Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

“Let us pick up our books and our penThey are our most powerful weapons. One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.”


These powerful words were spoken by then-16-year-old Malala Yousafzai in 2013, in her call for universal access to education during her address to the first ever Youth Takeover of the United Nations.

Today, July 12, is Malala Day and Vital Voices joins the world in recognition of the trailblazing impact she has had as a powerful advocate for girls’ fundamental right to education.

Read on for more about Malala’s leadership journey, join us in supporting the Malala Fund and declaring #YesAllGirls have a right to education.

A Driving Force

From a young age, Malala has been a resolute proponent of the right of all children, especially women and girls, to receive a quality education. Her passion stems from personal experience while growing up in rural Pakistan. At the age of fifteen, after speaking up for girls’ education, she was attacked by a Taliban gunman. The global community galvanized around Malala’s cause during her recovery and took note of her leadership and activism. With an amplified voice that the platform of the UN has provided her, Malala took her driving force and sense of mission to scale.

Strong Roots in the Community

After taking her campaign for a universal 12 years of quality and free education to the international level, Malala continues to engage with the intersecting issues of gender, human development, and health around the world. Connecting with local communities as well as high-level officials is key to establishing strong roots in the community that allow for representative leadership. Malala has spread her influence to many issues effecting girls and their rights to education including the #BringBackOurGirls campaign where Malala showed her strong roots in community. “I can see those girls as my sisters,” she said. “I’m going to speak up for them until they are released.”

Connecting Across Lines That Divide

While education is a universally critical issue, in order to effect widespread change Malala has confronted the tough challenge of uniting communities affected by violence and divided by politics and identity. With her particular focus on gender parity within schools, Malala uses her position to speak up for those whose voices are traditionally marginalized. In 2015, with funding from the Kayany Foundation, Malala crossed the lines that divde the international community by opening the Malala Yousafzai All-Girls School in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. She displayed strength and empathy in an effort to provide secondary education for adolescent Syrian refugees. At the school’s opening ceremony, Malala reiterated her message that, “Books, not bullets, will pave the path toward peace and prosperity.”

Bold Ideas and Bold Action

As the youngest, first Pashtun, and first Pakistani winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala is no stranger to bold ideas and bold action. She became a spokesperson for the right to learn while living in Pakistan, driven to action by Taliban attacks on girls’ schools in the surrounding Swat Valley. Her anonymous journal entries for BBC and fearless candor even after her identity became known. As a result, Malala was awarded the first recipient of Pakistan’s National Peace Prize in 2009.  From her initial activism to the now worldwide reach, Malala’s vision of quality education for all children is the underlying goal of empowering individuals and communities to break the cycle of poverty and counter violent extremism.

Paying it Forward

In 2013, Malala and her father Ziauddin co-founded the Malala Fund as a mechanism to impact education at a greater global scale. To date, the organization has partnered with local education projects in Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Jordan, and Lebanon. The Malala Fund receives critical support from Vital Voices, the United Nations Foundation, and Girl Up. Through its programming, research, and advocacy, Malala is multiplying her vision and building solidarity across global communities.

Vital Voices is proud to have honored Malala in 2013 with the Global Leadership Award and to have supported the early incubation of the Malala Fund. Please continue to support her tireless fight to provide education to everyone. Join the conversation on social media to declare #YesAllGirls have a right to education, and take action to support the Malala Fund.