Sakena Yacoobi speaks with little girls

Sakena Yacoobi, MPH, alumna of the School of Public Health

Stellar could describe the past year for Sakena Yacoobi, MPH, alumna of the School of Public Health. A humanitarian nonprofit leader in her native Afghanistan, she has received three notable recognitions in 2015-2016. She is founder and CEO of the Afghan Institute of Learning.

First, she was a featured speaker at TEDWomen 2015, sharing about how she prevented the Taliban from shutting down her schools for women and children. Watch her moving speech.

Yacoobi also won the 2015 WISE Prize for Education, an initiative of the Qatar Foundation, led by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser of the same country. WISE stands for World Innovation Summit for Education.

"It is our aim that this prize should raise global awareness of the crucial role of education in all societies, and create a platform for innovative and practical solutions that might help alleviate some of the challenges that education faces around the world,” the sheikha says.

Yacoobi says she felt honored and blessed to be chosen as laureate of the WISE Prize for Education.

“It is particularly meaningful because this is such a crucial time in Afghanistan,” she explains. “My people live in terror and poverty. They are suffering and feel hopeless. Yet, at this moment a light has appeared.

“With this prize, we know that we can continue to educate more and more Afghans,” she says, “giving them hope and encouraging them to go forward no matter what they are facing. It is such a great gift to me, and I dedicate the prize to the Afghan Institute of Learning and all of the women, men and children we are educating.”

The award carries a gold medal and $500,000 (U.S.)

“Now, we can continue to educate more and more Afghans, giving them hope and encouraging them to go forward, no matter what they are facing," Yacoobi says.

Most recently, Yacoobi won the 2016 Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education (International Winner) from McGraw-Hill Education and Arizona State University.

The prize, which includes a bronze sculpture and $50,000, was founded in 1988 and recognizes outstanding individuals who are making a difference by dedicating themselves to improving education through new approaches.

David Levin, president and CEO of McGraw-Hill Education, says Yacoobi’s accomplishments and innovation deserve laud.

Of Yacoobi and her two fellow winners, he notes, “[They] have changed the lives of millions of students.”

"I am honored and elated to receive this prestigious award and at such a crucial time as this, when my country, Afghanistan, is at a tipping point,” Yacoobi says.

“Winning this award not only gives me hope, it inspires me to keep working even harder to bring transformation to the marginalized, oppressed and unjustly treated in society. I am educating women and children, exposing them to modern knowledge so they can rebuild our country.

“The women and young people are the ones who will recover global society from ignorance to a more progressive community that nurtures all people through love and compassion with wisdom and tolerance.”