International Women's Day Interview with Lena Alfi, from the Malala Fund

Celebrating and championing women is one of DeMellier’s core values, on International Women’s Day and everyday. In addition to our permanent initiative with SOS Children’s Villages which helps children and women, over the years we have supported a number of women causes such as the Malala Fund. Today we meet Lena Alfi, Chief Development Officer at the Malala fund to discuss girls education and her dedication to helping women.

We should always celebrate women’s achievements and work towards a more equitable world.

Please tell us about yourself

My name is Lena Alfi and I am the Chief Development Officer at Malala Fund, where I oversee an amazing team of individuals who help fundraise for girls’ education. Together, we create partnerships with individuals, corporations and foundations who are passionate supporters of seeing all girls learn and lead. I am Syrian, a mother of two, and have a bachelor’s degree in art history and international relations from the University of Southern California and a masters degree in global human development from Georgetown University, I have been working on women and children’s causes for most of my career, something I am very passionate about.

Please tell us more about Malala Fund and the important work you do?

Ensuring every girl can learn for 12 years could unlock up to $30 trillion in global economic growth. Girls with secondary education become women who are more likely to participate on equal terms in the labor force, lead healthier and more productive lives and be decision-makers at home and in their communities. Malala Fund research shows that educating young women can also help prevent wars, improve public health and even help mitigate the effects of climate change. Despite the benefits, more than 130 million girls are out of school. And Malala Fund is working to break down the barriers that hold girls back. Whether it’s tackling child marriage, education funding, discrimination — our team works around the world to challenge systems, policies and practices to help more girls learn. We do this by investing in local education activists, advocating to hold leaders accountable and amplifying girls’ voices.

How does working for Malala Fund relate to you and your personal story?

I started working on education long before I came to Malala Fund. In my previous role with Middle East Children’s Institute, I was working on providing remedial education for Syrian refugees in Jordan. As a Syrian myself, it’s an issue I care about deeply, and I knew that Malala Fund was also working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Turkey. But when I learned about Malala Fund’s localized approach to grantmaking, I knew I wanted to work there. Malala Fund knows that there are already remarkable education leaders and activists out there who know their communities best are leading projects to help girls learn. To drive broader change, these individuals need more funding and a stronger network of support. Malala Fund offers just that.

What has been your proudest moment as a woman in your career?

Last week, my 3-year-old son had a few days off from school. While we are only going into the office sporadically, I needed to go in for a meeting. My husband and son were playing and while I was walking out of the house, my son said, “Thanks for going to work mama! I’ll see you later.” Juggling work and two small children can often feel overwhelming. Small moments like this bring me pride because I know that my sons will grow up believing that women can and should do anything they want with their lives. If they choose to work, stay-at-home, or anything in between, women can thrive. And in each instance, they can also be great moms, friends, co-workers, partners, leaders, sisters and daughters.

What has been the most challenging part of your role at Malala Fund?

The most difficult part of my job is changing the narrative on the solutions for girls’ education. There is an outdated idea that to get more girls learning, we need to build more schools and focus on enrolment. But we know that the barriers girls face are much more systemic. To solve the real problems keeping girls out of school, this requires global and national level advocacy. We need leaders around the world to develop and implement policies that better serve girls. We need communities to see the value in girls’ potential. And we need more leaders listening to the voices of the girls they serve.

Why do you think it is important to celebrate International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day gives us an opportunity to celebrate the power of women and remind the world of how much more work we all have to do to achieve gender equality. But this should be a year-round discussion. We should always celebrate women’s achievements and work towards a more equitable world. And if we hope to create a world where more women are driving innovation, holding seats in leadership and government or running companies — we need to prioritize girls’ education.

How do you advise people on how they can help and contribute to women’s causes?

Educate yourself on issues affecting women and girls and share what you learn with people in your life. A great place to start is Assembly, a digital publication for young women from Malala Fund. It publishes content by girls from around the world about their lives and issues they care about. And if you’re a young woman and have an idea for an article — our submission form is always open! You can also donate to organizations that work on issues affecting women and girls. To support our work for girls’ education, you can donate at Or rally your friends and family to launch an online fundraiser!

What is the most important message you want to send out to young women?

My message to every young woman and girl is that you can do anything. What I love about Malala Fund is that this organization is centered on girls’ experiences and voices. Malala became an activist at the age of 11. At 16, she co-founded Malala Fund with her father and at 17, she became the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate. To every young woman and girl out there — your voice is important, valued and we want to hear from you!

Which powerful women did you look up to when you were younger?
Whenever I saw women stand out and defy expectations, particularly in male-dominated fields, it inspired me. I love art and was an Art History major in college, so artists like Frida Kahlo, Zaha Hadid and Lee Krasner always fascinated me. They pursued their craft and excelled beyond expectation in an industry that often revered men and ignored women.

Is there anyone that inspires or has inspired you in your career?
Malala! She reminds me everyday to speak up about the issues I care about. One voice can make a huge difference..

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