The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Reflecting on the Actions of Nobel Laureates in Effecting Change

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Shasti Conrad with History Professor Annelise Orleck at the Rockefeller Center. Photo by Faith Rotich.

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Shasti Conrad, U.S. Campaign Manager for the 100 Million Campaign with Lailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, shared her experiences working with Nobel Laureates at the Rockefeller Center this spring. Conrad has worked with three Nobel Laureates: President Barack Obama, Malala Yousafzai, and Kailash Satyarthi.

When asked about working with three major change agents, Conrad revealed that the “most common thread is that they all have a very strong sense of self.” She went on to say that while each had a different approach to using their platform for the greater good, they “started movements that all are much bigger than themselves individually, they inspire folks on the ground to create a title wave of change.”

Conrad started working with global leaders when she was not much older than the students who attended her talk. Right out of college she went to work as a field director for President Obama’s 2008 Presidential Campaign.

“Obama was different,” she reflected, “he represented a segment of the population not portrayed in politics and the media.” Conrad felt a connection with then-Senator Obama after reading his book Audacity of Hope for she also struggled to find her identity after being adopted from an Indian orphanage as an infant. After the election, Conrad became a part of the Obama White House’s first internship class. “We didn’t know where the phones were the first couple days,” she laughed, but “there was so much energy” in the White House. That energy carried her onto a permanent position in the administration where she quickly realized that “if people push back, then you’re on the right track.”

After working on President Obama’s 2012 campaign, Conrad “wanted a global perspective on the work we were doing,” so she decided to “invest in [her] own brain” by getting her Master’s at Princeton. While getting her graduate degree, she met Malala Yousafzai who offered her a position as the fifth staff member at the Malala Fund.

“Working with Malala was transformative,” Shasti Conrad told the audience. Conrad believes Malala works to make an impact every day because she knows she’s living on borrowed time. To Malala, each event “needs to have a real grounding in policy, it’s about the work not the celebrity.”

It was at the Nobel Prize ceremony that Conrad met Kailash Satyarthi who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Malala. Conrad thought that “there was a beauty in Malala from Pakistan and Kailash from India receiving the award at the same time.” Kailash Satyarthi, who has worked to eliminate child poverty, trafficking and labor for decades, presented Conrad the opportunity to reconnect with her Indian roots while advancing Kailash’s 100 Million Campaign in the U.S. Conrad believes that “in the next 20-30 years, if we all take this on we could end child labor.”

While she was quick to point out that “we are living in heavy times,” Conrad concluded her talk with a call to action for the students in the audience, “it’s the young people who need to be connected to this work and get things back on track.”

Written by Lauren Bishop ’19, Rockefeller Center Student Program Assistant for Public Programs

The views and opinions expressed, and any materials presented during a public program are the speaker’s own and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Rockefeller Center or constitute an endorsement by the Center.

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