Before anyone knew her name, or even that she existed, Malala Yousafzai had a mission: that she, and other girls like her, should be able to go to school. A simple right for many, yet forbidden to Pakistani girls like Yousafzai by the Taliban. But the world came to know the young crusader on the day a Taliban soldier boarded a school bus, asked “Who is Malala?” and shot the then-11 year old in the face.
Miraculously, Yousafzai survived. Even from a hospital bed, she was undeterred and unintimidated. Her parents soon reported that she was requesting her schoolbooks so that she wouldn’t fall behind in her studies.
The now 16-year-old Yousafzai tells of the day she was shot, and what has happened since, in her book I am Malala, being released worldwide tomorrow. She has addressed the United Nations and become the youngest person to be nominated for Nobel Peace Prize. Through it all, the girl who took on the Taliban at age 11 has stayed on message, on mission: “I was spared for a reason,” she writes. “To use my life for helping people.”
THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Malala Yousafzai.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Don’t lose sight of your cause by becoming a celeb. Acts of heroism can be blurred by exposure in the limelight. If the mission is to become a star, as is the case with those who sign on for reality shows, then there’s no such thing as bad publicity. However, when the mission is of a humanitarian nature – say, fighting for the right for girls to be educated, against the edict of an oppressive regime – there’s a delicate balance between being the face of a movement and becoming a name. While no one may have known of Malala Yousafzai before she was nearly murdered by the Taliban, she makes sure her mission stays front and centre.