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Malala Yousafzai: Change Agent in an Unchanged World?

ET Cases, 13 pages
AUTHOR(S) : Vandana Jayakumar and Dr. Nagendra V. Chowdary

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Malala Yousafzai: Change Agent in an Unchanged World?


“Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.”

– Malala Yousafzai, Teen Educational Activist from Pakistan

“If you educate a woman, you educate a family. If you educate a girl, you educate the future.”

– Rania Al Abdullah, Queen of Jordan

October 9th 2012, wasn’t a normal school day for the students of ‘Khushal School and College’, in Mingora, Swat, Pakistan. After school, when they boarded the school bus, they noticed that the streets had an unusual deserted look. The school bus had just gone a little further when two young men, stopped the bus, boarded it and shouted at the girls, “Who is Malala?” The eye movements of the scared girls were hints enough for the men to know who amongst them was Malala. Before the girls could realise, the men had shot Malala in her head, leaving her unconscious, and two of her friends wounded. Malala was just 15 years old then and her crime – she stood for her right to education.

On her 16th birthday on July 12th 2013, Malala was given the exceptional honour of addressing the Youth Assembly of the United Nations. Malala had become a celebrity. On October 11th 2013, she was in the White House meeting President Barack Obama and on October 18th 2013, she was meeting the Queen of England. Her felicitations and her campaign continued. In November 2013, Malala along with Malia (the eldest daughter of President Barack Obama) was named as one of the 16 most influential teens of 2013 by Time.

What is fuelling Malala’s global fame and her new found celebrity status? Perhaps, Malala is being viewed as a change agent. While Malala is trying to bring out change, it is debatable if she is an accidental change agent or a purposeful change agent. Can she be a crusader for girls’ education in general and girls’ education in the Arab world in particular?..................

Swat Valley: Road to Retrogression

Lush green hills, majestic rivers and lakes, magnificent mountain ranges, is an apt description of the Swat Valley – located in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly known as the North West Frontier Province), of Pakistan (Exhibit I). However, the serenity of the place was terribly disturbed in 2007, when Taliban took over the Swat Valley, stamping their authority with regressive diktats..............

Education in Pakistan: Yawning Gaps

According to the findings of the RESULTS Educational Fund (REF), a non-profit citizen’s advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., in 2011, Pakistan had the third highest number of out of school children of primary school age in the world (Exhibit II)..............

Malala: A Crusader for Girls’ Education

Despite the extremist measures of Taliban, people like Ziauddin Yousafzai (Yousafzai), Malala Yousafzai’s father and his friend Ahmad Shah continued running schools, for boys and girls in Swat, amidst security provided by the local army. Yousafzai had pursued the dream of establishing his own school which had over time, developed into a reputed institution (Khushal School and College) imparting education to more than 1000 children. Yousafzai’s daughter, MalalaYousafzai (Malala) also studied in the school being run by her father................

A Teenager is Shot for Demanding her Right to Education!

By 2012, although the influence of Taliban in Swat had reduced, some militants were still present in the valley. Life was returning back to normal in Swat but Yousafzai’s family and friends feared for his life as he was known as a social and educational activist. However, Yousafzai was concerned as Malala was also at risk, given her popularity in the valley. As her mother feared for Malala’s safety, Malala no longer walked to school despite it being nearby..............

Malala: A Change Agent

The presence of Taliban in Swat had deteriorated the status of education in the valley. While education had been denied to all the girls in the valley, it was Malala who stood up to speak against the ban and demanded her right to education. She was perhaps rightly named after Malalai of Maiwand (Malalai), a brave young lady, who according to Afghan folklore had led the local Pashtun27 fighters against the British during the second Anglo-Afghan war of 1880...........

Universal Change Agents

History is replete with examples of universal change agents (Annexure I; by no means an exhaustive list though). While some fought for change with enormous personal sacrifices, others have shown a path with their social entrepreneurial approaches – Khan Academy and Teach for America to name a few (Exhibit VIII). These change agents had a vision and with testing times their vision stood the ground. Such was the power of these change agents that their influence transcended physical borders and engulfed other purposes as well............


Exhibit I: Location of the Swat Valley in Pakistan

Exhibit II: Countries with the Highest Populations of out-of-school Children of Primary School Age, 2011

Exhibit III: Global Literacy Rates vs Literacy Rates in Pakistan (in %)

Exhibit IV: Top 10 Countries with the Most Female Out-of School Children (2008–2011)

Exhibit V: Ratio of Girls to Boys in Education; Selected States with GDP Comparable To Pakistan (2010)

Exhibit VI: UN Millennium Development Goals

Exhibit VII: Malala’s Claim to Fame: Timeline

Exhibit VIII: Social Entrepreneurial Approach to Universal Education

Teaching Note Preview

Malala Yousafzai: Change Agent in an Unchanged World?


Prerequisite Conceptual Understanding

Prerequisite Conceptual Understanding (PCU) material is the background material that would aid immensely in mapping the decision areas of this case study and bring a synthesis amongst the relevant concepts. The participants/students should be encouraged to read this material to benefit from the broader perspectives outlined in the case study.

  • 1. To understand the nuances of change management – Stephen P. Robbins, et al., “Organizational Change”, Organizational Behavior, 12th edition, Pearson Education
  • 2. To understand the prerequisites for effecting change – Harold L. Sirkin, et al., “The Hard Side of Change Management”, Harvard Business Review, October 2005
  • 3. To identify the reasons that may lead to failure in effecting change – John P. Kotter, “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail”, Harvard Business Review, March–April 1995



This case study was written to analyze the concept of a universal change agent against the backdrop of the thought provoking story of Malala Yousafzai (Malala), the teen education activist from Pakistan. Suitable for ‘Leadership and Change Management’ module in Organizational Behavior course, this case study provides an opportunity to discuss several concepts such as change agents, their types and how they evolve into universal change agents, leaders and their vision, etc. The case study facilitates answers to questions like – who can be termed as a change agent? When can a change agent be called a universal change agent? The case study enables a debate – if Malala can become a universal change agent in the field of girls’ education.

As Malala’s story is quite evolving in nature, the classroom analysis and discussion might steer towards animated points of view. However, the discussion has to be moderated to avoid digression from the topic of ‘change agents’ to other global political issues. More than anything else, this case study helps sensitizing the participants towards a global problem, i.e., the poor state of girls’ education.

Pedagogical Objectives

  • • To analyze the characteristics of a social change agent and debate on whether Malala – in the light of her emerging as a new voice for ‘Global Girl Education’ – can stand the test of time and be a universal change agent
  • • To debate her effectiveness as a leader in achieving her vision
  • • To debate and discuss on the connotations of accidental and purposeful change agents and analyze the suitable approach for sustained success


Assignment Questions

The discussions and debates broadly answered the following questions which in-turn helped achieve the three pedagogical objectives listed above:

  • I. What are the characteristics of a universal change agent? Can Malala be a universal change agent?
  • II. What is Malala’s vision? As a leader, will she be able to achieve her vision?
  • III. What according to you are the differences between purposeful change agents and accidental change agents? Whose change initiatives do you think are more pronouncing and sustainable?


Teaching Plan

The Teaching Note follows a defined Teaching Plan [Annexure (TN)-I], which guides in conducting the classroom discussion on the case study.............


Exhibit (TN)-I: Universal Change Agents

Exhibit (TN)-II: Identifying Features of Universal Change Agents


Annexure (TN)-I: Teaching Plan

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Product code: OB-1-0001, OB-1-0001A


This case study enables discussion on the concept of 'Social Change Management' in the backdrop of an engaging and heart-rending experience of the protagonist, Malala Yousafzai, the teen education activist from Pakistan, as she chose to demand the right to education. Malala is being viewed as a social change agent, as she continues to campaign for girls' education.
Can Malala go on to be a universal change agent like the other popular change agents the world has seen so far? Critics argue if Malala is an accidental change agent or a purposeful change agent. The case study helps analyze Malala as a change agent vis-a-vis 4Cs-Context, Character, Communication and Calibrated/Calculated Response.

Pedagogical Objectives

  • To analyze the characteristics of a social change agent and debate on whether Malala- in the light of her emerging as a new voice for 'Global Girl Education'-can stand the test of time and be a universal change agent
  • To debate her effectiveness as a leader in achieving her vision
  • To debate and discuss on the connotations of accidental and purposeful change agents and analyze the suitable approach for sustained success

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