Sonia Shah Organisation: In conversation with young ambassador, Saanvi Malkani
By Riya Kapoor
When Sonia Shah was 16, she visited her mother's homeland, located in Kangra, Pakistan. She was appalled by what she saw: a minority of girls attending school and the rest made to stay at home due to deep-rooted cultural values. Sonia discovered her life's purpose; she will build an all-girls school in Kangra to provide a safe learning environment and ultimately break down the gender barriers in Pakistan's education system.
In 2011, Sonia founded an organization initially called "The Kulsoom Foundation," named after her grandmother. After Sonia’s untimely and tragic death in 2012, the name was changed to "The Sonia Shah Organization." The foundation's mission is to "engage, educate and empower underprivileged girls and women."
During her Pakistan trip, Sonia noticed electricity and clean drinking water were in short supply. These primary resources are necessary to build a safe and engaging learning environment, so she pushed for the village to buy some land. Once this was secured, a school was built. Unfortunately, just after the school was inaugurated, a terrorist attack took place and destroyed the school's walls, windows, and water plant. It quickly became realized that the society around the foundation was not happy with the education push for girls. Sonia's family did not let this deter their ultimate mission. They rebuilt the school with higher walls and top-notch security and completed it by April 2015. In these past six years, the organization has grown beyond just Pakistan but includes scholarship opportunities for promising young women worldwide.
Saanvi Malkani, a junior at Lake Forest Academy in Chicago, is a young ambassador for the Sonia Shah Organization. When asked what drew her to the organization, Malkani stated, "I have always advocated for women's and human's rights, but I felt disconnected from the cause. I believe that advocacy that is not followed by action is just talk." Malkani and the SSO team have taken many steps to build this foundation and offer more resources to underprivileged communities around the globe. They can now provide schooling for not just girls but older women and boys as well. To keep the focus on Sonia's original mission of educating girls, the same family must register at least two girls for every one boy enrolled. The schools also offers vocational training for older women that never had the chance to attend school in their younger years. This stays true to their mission of empowering underprivileged girls and women. This goal unites a diverse team of passionate individuals from all over the world. "What I love about the SSO organization is the diversity. Our team ranges from 14 years of age to 30 years but we are constantly unified by Sonia's mission of improving global economies, creating stable families and ultimately instilling a better future for girls and women," stated Malkani.
In 2020, Malkani pitched the idea of doing a Walk-a-Thon fundraiser for the organization. "It was one of the most intimidating but amazing experiences I have ever been a part of. Even with COVID restrictions and it being a virtual event, we still were able to raise over 5,000 dollars!" said Malkani. "It was incredible to watch how committed people were to Sonia's mission and how it touched people's hearts." She started working with SSO last summer, and she plans to stay affiliated with them for her whole life. Malkani believes this is not something she can outgrow; there is no end to helping women achieve equality and education. "At some point I hope that women won't have to give their blood, sweat and tears to get a book. My ultimate goal is to make a quantifiable change in someone's life, whether that is through the young ambassador program or going overseas to the schools in Pakistan itself." Malkani concluded, "What good is my education if I am not using it to help others?"
The Sonia Shah organization continues to stay true to its values of confidence, accountability, humility, resilience, dedication, courage, and authenticity. While there are still many gender barriers to break down, organizations such as SSO are pioneers in the mission for equality and equity for underprivileged women and girls.
For more information about Sonia and her mission for equality, visit