There are countless children who love school – who love to learn. Many are afforded that opportunity freely – with easy access to schools, highly motivated teachers and the latest text books. For others, there isn’t that same access to education. Often times it is those children – the ones with keen desire to learn yet limited resources – who seem to truly cherish the learning opportunity they do have available, no matter how meager.
Such was the case with a young girl who lived in Mingora, Pakistan. She and her fellow students would study chemistry equations by chanting them, learning Urdu grammar, drawing ‘maps’ of the human blood circulation system and writing stories. She was fifteen in 2012 and out of concerns for her safety, her mother had her travel to school by rickshaw – she would return home by bus – a white Toyota van.
Taking precautions was more than justified as her city – in the middle of the Swat Valley – was a hot bed for the Taliban. One of their extremist beliefs was that girls should not go to school – should not pursue an education. Her father, himself an outspoken opponent, had already seen a friend and fellow campaigner shot and killed by the Taliban.
On October 9th, 2012, she and several other girls, boarded the van which would take them home. This day, however, things would be different. The van was flagged down by a young Taliban man who asked for the girl by name. He had sought her, in particular, as she was very outspoken about her right to an education – for herself and all girls.
That afternoon in the Toyota, she was the only girl who was not covered – contrary to custom – and once she had been identified, the man held up a pistol and with his hand shaking, fired three shots. One hit her in the cheek just under her eye socket. Another, hit her shoulder, passing through and also hitting a second girl. The third bullet hit a third girl in the hand.
She was rushed to the intensive care unit of the Combined Military Hospital in Peshawar. Her cheek had shattered sending bone shards into her face and brain. The Doctor told her parents that she likely would lose some facial movement and that her looks were certain to be altered. This concerned her father, in particular, as he had always called his daughter ‘my heavenly smile and laughter’.
She ultimately awoke after being transported to Birmingham in the U.K. It was then that she learned she was deaf in one ear and that her jaw didn’t seem to move in a normal manner. Nerves in her face had been affected – she had lost the ability to smile. A month after she was shot, she underwent an operation that was hoped would help heal the damaged nerve. A cochlear implant had been inserted into her head to help her hearing. After several weeks, she regained some facial movement to the point that she could smile and wink.
Her parents concern over the physical affect of the bullets was not something she shared – she was happy to be alive, to be able to speak, hear and continue to learn. She took a very active and dominant role in decisions concerning her care. The shooting failed to silence her – just as it had failed to kill her. Instead, it sparked an intense desire to fight harder and more vocally for the rights for girls to receive an education in her homeland. On her 16th birthday, July 12, 2013, she addressed a specially convened youth group at the United Nations in New York.
That speech, was broadcast around the world. She would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and write a book about her story. Her story is almost unbelievable and her accomplishments seemingly improbable – but they are not what makes the person a fearless brand. Malala Yousafzai – the author of the book I Am Malala – is fearless well beyond branding…as a matter of fact, she has never given a thought to herself as a brand.
Fearless Brands focus on results – not their brand
Malala Yousafzai is a magnificent human being. In telling her story, it was important for me to realize – and accept – that she has no interest in building a brand, upgrading a brand or even thinking of herself as a brand . Very simply, hers is a story of commitment, dedication and true fearlessness.
From a very early age, she was instilled with the belief that education would be the key to her future. An education would allow her to pursue a professional career which would lead to the freedom to live as she chose. Her father was an educated man who had actually owned a school. The entire Swat Valley had been known as a bastion of learning beginning in the 1940’s under the leadership of a line of Walis – rulers of the principality – who were committed to providing an education for all of their people. That changed in the early 2000’s as the Taliban – with their extremist views – began to have a significant influence on the region.
Malala would unwittingly become the symbol of education rights. She continues to be a strong advocate for the right for girls to receive an education – in her home country of Pakistan and throughout the world. Along with her family, she now lives in Birmingham due to the ongoing threat of harm and death which exist in her home. When asked what the Taliban was likely thinking today – Malala said “I think they may be regretting that they shot Malala,” she says. “Now she is heard in every corner of the world.”
No, Malala has no interest in the concept of a personal brand – yet there is so much to learn from her when you work on yours.
Embrace your vision completely – Nothing, up to and including the threat of death, would deter Malala from her pursuit of an education. It is a belief which begins in her very core. As you work on your brand, make absolutely certain that you know – and embrace – your why.
Make your vision bigger – What began as a quest to receive an education just for herself, has exploded to a mission to create education opportunities for girls – and everyone – worldwide. Ask yourself this – “Is my why – my vision – big enough? Am I as fully committed as I can be? How can I increase the value I provide to the world?”
Work to make your brand have the greatest possible impact on those you are meant to serve. Make your vision bigger. Make your commitment stronger.