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Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Dr Maha Hosain Aziz of ‘The Global Kid’ Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

The comic teaches kids (and anyone really) that frankly, we are all activists now who have to help struggling governments tackle global challenges.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Maha Hosain Aziz.

Dr. Maha Hosain Aziz is a professor, keynote speaker, author and cartoonist focused on global risk & prediction in NYU’s MA International Relations Program. She is a risk expert in the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council, and on occasion, she still consults via the world’s first crowdsourced consultancy Wikistrat and other networks. Her 2016 political comic book, The Global Kid, won seven awards (all profits to charity) and was a Top 16 Amazon bestseller; its sequel with VR/AR elements launched in Dec 2021 with EdTech partner Musemio and contributor AR Market; her first book Future World Order was a Top 15 Amazon bestseller and won seven global awards (15% of profits to her brother’s memorial fund). She is a Jordanian-born Pakistani who grew up in the Middle East (Jordan, Saudi Arabia), Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia), Europe (UK, Greece) and the US. She is a social scientist trained at Brown (BA), Columbia (MA) and the LSE (MSc, PhD).

VR: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qrWeuoOH6M (voiced by my niece)

AR: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nr5IvPbfpPc (based on my rescue dog Lucky)

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up as a global kid with strong Pakistani Muslim roots. In fact, I lived in seven countries by age 14 — Jordan, Greece, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, UK, Singapore, and with my final two years of school here in the US (UN International School in NYC). With the full support of my mother, my dad was able to have a successful 30-year banking career globally, so we three Aziz kids grew up seeing the world and being exposed to different cultures and mindsets. This perspective as a global citizen from a young age really shaped who I am and what I do today. I’m very grateful for it! And I want to keep sharing this perspective through my work — whether it’s through my books, speeches, classes and of course my comic books.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

I’m an NYU professor, author and speaker focused on global risk and future trends, but the truth is my first childhood dream was to be a cartoonist — Archie comics were actually my biggest influence growing up! I used to create my own stories with the characters and also make my own — I even designed a video game version of my creations :) This is why it has meant so much to me to come back to cartooning here in NYC over 20 years later. It began with a cartoon drawing class at the Educational Alliance, which then led to drawing my first Global Kid comic in 2016 (it won its seventh education award in 2021.) But it was only during the first few months of the pandemic in 2020, while I was staying with my parents during the lockdown in London, that I finally found the right team to take The Global Kid to the next level — into the virtual and augmented realms!

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I think the most interesting mistake during my 10-year career has been to assume that people want to hear new ideas to make sense of our changing world. The reality is there are some who just want to be stuck in the past, holding onto old ideas to understand new global trends. When promoting my first book Future World Order (2020), I traveled globally for a year till the pandemic began — in fact, my final talk and awards event was in Cairo in March 2020. In my book, I emphasize global trends like the rise of anti-government sentiment, the surge in hate, and so on. What I was always struck by was that some audience members simply didn’t want to consider new ideas — many didn’t want to believe that the problems of their neighboring country or an emerging market in another part of the world were comparable to what was happening in their own borders. But this motivates me to keep sharing my ideas to help more people make better sense of the world and what’s next!

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

Step One is to promote the political comic book with tweens around the world. We will connect with schools and youth groups so more students (age 8–12+) will be exposed to the political content in The Global Kid. Step Two is to share this comic with the edtech community, especially if we can complement their educational products. Step Three, and perhaps most important, is to share the comic with underprivileged kids via education foundations globally; I hope to connect with these kids virtually or in person about the comic book project — the tech, the artwork, the political content. There’s lots to talk about! I’m also curious about NFTs — can we make a Global Kid NFT that educates people on a specific political idea from the comic?

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

The comic is loosely based on my life as I grew up like The Global Kid moving around! But what’s most interesting about the comic is that it is educational, capturing key ideas about global politics today from my books Future World Order and A Global Spring (2022). The comic teaches kids (and anyone really) that frankly, we are all activists now who have to help struggling governments tackle global challenges.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

The pandemic has been a time of reflection for many of us and hopefully, we have all learned something from this shared experience. As a social scientist, it made me realize it was more important than ever to help others make sense of the world and what might be next — this is why I started writing A Global Spring for adults and The Global Kid for tweens. I took time to reflect on my original comic from 2016 and saw the potential for more. I lucked into an introduction to award-winning London-based edtech firm Musemio plus Rome-based collaborators AR Market and artist Mara Angelilli — and the all-female global team to create the female superhero of The Global Kid was born! I also recruited family to help me in this project — my nieces in Dubai and London voiced The Global Kid in VR and gave my team critical first user feedback; plus my sweet rescue dog, 8-year-old Yorkiepoo Lucky here in NYC, inspired the canine sidekick in the comic :) Winning the US-based Moonbeam Children’s Book Award and being a finalist in the Germany-based Digital Female Leaders Award in 2021 — before we publicly launched the comic — showed we were on the right track. And earlier this month the comic made its debut on the Top 25 Amazon bestsellers list.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

A few tweens read preview copies of The Global Kid. Their responses really warmed my heart! It made me feel that reading the comic and experiencing the VR and AR truly enhanced their understanding of the world — and their activist role in shaping it. One 8 eight-year-old boy said, ”The book is about helping to save the planet and building a better future. I like the supergirl!” Another nine-year-old girl said, “I like it because it’s about the world right now. I want to save the world too when I grow up.” This is why we want to reach kids globally through the comic — and as soon as possible.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Step One is to understand what the problems actually are — and appreciate that these are global problems that impact all of us. Everyone needs to note our crisis of global leadership, the decline of political governance, threats to globalization and rising hate in most countries, on top of chronic issues like climate crisis. Step Two is to recognize that governments are struggling to tackle many of our domestic and global challenges. Step Three is to understand that this means it is even more important that we each think about what role we can play — how we can be more activists to help fill the gap left by the government? This is the core message of The Global Kid.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership to me is about giving back to our global community and in this way this means setting an example to others. First, I share my ideas in and outside of my classroom through my classes, speeches, books and of course comics so my fellow global citizen can make better decisions in a world of growing global risk. Second, I often donate a percentage of my profits to global causes: for instance, I donated 50% of the first week’s profits from The Global Kid to the WHO’s Covid Solidarity Response Fund; I also donated 15% of my first book’s profits and 100% of my first comic’s profits to my brother’s memorial fund for Syrian refugee youth — the Abid Aziz Fund at charity Peace and Sport.

What are “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story.

  1. Don’t Overplan Your Career (Or Life): Sometimes things turn out differently from what we expect — and it can be a blessing. Although NYU is my home base, I have had a portfolio career in the last decade, with global risk-focused projects across different industries. Others will judge you for following a less traditional and more creative path — please ignore them.
  2. Think In Shades of Gray, Not Black or White: We waste so much time and energy arguing with each other about everything, especially politics. It’s perfectly fine to have strong opinions but always consider the counter-points. Maybe there’s a middle ground. We need to argue less and help each other more.
  3. Being Young Is Not a Disadvantage: I think in some ways kids and teens today are way more savvy than older generations, especially with new technologies. For example, these days teenagers are making millions with NFTs! And, although I primarily work with graduate students at NYU, I also teach my specialty to high schoolers around the world via e-learning company Pioneer Academics. Generation Z frankly seems ready to take on the world!
  4. You Decide Your Potential — No One Else: This is self-explanatory. So please don’t waste time feeling bad if someone tries to limit you or put you down; recognize this is a reflection on them — not you. Think about what you want to contribute to the world. Be creative in how you approach your work, put some effort into it and hope for some luck!
  5. Kindness Is Important: We have all been so stressed during the pandemic; global mental health is at an all-time low. So don’t underestimate the power of kindness in your work and life in general (even if some might take advantage). It’s perfectly ok to just be nice and show compassion for others — it’s not a weakness.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

We are all in this together. I don’t know who first said this but it is more relevant than ever with so many global challenges that do not have clear, quick solutions. What can we each do for our global community? That’s the lesson we should each carry with us.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Well, I’ve now created two superhero comics and two books about politics — so it’s safe to say I’m a huge fan of actor Chris Evans! He played superhero Captain America in the Marvel movies and started the unique political media company A Starting Point (ASP). I think both are very impressive accomplishments! I would love to work with him (and his co-founder Mark Kassen) on an ASP project focused on global politics; and I’d love to share The Global Kid with him to see his reaction to the political and creative content (I also wouldn’t mind organizing a playdate for our super cute rescue dogs, Dodger and Lucky!)

I think it is so impressive that other actors who play superheroes have really leveraged their brand to do good too: Sebastian Stan regularly supports kids charity Our Big Day Out in his native Romania; Tom Holland created the Brothers Trust with his family to shine a light on small charities; Robert Downey Jr. created the Footprint Coalition to invest in startups that are trying to make the world a better place. This should inspire us to do more. You don’t have to be a celebrity or have a public profile to help your fellow global citizen of course. But, if they are reading this, please keep it up!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Follow me on Instagram (the_global_kid), Twitter (@DrMahaAziz), LinkedIn and Facebook. Check out my comic and book websites: www.theglobalkid.org and www.futureworldorder.org. The Global Kid: A VR/AR Political Comic Book is out now on Amazon; my book A Global Spring: Predictions for a Post-Pandemic Era is available for pre-order and out in March.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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