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Shaharzad Akbar 09

Shaharzad Akbar has vivid memories of a childhood in Afghanistan “filled with the sounds of bombs, gunshots and rockets.” Education, she recalls, was never guaranteed. By the time Akbar was 11, the Taliban had outlawed education for girls, forcing her parents to flee to Pakistan for several years so that their daughter could finish her studies.

Shaharzad Akbar

More than a decade—and a couple of prestigious academic degrees—later, Akbar has returned to her home country, this time as a tireless change-maker, writer and advocate for women's rights and free and fair elections.

At Smith, Akbar studied anthropology and found that being surrounded by smart, ambitious women helped her to “better understand what is needed for the overall empowerment of women everywhere.”

After graduating in 2009, she became the first Afghan woman to study at the graduate level at Oxford University, earning a master's in development studies in 2011.

Since returning home, Akbar has been leading the effort to rebuild Afghanistan as a stable democracy with the promise of a new era of prosperity and growth for the nation. She is the co-founder of QARA Consulting, a public relations and political consultancy, and chairperson of Afghanistan 1400, a nationwide political movement for young Afghans. An active blogger, tweeter and writer, she has become a respected spokesperson for her country and her generation.

“Our lives are not just ours,” Akbar explains. “They belong to the people and communities we represent. We have a responsibility toward the places we hope to change for the better.”