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The Business of Hope

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I woke up on Thursday, the UN's first International Day of the Girl, wondering how Malala Yousafzai is doing. In critical condition, she was shot by the Taliban for her courageous defense of human rights -- specifically, a girl's right to an education.

I received a message the night before from one of the star volunteers at BRAC, the inspiring organization where I work, who reminded me that those of us fighting to end poverty and injustice are really in the business of hope. That volunteer, Tarini Mohan, went through a near catastrophic road accident last year and has been making a slow recovery -- aided, she says, by the expectation that things will get better.

Even economists like Esther Duflo of MIT, writing about extreme poverty, have argued recently that hope is the great elixir -- that optimism itself might be the best asset for anybody facing personal struggles and challenges.

If Tarini she could speak to Malala right now, I imagine that she might tell her what she told me: "There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow."

Here is Tarini's letter in full.

Hope can really perform wonders. It makes you believe for a fact that everything will turn out just fine and that this is just a blip in time.

I had hoped for a full recovery within one year of my road accident last year, and while I haven't yet recovered fully, reaching the stage I was at pre-accident, I am where I am now only because I had a whole lot of hope back then. That's why I would have to choose the fool as my answer to the question: Would you rather be the wise man or the fool?

For much of last year I was a "fool", not knowing just how serious my condition was. I just thought that as with almost all conditions, there is a period of recovery, and once that period passes, I would be back to normal.

Now I know that for head injuries that is not the case. Recovery lasts a lifetime, not just some years. And it is painfully slow after the initial bursts of advances. The improvements you make are almost invisible -- only noticeable by those people who see you after quite some time.

Last year, when it had already been about a year since the accident, I was in a hurry to re-claim my life. So I did what I was doing at the time of that fateful crash and I applied to business school. My father and my boyfriend only now tell me that they thought I was crazy at the time; they didn't think that I would be able to manage the rigors of non-stop therapy followed by attentive and meticulous work on the seven essays I had to write for my application to Yale - and that, too, with one working hand, a right-hander with a left functional hand.

I also had to prepare for an in-person interview with my speech having been affected by the injury I suffered. Yet because I thought I would be 100 percent fine by now, fine enough to re-start student life, I threw myself fully into my application for an MBA. I was so ready for my life to change for the better that I really could believe that there was a purpose in my applying right away. The light shining at the end of this very dark tunnel was too spectacular to not work doubly hard towards it.

Working hard towards that goal didn't take away from me getting better -- much the opposite in fact. It made me want to get better faster. So I would do 'therapy homework' every evening for about two hours. Pushing myself a little more every day, I thought, would definitely get me where I wanted to be in a year's time.

Having knowledge about my condition then wouldn't have helped at all. It would have made me more practical. But 'hope' made me have a different set of expectations. I pushed the limits of what seemed feasible.

Dream to your fullest potential and want the seemingly impossible. Working towards those lofty goals is the only way to make even the little-less-lofty possible. Imagine a law school student who vehemently wishes that he could become a Supreme Court justice. This lofty goal requires a few basic achievements in law school, surely. Let's say that he has to be at the top of his class, have leadership roles in a large number of student organizations and have internships at creditable institutions. Now, we know that he would not seriously wish to be a Supreme Court justice if it was not in his capability at all to perhaps one day become one. If it wasn't in his ability at all, then there is no way anything or anyone could bring him to do all the hard work required.

Hope and expectations are inextricably linked. You seriouslyhope for only that which you expect can possibly happen. Hope is strong when you believe in the desired goal being accomplished as definite, and the desired goal is only reached when hope is strong.

With all the limitations and adversity I faced, I still saw my desired goal through. Yes, I actually got into the Yale School of Management. Did I go? No, I deferred, to give myself another year to hope. I have been transformed from a fool to a wise (wo)man and now I know exactly the odds I face. However, seeing what I have managed to accomplish when I had the flame of hope ignited inside me, I have made the conscious decision to fight my way through.

I know there will be many obstacles in my path, but I will cross them as I have done in the past. That's what wise (wo)men do isn't it?

So, you too, law student: Continue striving towards becoming a Supreme Court justice. If you fail, you might become an appeals court justice. Big shame!

As it turns out, hope can be a powerful force for anyone, anywhere -- the law school student in America, the woman in Bangladesh struggling with extreme poverty and the girl in Pakistan who just wants to go to school.

If you give somebody reason to aim for a brighter future, everything changes. And despite the headlines, change is happening quietly, on the community level, in places around the world.

People like Malala and Tarini give me the hope I need to get through my day.