Shabana Basij-Rasikh: Why she kicks ass
“I had time and space to ask myself real questions. I asked myself, ‘What can I do to affect change? Can I do anything as an individual? What is realistic? What is necessary?’”
- She was born and raised in Kabul, where she attended secret school dressed as a boy during the Taliban regime. After the fall of the Taliban she completed her secondary education at Maryam High School. After finishing high school in Onalaska, Wisconsin, through the competitive Youth Exchange Studies (YES) program sponsored by the U.S. State Department, Shabana attended Middlebury College, graduating magna cum laude in International Studies and Women & Gender Studies, and studied Arabic and Islamic law at Alexandria University in Egypt.
- Following her secondary school career, she worked as an Executive Assistant to the Country Director of American Councils for International Education in Kabul as a one year appointment. Shabana is the Executive Director of Afghan Youth Initiative.
- During college, she founded HELA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering Afghan women through education. She also raised funds through foundations and public talks across the US to build a high school for girls in her ancestral village, and wells in the outskirts of Kabul to give communities access to clean drinking water.
- An enthusiast of systemic change and community impact, Shabana was selected as one of Glamour® Magazine‘s Top 10 College Women of 2010, and was awarded the Vermont Campus Compact 2011 Kunin Public Award for outstanding public service, effective leadership, and community-building.
- This fall, Shabana joined 10×10 as a Global Ambassador, participating in television and radio interviews in support of the global action campaign designed to bring together nonprofits, corporations, philanthropists, policy leaders, global influencers, and grassroots community activists in a movement to support girls’ education.
- “When I came to the U.S., I realized I not only wanted to be a doctor, but I wanted to be a lawyer because there is so much to be done on women’s rights. I wanted to be an engineer to rebuild my country, and a pilot to deliver supplies. I wanted to become all of these people and all of these things so that I could do something for my country.”
- As an educator, Shabana seeks to multiply herself and expand opportunities for other young women in Afghanistan. She believes that solutions to Afghanistan’s biggest challenges will come from within, not from outside. Quality education, which goes beyond literacy and memorization into critical thinking, language skills and problem solving, is crucial to the future of her country. She wanted to build a school where girls could prepare for rigorous secondary and tertiary academic programs throughout the world. This dreams led her to co-found and become Managing Director of SOLA (School of Leadership, Afghanistan), a nonprofit that helps exceptional young Afghan women access education worldwide and jobs back home and to prepare Afghanistan’s next generation of female leaders.
- SOLA actively recruits a diverse student body, one that represents Afghanistan’s ethnic and cultural diversity. The 25 young women currently attending SOLA hail from 16 different provinces. In a country that faces deep ethnic tensions, SOLA seeks to develop tolerant, empathetic leaders. Students sign a language pledge and an honor code, which requires them to respect, accept, appreciate and promote each member of the SOLA community, regardless of ethnic or religious difference. “I tell all of the young women who come, ‘You are a future leader of Afghanistan; you are smart and you are driven. You have this opportunity because you deserve it. Congratulations!’ Then I tell them that true leaders embrace all those who live in Afghanistan whether Sunni or Shia, Tajik, Pashtun, Uzbek, or Hazara.”
- Her dream is for a day when international students will apply to SOLA because of its reputation for academic excellence. Her goal is to build an internationally accredited boarding school within the next 5-10 years. “This is my dream and vision, and I want to speak loud about it! I want to tell people how feasible it is to build a world-class educational institution within Afghanistan.”