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UM Kicks Off First REDe Summit with Powerful Message

By Stella Connell
Special to HottyToddy.com

More than just an engine for economic development, entrepreneurship can be a potent tool for bringing about social change. This is what prominent entrepreneur and women’s rights activist Shiza Shahid told participants at the REDe Entrepreneurship Summit at the University of Mississippi Oct. 18.

Shiza Shahid delivers the keynote address during the REDe Entrepreneurship Summit at UM. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services.

“I believe entrepreneurship is one of the most powerful vehicles we have to change the world,” Shahid said in her keynote address kicking off the summit at the Ole Miss Student Union. “If we’re going to effect real change, we need entrepreneurship to be inclusive.”

Created by the university’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to encourage, celebrate and enhance entrepreneurial endeavors among Ole Miss students, the summit focused on supporting women entrepreneurs.

“Entrepreneurship is about ideas,” Shahid said. “When we invest in others’ ideas, that’s when we transform the world.”

Richard Gentry, CIE director, praised the inspirational message of Shahid’s address.

“It was wonderful to have her come and talk to the students and to see that kind of engagement,” Gentry said. “One of the students told me Shiza was her idol.”
A native of Islamabad, Pakistan, Shahid was raised by parents who encouraged her to go to school even though it is not popular for Pakistani women to seek an education. Pakistan is the fifth-largest country in the world and has the second-lowest rate of childhood education.

It was Shahid’s goal to change the system so all children – boys and girls – can have opportunities to learn, grow and prosper.

“I began showing up to the doors of nonprofits and asked to volunteer,” she said. “I first worked in a women’s prison and then a medical camp.”

Children born to inmates or patients had particularly dismal futures and are “never given a chance to a better life,” Shahid added. “They stay incarcerated, too.”

While a student at Stanford University, Shahid came to know Malala Yosafzai, a young, outspoken advocate for women’s education. Yosafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban but survived and went on to win the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her work on behalf of education.

Shahid came to know Yosafzai and helped establish the Malala Fund, which works to create access to high-quality education for all children around the world.

“We push for policy changes, urging to allow a higher part of the GDP to girl education,” Shahid said. “We also spend time to highlight issues that need awareness.

“Malala’s story made the statistics real. There are certain moments in our lives where we have to decide who we are.”

In August, Shahid launched NOW Ventures in Silicon Valley in partnership with AngelList, the world’s largest venture capital platform. She also invests in mission-driven technology startups that are solving pressing challenges through technology, innovation and high-grown business models.

“All of us are born in a particular place, take on a particular view of the world,” she said. “But if we want to truly transform the world, we have to suspend our judgments, biases and prejudices.

“We live in extraordinary times where we get to make choices beyond survival, a career that allows us a sense of meaning and purpose. And while it’s a privilege, it’s also a responsibility.”

That message has potential to take root in Mississippi, said Clay Dibrell, executive director of the CIE.

“Shiza’s message of equality, change, hope and empowerment strongly resonated with our students and community,” Dibrell said. “Her words have motivated several of our students to use entrepreneurship to create positive change for themselves and their communities.”

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