an empowered young woman and began her life of activism quite early on. Talking about her first job, she said, “I volunteered with a nonprofit and would carry medical supplies into a women’s prison in Pakistan. I must have been 12 years old; it was the first time I realized as a young person that I could make a difference, and felt like that was my path in life.”
To make an impact, Shiza applied for a scholarship to Stanford University and then moved to California at 18. Still, she never stopped reading about Pakistan in the news, particularly the issues faced by its women. Violence in the region had dramatically increased since her childhood.
Shiza watched a New York Times documentary about Malala at that time, a brave 11-year-old girl who had been secretly blogging her day-to-day struggle to get an education in Pakistan for the BBC. Touched by the misery of her nation and her access to elite education, Shiza contacted Malala, asking if she could be of any help to her and the girls in the region. Shiza then organized a summer study camp in Islamabad for Malala and 26 young girls to empower them to be impactful activists and entrepreneurs.
However, in 2012, Malala was hunted down and shot in the face by a member of the Taliban. Shiza, who was working as an analyst at McKinsey & Co. in Dubai at the time, immediately flew to the hospital in London where Malala was being treated. Shiza recalled, “In the first few days after the shooting, nobody was sure if Malala would survive. But she did. And when she became physically stable, she committed herself to push forward her cause.”
Shiza accompanied her every step of the way and moved into a leadership position, and managed the media, who had a growing global interest in Malala and her story. Realizing the potential of Malala’s story to encourage education for girls, Malala’s family and Shiza had the idea to establish a fund.
The Fund was officially launched in October of 2013 and operated in countries where girls are likely to be denied the opportunity to attend school. The girl child may miss out on formal education due to discrimination, safety concerns, or need to work to help relieve their household financial pressures. The organization currently operates in Afghanistan, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey and has grown consistently every year. They have even helped girls study during the pandemic, which was a significant feat for the organization.
Once the organization was successfully set up, Shiza moved on to her next project – Our Place, the kitchen essentials that her mother strongly opposed during her childhood days. In 2019, Shiza and her two co-founders launched the direct-to-consumer kitchenware company Our Place intending to address the lack of cookware options for multiethnic American kitchens and change the perceptions of standard cookware.
Talking about its inception, she says, “We started Our Place because as immigrants we found our Place in America by cooking and sharing food—having our friends come over and sharing our culture with them. We believe that there is something compelling about how home cooking connects us.” Shiza continued, “You come into my home and my kitchen, and you know who my grandmother was, and that’s the power of home cooking. When all else falls away, we still cook what our mothers cooked for us and that their mothers cooked for them. Home cooking is this Place where culture, identity, love and belonging live. So we wanted to create a brand that celebrated that. A brand that created products and experiences that allowed us to connect over home cooking and that celebrated the multiethnic American kitchen.”
To combat the multiple pans an average American owns in their kitchen; the company came up with a new invention, The Always Pan. Explaining the product, she says, “If you walk into any cookware store, they’re all selling large, bulky, expensive, difficult-to-use cookware sets. There’s a frying pan, saucepan, skillet, nonstick pan, saucier, rice cooker, and we thought, can’t we make it simpler and more streamlined? It took around two painstaking years of poring over the design, sampling, and testing to make sure we went forward with something that would make cooking easier for our family and us and lower the barrier to enter the kitchen. The Always Pan is deep enough to make sauces, shallow enough to flip an egg; it’s got modular inserts like a stainless steel steamer basket and a spatula rest. It’s not just a pan; it’s a cookware system.”
However, that’s not all, Shiza has left no stones unturned with her organization. Our Place is a carbon-neutral brand that donates to causes like the Immigrant Defenders Network, providing legal representation to immigrants at risk of deportation, as well as the Equal Justice Initiative. The organization has also donated over 250,000 meals to Feeding America to help fight hunger. Shiza says, “It’s really about the choices you make within your business, within your supply chain, within your culture, within the partners, you select, within the way you centre your brand around inclusion and representation.”
Currently, 80% of their products are sourced from women-owned collectives and factories. Our Place’s packaging is free of plastics, fully biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable. She says, “We are a team of primarily women and people of colour. And as we scale by virtue of the business itself, we’re doing more good in the world.”
In conclusion, she says, “I think some of the worst career advice I received was, ‘Find your one passion’. I believe our passions evolve over time and finding your one passion can feel like an overwhelming burden. Instead, I ask myself, ‘What is the best way I can be contributing at this moment?’”