Shiza Shahid co-founded the Malala Fund, now she’s advocating for immigrant entrepreneurs and helping mission-driven startups get funding
Living legend Malala Yousafzai, the 20-year-old Pakistani activist who was shot by the Taliban five years ago for fearlessly campaigning for girls’ right to education, taught the world to stand up for change.
When asked what she’s learned from the fearless female role model, 28-year-old founding CEO of the Malala Fund Shiza Shahid tells Moneyish simply, “To be brave.”
The Islamabad-born, Stanford University graduate was studying in the U.S. when she heard Yousafzai’s inspiring story and decided to help start an education retreat for girls in her native city to connect them with mentors. After Yousafzai’s attempted assassination by the Taliban in Swat five years ago, however, Shahid quit her job as an analyst at McKinsey & Company in Dubai and teamed up with Yousafzai to start the Malala Fund, a non-profit platform that helps women around the world get access to education in communities across Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya, Sierra Leone and also supports Syrian refugees. The foundation has donated more than $1 million to education related projects.
After much success working in the nonprofit sphere, Shahid is taking on another important cause: advocating for immigrant entrepreneurship in the United States. She’s hosting a segment on ASPIREist, a call-to-action news show on HLN Saturday at noon. In it, she explores how some of the most successful companies in the US such as Google, eBay, PayPal, and Tesla were started by foreigner workers, noting that they are twice as likely as native-born Americans to start their own company.
“My work with Malala taught me the importance of telling a powerful story,” Shahid says.
In the episode, she chronicles how increasingly difficult it has become for immigrant entrepreneurs to get visas in the US. She notes that with the threat of immigration crackdown, business hopefuls have begun to take their ideas to other countries like Canada.
“With the challenges around building a startup I now see companies trying to go elsewhere, and I don’t blame them,” she says. “I worry that the things that drew me to this country that made it unique, and make it an economic superpower could be starting to deteriorate.”
Immigrants represent 27.5% of the countries’ entrepreneurs but only around 13% of the population, according to research reported in “Harvard Business Review.” And immigrant-owned businesses pay an estimated $126 billion in wages per year, hiring 1 in 10 americans who work for private companies, Inc.com reports. In 2010, immigrant-owned businesses generated more than $775 billion in sales.
Shahid stresses the urgency for immigration reform.
“A startup visa is such an obvious policy,” she notes, referring to the 2010 proposed amendment by Kansas republican Senator Jerry Moran to the US immigration law that would create a visa category for foreign entrepreneurs who have raised capital from qualified American investors.
“It’s so well thought out, it’s so clear cut, there’s no confusion there’s no way you can get a startup visa if you aren’t highly entrepreneurial or accomplished,” she says.
In January, France launched its French Techa Visa, and in April, Chile announced that its tech visa approval process would take only 15 days. Canada introduced a Global Skills Strategy which helps entrepreneurs get work permits for highly skilled foreign workers within two weeks. In the US this month, a group of entrepreneurs, companies and venture capitalists sued the Trump administration for delaying the International Entrepreneur Rule, which was put in place to help foreign business owners live in the U.S. while growing their companies. It was set to go into effect in July.
Shahid currently sits on the co-founding board of Global Entrepreneur In Residence (Global EIR), a company that allows the world’s most innovative entrepreneurs to build their businesses in the United States and create jobs by partnering with universities to connect business owners with visas that will allow them to grow their companies locally.
Her new enterprise, Now Ventures, is focused on supporting startups and entrepreneurs who are creating positive global impact. The company will back “mission-driven” startups, businesses that will have a positive impact, socially and environmentally, while also making a profit. The business has already invested in the company Lucy, a Bay Area startup that helps pregnant women find healthcare professionals.
When it comes to fighting for an important cause, Shahid, who says Yousafzai taught her “to be true to your values,” has plenty of experience on her resume.
“Whether it’s a foundation or a company – make sure it’s something that you are obsessed with because it’s going to be very hard,” she says.
“Make sure you recognize what you are uniquely good at and surround yourself with really good people who can collaborate with you and bring skills and expertise to the table.”
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