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Wajahat Ali

When we share our stories, we create an inclusive world—and build a multicultural coalition of the willing.

TED Diversity Speaker | Author of Go Back to Where You Came From | Daily Beast Columnist

Contact Wajahat For Booking
Wajahat Ali | TED Diversity Speaker | Author of Go Back to Where You Came From | Daily Beast Columnist
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

How do we build a compassionate and inclusive America in an age of distrust? Wajahat Ali knows from personal experience that when we come together to be the superheroes of our own stories, we can create honest social change. The beloved TED speaker has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Atlantic about our urgent issues—immigration, politics, parenthood—with boldness, hope, and humor. His memoir Go Back to Where You Came From, one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Year, follows his life as a Muslim Pakistani-American on a surprising, emotional, and challenging quest for the good life. Iconic journalist Katie Couric says that “we are all so fortunate to be on the receiving end of his intellect, his humanity, and his heart.”

“With wit and charm, Ali delivers a masterful meditation on growing up brown in America...he gives us a clear-eyed affirmation of the country America could be.”

— Mara Gay, New York Times

  
Wajahat Ali uses his platform to fight tirelessly for the social change we need in our country—and he isn’t afraid to get personal while doing it. The Daily Beast columnist and former New York Times writer, TED speaker, award-winning playwright, and Peabody-nominated producer of the documentary series The Secret Life of Muslims offers us his experiences of triumph over hardship as a beacon of hope and resilience in the face of life’s impossible situations. From his experiences of Islamophobia growing up as a Muslim Pakistani-American to his two-year-old daughter’s liver cancer diagnosis, Wajahat is living proof that when we share our authentic stories, we build the America we wish to live in.”


In his memoir Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American, Wajahat teaches us how to create our own superhero origin story, invest in hope for the future of America, and enact real social change. The book was called “biting and funny and full of heart” by NPR. Representative Ilhan Omar called Wajahat’s work “hilarious” and “deeply moving”, and legendary writer Dave Eggers said it was the book he’d “been hoping Wajahat Ali would write for ten years—hilarious, stylistically fearless, deeply humane.”


Wajahat is also the author of The Domestic Crusaders—the first major play about Muslim-Americans in a post-9/11 world. He was the lead researcher and author for the Center for American Progress’s seminal report “Fear Inc., Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” and served as a national correspondent for Al Jazeera America, where he told stories about communities and individuals often marginalized or under-reported in mainstream media.


As Creative Director of Affinis Wajahat Labs, he worked to create social entrepreneurship initiatives to support and uplift marginalized communities. He also worked with the US State Department to design and implement the “Generation Change” leadership program to empower young social entrepreneurs. Wajahat initiated chapters in eight countries, including Pakistan and Singapore. For his work, he was honored as a “Generation Change Leader” by Sec. of State Clinton and recognized as an “Emerging Muslim American Artist” by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. 


He has given keynote speeches around the world such as TED, The Aspen Ideas Festival, Google, the United Nations, and The New Yorker Festival. His writing appears regularly in the New York Times, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, and The Guardian. He’s a Senior Fellow at The Western States Center and Auburn Seminary and co-host of Al Jazeera’s The Stream.

 

Testimonials

“Everything was amazing! Waj was great. We couldn’t have asked for a better speaker. Lavin was a wonderful partner and I hope we can work together in the future.”

UScellular Inclusion Summit
Testimonials

“Wajahat was an outstanding speaker—one of the most engaging we have had in recent years.”

Legal Aid at Work

Speech Topics

Social Justice
Building a “Multicultural Coalition of the Willing” A Path for a New America

Hate. Fear. Anger. Racism. Political polarization. Fake news. These are modern trends rooted in age-old anxiety—the fear of the “unknowable other.” America today is divided and confused, full of tremendous uncertainty. However, Wajahat Ali argues this is also a tired remake. From the rise of white nationalism to anti-immigrant conspiracy theories, America can often feel like an intolerant space, where diverse communities are the frequent targets of bigotry and far-right ideology.

 

But Ali imagines an America remade: united over our shared values, not torn apart by racism or hate. Our country can achieve its pluralistic potential, he says. First, we’ll need to emerge from our partisan cocoons, reach across the aisle, and build lasting partnerships. We need to see religious and cultural difference as the ideas that can bring us together, not rip us apart. And we have to create what he calls a “Multicultural Coalition of the Willing”: a sort of Justice League of diverse Americans who can unite over commonalities. We can resist the forces of bigotry, Ali insists; and in this keynote, he imagines a way to achieve the American Dream for everyone.

 

 
Motivational
Write Your Own Story Using Your Adversity and Hardships to Fuel Success
Wajahat Ali was a shy, overweight, perpetually sick, left-handed only-child of Pakistani immigrants. He was born in America, but only learned to speak English at the age of five. At the age of 21, he left university to help his family. At one point, he lost his family home and was reduced to a $20 in his bank account. How did this dorky, privileged kid, who lost everything, end up pursuing and fulfilling his goals of becoming an attorney, an award-winning playwright, and the co-host of a popular daily talk show?
 
In this talk geared for college students and young professionals, Ali charts how he used failure, awkwardness, economic hardship and the last recession to fuel his unexpected growth from the awkward fifth-grader who almost got kicked out of school to becoming a talk show host and writer for The New York Times. This eventful journey is a funny, heartfelt and practical story of how to use your passion to help overcome hardships and still achieve your goals. 
 
DEI: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
Steps for Creating a Truly Diverse and Inclusive Culture Why “Woke-Washing” Isn’t Enough
In this deliberate, hilarious, and blunt keynote speech, Wajahat Ali gives practical advice and measures on how an organization, a business, or a community can create a diverse and inclusive culture that isn’t just a bumper sticker ideology or a brochure cover with token people of color. Ali shows how a truly diverse and inclusive environment should be about intentional representation and equality. He argues forcefully and convincingly that true diversity is not just toleration and acceptance, but rather it’s a constant disruption, rewarding journey, and necessary challenge that will create economic, social and creative benefit in the long run for all communities.