Brandeis International Business School

Zala Ahmad, MA'12: “While we may have differences... we are all human”

Zala AhmadHow did growing up in Afghanistan affect your career choices?

I’m from Farah Province, which is very remote, and I had six sisters and two brothers. My father was a professor, and he always told us that education is such an asset that no one can steal it from you. He never said, ‘You’re a girl so you shouldn’t study.’ Instead, he provided me and my sisters with every opportunity.

I was lucky, because most girls in the area didn’t have access to an education because of the wars — the literacy rate for women in the Farah Province is only 8 percent and many girls are married by the time they’re 14. I wanted to help change that, so I founded the Humanitarian Organization for Local Development (HOLD) in 2008 with $4,000 of my own money. HOLD is training and resource center for women and girls in western Afghanistan.

How did Brandeis International Business School change you personally and professionally?

There’s such a mix of cultures at the school, and it broadened my perspective about people and tolerance towards various cultures. I understand that while we may have differences — in our language, our religion and the color of our skin — we are all human. Before we can build bridges between cultures and countries, we have to consider everyone as humans first.

Tell us about your recognition by the U.S. State Department.

I gave a speech about my work at the State Department’s 10th anniversary celebration of the U.S.–Afghan Women's Council in 2012 to an audience that included members of Congress, ambassadors, former First Lady Laura Bush and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who introduced me. It was a very proud moment for me, especially because it brought attention to a cause I believe in.

By providing educational and practical life skills opportunities to young girls, we’re bringing positive change in their lives, but at the same time, we mustn’t become complacent. There’s much more work to be done. I want all Afghan girls to get educated and be able to be economically independent.

Executive Director, Humanitarian Organization for Local Development (HOLD)

Previous Work Experience
UNESCO, Afghan Ministry of Education, USAID

Home Country

Undergraduate Institution & Major
B.A. in Social Development Studies, Iqra University, Pakistan