Born and raised in the capital city of Pakistan, Shiza Shahid became an activist at an early age. She worked with children born to women in prison and volunteered at a relief camp. She went on to pair up with Malala Yousafzai as cofounder of the Malala Fund, an organization that helps women around the world get access to education, and has since started Now Ventures, which is focused on enabling businesses with positive impact to succeed. We caught up with her to talk about everything from mentors and friend-tors, to unwinding after a long day of work.
You’re still quite young though you’ve had a ton of experience. Did you get flak for becoming a CEO at such a young age, and if so, how did you overcome that?
All the time. I was told I was too young. People would speak to me condescendingly, addressing me as “sweetheart” or pointing out that I needed more grey hair to be in the room. I was an untraditional entrepreneur in a highly traditional industry. How did I overcome it? I learned to focus on getting the job done. On growing as an entrepreneur. And through that process found people who were collaborative and generous. I surrounded myself with people who didn’t see the world in binary terms, as a zero sum game, but as an endless constellation of possibilities.
You’ve been described as Malala Yousafzai’s mentor. Who has been your mentor?
Malala’s father has been a mentor to me, and I admire his courage and passion. Susan McCaw, an incredible leader who funded my scholarship to Stanford and changed my life, has continued to be a mentor. But most of all, my peers are my mentors, or friend-tors. You are only as effective as the power of your network. Find incredible people and help each other succeed. Don’t wait for an older or more successful mentor.
If you could give one piece of advice to your 16-year-old self, what would it be?
Read voraciously. Question constantly. Don’t let school kill your curiosity. Believe in your unique intelligence. Move and play as much as you can. Love your physical body, and make it stronger. Practice being here now. Practice mindfulness and gratitude. Don’t let your angst detach you from your spirituality. Find good people to lift you up. Part ways with those who diminish you. Soon you will get to make choices about how you want to live your life and when you are making those choices, remember the dreams you’ve dreamt since you were little, and chase after them with all your heart.
What’s an experience that turned out to be especially meaningful for you?
Growing up in Pakistan gave me a deep understanding of a country and place that is deeply misunderstood in the West. It also taught me the importance of certain traditions that are missing from modern life, like community and hospitality. I’ve carried that perspective with me in the global work that I do now, based in the U.S. There’s no substitute for personal relationships and first-hand experiences when it comes to understanding people, cultures, religions, and ideas.
When you imagine yourself later in life looking back, what are you hoping to reflect upon?
I hope I’m not burdened with regrets. I hope I am content with my contribution to this world. I hope I am spiritually fulfilled. I hope I am healthy and surrounded by love. I hope I am at ease with death whenever it may come.
What are your must-haves for a productive day and also a great night’s sleep?
A good workout (strength, cardio or yoga), clean delicious food (lots of it), a day filled with creative hustle, some time spent with inspiring friends who are changing the world, and the love of my family.
You have a lot on your plate day to day. How do you unwind at the end of a long day?
If I’m in Los Angeles with my husband, I unwind by spending time with him. I spend so much of my time San Francisco, New York, and other cities around the world that I really cherish the time that I’m with my husband. He’s good at holding me accountable to good bedtime hygiene and [at home in LA] is where I sleep my best. When I’m traveling on my own, it can be difficult to unwind. I’m still trying to figure it out. Sometime I try to read a book or meditate, but too often, you’ll find me glued to my laptop until I pass out.