05/17/2018 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

Q&A with Shabana Basij-Rasikh

Shabana Basij-Rasikh Stay connected with CS&A

In our work matching teachers with jobs at independent schools, we always talk about finding the “best match” – that special school community where an educator will thrive with the freedom to practice his or her craft among colleagues who have a shared passion for educating children. When it came to us finding a keynote speaker for our Women's Institute, approaching quickly on June 8 in Boston, Shabana Basij-Rasikh is the definition of a “best match.”

Growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan, girls like Shabana were forbidden from pursuing an education. Instead of giving into the Taliban's threats, she disguised herself as a boy and went to a secret school for girls in Kabul. She went on to attend high school in the U.S. through the State Department’s Youth Exchange Studies program and enrolled in Middlebury College, graduating magna cum laude in International Studies and Women & Gender Studies.

Upon graduating, Shabana returned to Kabul to establish the School of Leadership Afghanistan (SOLA) as that country's first boarding school for girls. Today, she is widely recognized as a leading advocate for girls’ education and has received numerous awards and recognition for her leadership. As we hold our second-annual Women's Institute to support and empower female educators and leaders, we can't think of someone else who embodies the mission of our event more than Shabana.

We had the pleasure of asking her a few questions ahead of her appearance at our event.

What drives your work as an advocate for girls’ education?

130 million girls around the world are out of school, and several million of those girls live in my country. This is the environment I grew up in, and knowing these numbers, you can only feel compelled to do something. Consider also that investment in girls’ education comes with an enormous rate of return: girls who are educated marry later, have fewer and healthier children, and invest as much as 90% of their income back into their families. All these factors drive me – but perhaps more than anything, I’m driven by my students. Their passion and their focus, the strength and support of their families, their willingness and their desire to take huge risks to attend school and pursue their education…all of this is what drives my advocacy.

What are you most looking forward to at our Women’s Institute?

I think, more than anything, I’m looking forward to the energy that I know will be in the room. The amazing speakers, the entrepreneurs who’ll be exhibiting at the Welcome Reception, and of course everyone in attendance: all of us together, all of us passionate about education, all of us learning from each other – we’re going to make such amazing contacts, but even more than that, every single one of us is going to leave the Women’s Institute better at what we do.

Who is a person who has had tremendous impact on you as a leader?

I’ll answer this way: it takes a village to raise a child. Given the work that I do and the life that I’ve led, I’ve met so many people who’ve had enormous impact on me and it’s very hard to give credit to any one person. I’ll certainly say, though, that my leadership style is anything but set in stone. I continue to learn from others – perhaps in ways that might surprise you. There are times when I see students at SOLA exhibiting amazing leadership, even when they’re coming to me with a concern or looking for guidance; conversely, there are times when I see very public figures who don’t demonstrate strong leadership. I learn from both situations, and I evolve as a leader because of it.

What advice would you give someone who is chasing advancement in their career?

It’s incredibly important to be passionate about the work you do. It allows you to pour yourself into your career, whatever it might be. It helps spawn creativity and amplifies your impact. I’d tell anyone looking to advance their career that you absolutely must be passionate – but just as critically, you need to be inclusive. I think it’s natural to want to take credit for accomplishments, but no one ever works alone; like I said, it takes a village to raise a child. Surround yourself with smart people – and even more importantly, listen to them. Be secure enough to do that. They’re going to make you better.


If you work in education and are interested in hearing Shabana speak, register today for our Women's Institute. The day will focus on professional skill development and career advancement. Attendees will learn to build a toolkit for achieving specific goals in work, leadership, and life. Featuring a slew of panels and discussions led by educators and leaders from across the country, this unique opportunity is not to be missed!

Registration closes in less than two weeks – learn more and sign up today!

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