Empowering education for girls in Pakistan

03 Jun 2021 Article Banner

For International Women’s Day 2021, we released a new lesson for the Good Trouble world that celebrates the groundbreaking work of Malala in her quest for women’s education. One member of the Minecraft team has a meaningful connection with this lesson. Saher Hirji, Minecraft’s Director of Web and Live Operations, originally comes from Pakistan, and she has a special appreciation for the transformative power of education for women.

We had the chance to partner with students and teachers in Karachi, Pakistan to walk through the lesson, and Saher spoke with the girls who participated. It was amazing to witness a Pakistani-American member of our team speak directly to young learners in her home country in South Asia, especially during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Watch this video to see how role modeling and opportunities for digital learning empower girls to dream big.

After meeting with the students from Pakistan, Saher shared her own experience and outlined why education for girls is so personally important to her.

Growing up in Pakistan, I was acutely aware that I was one of the fortunate ones. I came from a family of strong, educated women who laid the path forward for the next generation to prioritize education—particularly for girls. Despite this support, I faced many challenges before I could overcome social barriers and transcend what society expected from me. Most of the population around me wasn’t as fortunate.

Early in my life, I personally witnessed how education had uplifted women and transformed my own family. My grandmother was born under British rule in India and migrated to Pakistan with little to no resources and a baby—my father—in her arms. She did, however, have one asset: she was educated. She used that education to propel herself forward, becoming the family’s breadwinner as a school principal. When my mom married my dad, my grandmother made sure to create an enabling environment for my mother to pursue her own education. Within this supportive environment, my mother earned a Master’s in Physics. Together, these two women raised the quality of life and financial means of my family, challenged social norms, and ensured that the next generation could dream even bigger.

After high school and one year of wandering in fashion school, I arrived in the United States, thanks to my sheer persistence in pushing my father to allow me to study abroad. He only felt comfortable because my elder brother had also decided to move there. With little knowledge about the American education system, I enrolled at a community college in Florida and, after excelling there, transferred to Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. I still recall the moment I learned that the dream of attending a top-tier university was no longer impossible. I could hardly breathe as the disbelief and excitement washed over me.

After Emory, I moved to NYC to live a new dream working as a buyer for Macy’s and developed the skills to manage profit and loss for a multi-million dollar product category. This experience not only empowered me through financial independence but also gave me the confidence and self-belief to chart my growth path. As I continued my pursuit of further education, I set the bar even higher by completing an MBA at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. There I learned the power of “Yes, and” as well as the concept of building on people’s ideas to drive inclusion, commitment, and transformation. In fact, it was clear to me that my mom and grandmother had mastered this concept well before I was exposed to it. These women transformed their circle of influence by moving from a belief in education for some to education for all.

After Duke University, my love for technology and creating delightful experiences brought me to Walmart.com, where I led go-to-market planning for Walmart Money and a new online grocery delivery service. I credit this role with teaching me the power of grounding everything you do in a strong “why” so you can approach each situation with clarity of purpose and find passion and meaning. Consequently, as Microsoft Online Stores started expanding, I joined the team responsible for customer acquisition and marketing technology efforts, leading the online store through massive customer growth. Managing this team taught me that respect, care, and trust for one another make a fun and high-performing team.

Today, as the Director of Minecraft Websites, I feel incredibly privileged to be part of an organization that is loved by players globally and has the power to bring delight and learning to so many people around the world. Minecraft speaks to the core of what I value: empowering individuals with skills, creativity, and learning so that every person can realize their full potential.

When I reflect on my own educational pursuits here in the US and the path that led me to the tech world, my journey is predicated on the shoulders of the amazing, educated women before me who changed the course of not only their own lives but also those of the next generation. That is why the cause of promoting and supporting the education of girls is of personal importance. It has the power to catalyze generational impact—mentally, emotionally, financially, and socially.

Minecraft: Education Edition, in particular, has the power to further the cause of education for all in a fun-filled way. This game-based learning platform features thousands of hours of educational content set in immersive virtual worlds where all learners are free to explore, collaborate, and create in ways that ignite a love for learning. The Malala Lesson walk-through with students at schools in Karachi, Pakistan, is an inspiring start to bringing the power of Minecraft: Education Edition to one of the largest young populations in the world through interactive learning. In doing so, we’re playing our part in advancing the learning and exploration of young girls.

I hope that my personal story will inspire both girls and boys in Pakistan and around the world to pursue the best available education, become lifelong learners, and be the catalysts for impact in their own families and societies. For the educators and administrators who pour their enormous energy, their heart, and their soul into educating the next generation, I hope my story may also inspire them to utilize Minecraft: Education Edition in the classroom as a fun and educational tool that can expose young minds to STEM skills, build critical thinking, or drive a conversation about social impact topics such as climate change, diversity, and gender equality.

Inspire the girls in your classroom to jump into their educational pursuits with both feet—whether they’re interested in STEM subjects, computer science, creative writing, entrepreneurship, or anything else their imaginations can conjure. Try the Malala: One Girl Among Many lesson with your students today, and inspire them to be part of the movement to bring education to every girl in the world.

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If you’re interested in using Minecraft: Education Edition in your school or classroom, find out how to get started here.