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Malala Yousafzai Receives Harvard Kennedy School Award for Activism

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai at Harvard in 2013.
Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai at Harvard in 2013. By Mandi Nyambi
By Alexandra A. Chaidez, Crimson Staff Writer

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai will receive the Harvard Kennedy School’s 2018 Gleitsman Award, the school announced Tuesday.

According to a press release, the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership bestows the annual Gleitsman Award to “an individual or team whose leadership in social action has improved quality of life.”

Yousafzai has been an advocate for girls’ education ever since the Taliban attempted to assassinate her at age 15 in retaliation for a critical blog she wrote about living in Taliban-controlled Pakistan. Shortly after this attempt on her life, Yousafzai founded a non-profit called the Malala Fund, which supports girls’ education, with her father.

In 2014, at age 17, she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work promoting education for girls across the world. She is the second Pakistani to receive a Nobel Prize, following the 1979 physics laureate Abdus Salam.

“Malala speaks powerfully to the strength and perseverance of women and girls who are oppressed,” David R. Gergen, the director of the Center for Public Leadership, said in the release. “Her remarkable story has inspired girls — and boys as well — to follow in her footsteps and has activated a generation of practitioners and legislators who are fighting for equality in their own communities.”

The award is named for Alan L. Gleitsman, a former entrepreneur, philanthropist, and major donor to the Center for Public Leadership. In 2007, Gleitsman gave HKS $20 million to endow the Gleitsman Program in Leadership for Social Change at the school to train students in social entrepreneurship and activism.

“Alan Gleitsman, whose philanthropy made this award possible, believed in individuals whose vision inspired others to confront injustice,” Gergen said in the release. “He was an ardent supporter of Harvard Kennedy School’s efforts to cultivate the world’s youngest changemakers and would be so pleased by today’s announcement.”

Yousafzai will receive the award and the $125,000 prize at a ceremony on Dec. 6 at the Kennedy School. According to the release, the ceremony will also include a conversation with Yousafzai moderated by former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha J. Power, who is a professor of global leadership and public policy at HKS.

This award is not Yousafzai’s first from Harvard. She received the Harvard Foundation’s Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award in September 2013. The Foundation gives the humanitarian award annually in honor of the life and work of Reverend Peter J. Gomes, the longtime Memorial Church minister who died in 2011.

Previous winners of the Gleitsman Award include former South African president Nelson Mandela, U.S. Representative and civil rights leader John Lewis, and women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem.

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

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