Shabana Basij-Rasikh is cofounder and president of The School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA), a nonprofit that helps young Afghan women access education worldwide and leadership positions back home. It is the only girls’ boarding school in Afghanistan.
Born and raised in Kabul, Shabana finished high school in the U.S. through the State Department’s Youth Exchange Studies program. She went on to attend Middlebury College in Vermont, graduating magna cum laude in International Studies and Women and Gender Studies in 2011.
At Middlebury, she founded HELA, a nonprofit that empowers Afghan women through education. Shabana raised funds across the United States to build a high school for girls in her ancestral village, and wells in the outskirts of Kabul. She was selected one of Glamour magazine's Top 10 College Women in 2010 and received the Vermont Campus Compact 2011 award for outstanding public service. In 2011–12 Shabana was the National Gender Mainstreaming Advisor at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development in Kabul.
Shabana now focuses her attention on unlocking the economic potential of Afghanistan by improving its educational system to produce exceptional leaders, especially women. To date, SOLA has helped 36 Afghan students from 19 provinces obtain scholarships to 34 schools estimated at $6.3 million. Poised to become Afghanistan’s first internationally accredited girls' school, SOLA has grown from 33 to 340 students from all Afghan provinces and elsewhere in the region.