Hosting a discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, UN special education envoy and former British prime minister Gordon Brown paid tribute to 15-year-old Malala, who was gunned down in Pakistan in October.
"We saw when Malala Yousafzai was shot in Pakistan, girls in Pakistan went on to the streets to protest that they too wanted the education they were being denied," Brown told an elite audience at the luxury ski resort.
Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who is also involved in UN education efforts, said Malala's example showed the need for the international community to help "vulnerable states."
"Her story has affected us all, it has affected teenagers all over the world, my own teenage daughters are thinking about this and worrying about girls' education," she said.
"And that's why this ownership (of the issue) is so important: some girls don't get education because their country is at war and a weak state and a very poor country.
"But some kids, especially girls, don't get their education because of cultural, religious choices in their part of the world."
The Danish premier said all countries should take the responsibility for providing a good basic education where possible, but where failed states were unable to, then the world must help instead.
"Those examples where girls are allowed into schools, where we help in vulnerable states like Afghanistan, that's where we can make a difference," Thorning-Schmidt said.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who appointed Brown last July to lead a campaign to get 61 million more children into school by 2015, opened the discussion by saying that the world "cannot afford a lost generation".
"Education must be a top priority of global and development agendas -- this is not an option it is an imperative," he told the audience of global politicians and business leaders.
Malala was shot on her school bus in northwestern Swat in October by Taliban gunmen for the "crime" of promoting girls' education, but survived the murder attempt.
Malala first rose to prominence aged just 11 with a blog for the BBC Urdu service in 2009 in which she described life in Swat during the bloody rule of the Taliban.
She is still recovering from her injuries at a hospital in Britain.
Brown has pushed Malala's case and in November visited Pakistan to present a million-signature petition to the government calling for change.