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Trailblazer, Mariam Khosravani founded the Iranian American Women Foundation (IAWF), a national nonprofit organization, in 2011. IAWF provides a platform for empowerment and networking for Iranian-American women and mentorship opportunities for a younger generation of Iranians. Ms. Khosravani envisioned an organization that brought together multi-generational Iranian-American women to celebrate their personal and professional achievements. Since inception, IAWF has done that and more. With three chapters spread across the country in California and New York, the organization has led countless conferences locally and abroad. Previous conference topics have included providing guidance to Iranian-American women entrepreneurs, exploring best practices in civic participation, and discussing remedies for barriers for advancement in the workplace, to name a few.

On a recent conversation, I explored more deeply how Ms. Khosravani has and continues to propel her vision forward.

What are you most proud of?

I have been most proud of the women I meet at our conferences. Repeatedly, they tell us about the obstacles they have faced and how they rose above it all. They always find a way to recover and remain optimistic. They didn’t give up. I am proud of each and every one of them. For me personally, I think I am most proud of being persistent. I live everyday knowing my passion in life is making a difference. It doesn’t matter the scale, small or large.

How do you think these women persevered?

I think number one is believing in yourself. They believed in themselves and their ideas. They had hope, even at the lowest part of their life. They believed in themselves, and if they lost their direction, there was also someone who believed in them.

Who has had the biggest influence in your life?

My father. He taught me to be a giver. I remember when I was around six or seven years old, he took me to what I assumed to be a scary part of Tehran. It was only scary because it was unfamiliar. We would take three things with us: a large sack of rice, cooking oil, and coal. He would distribute it among [destitute] families. My father wanted to show me what a humanitarian does. He was compassionate. I also remember every month, we had three families that would come to our house to get food and clothes. This attitude (to be generous), was driven by a sense of responsibility for something or someone. It was a value I grew up with.

How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?

It’s where I want to be. I think it’s important to leave a legacy, not for egotistical purposes, but to leave a legacy of change for future generation. It’s a fine line. To know that I did all I wanted to do and that I could for our community. This life is too short to just dream about it. One must take action!

Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would do differently?

I wish I was a human rights activist, a judge, or lawyer; advocating for women who don’t have a voice. I came to this realization as I became more involved with our work at IAWF. I learned more about the challenges women face around the world. When I established IAWF, I intended it to be a source of inspiration and empowerment, and a way to connect women. I didn’t realize that IAWF could also give voice to women and because the Board and I were open to this possibility we intentionally decided to do that. We explored topics that hadn’t been discussed before, like taboos in our community. We’re giving a voice to women, in a smaller scale and making a difference. We’re taking action.

What does the future hold?

We can’t predict the future, but I know that whatever I do today sets the path for the future. I hope that IAWF is a place for all women to shine. It doesn’t matter where women reside, what language they speak, or what religion they practice. Also, we were approached by our younger members to do more civic engagement related work so we are working with experts in the field and hope to open this opportunity in the future.

Is there anything you’d like me to ask that hasn’t been asked before?

My favorite quote is “Empowered women, empower women”. I believe there is a power in empowering each other. Maya Angelou said, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” People ask me “Why does your work focus only on women”, to which I respond, “Empowering women is a shortcut to empowering families, communities, and the society.” Each of us has unique circumstances, but let’s make a choice about who we want to be today.

IAWF’s work is a testament to Ms. Khosravani’s dedication and perseverance. I am delighted to see how IAWF has magnified the lens on the experiences of immigrant women with roots in Iran and wish Ms. Khosravani and IAWF the best of luck in their future endeavors.

Yasmine Mahdavi

December 1, 2019

The conversation was edited for print purposes.

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