For Mariam Khosravani, a longtime resident of Irvine that moved to the United States after the start of the Iranian Revolution, finding that the representation of women of Middle Eastern or Persian descent was missing or not done right in media was a matter that had to be acted upon. Continuing her education here in her 20s, and embarking upon her chosen professional career path, she wanted women like her to have a voice and be involved in the community. In her eight-year tenure as community services commissioner for the city of Irvine, Khosravani experienced interacting with the multicultural local population and the need to create a platform for “women making a difference in society, acknowledging their contributions, and also bringing them together.”
The Iranian American Women’s Foundation (IAWF) was established in Irvine in 2012 to accomplish that. “When I started it, I had no idea that everyone would embrace it. Now we have four chapters in the U.S. and in 2017, we took it international to Canada and London, bringing women together from all walks of life,” says Khosravani of the professional women’s networking organization that has since offered an annual leadership conference and other career development programs. Khosravani serves as Founder but has a board of trustees, directors and advisors steering the organization. She is especially proud of the Mentorship to Internship program, a four-stage process that though only in its second year has attracted about 100 candidates across all four chapters.
Whether in Orange County, Los Angeles, Northern California or New York, IAWF helps students by assigning them a mentor, providing scholarships, organizing educational tours, and then assisting with internships upon graduation. Last year’s tour included a visit to Silicon Valley technology companies and another trip to Washington, D.C., prior included visits to the World Bank, NPR and Voice of America. This month, the Annual Charity Poker Tournament at the Bicycle Hotel and Casino will benefit the program.
“Through the mentorship program, we create a practical platform where mentees overcome obstacles and excel in the field of their choice,” says Tannaz “Tawny” Mazarei, a civil litigation attorney in Irvine serving as the president at IAWF. “A review of the statements from our mentees and the videos testimonials on our website attests to the great impact this program has on the lives of the younger generation.” Additionally, IAWF also gives back by providing resources for the local homeless and domestic violence victims. She adds, “We are consistently looking for new outlets and avenues to connect, inspire and empower women in the local community.” For Khosravani, that vision includes women from different organizations coming together.
“You don’t have to be Iranian American,” says the IAWF founder. “We welcome women from any community, faith, background or nationality.” In fact, all events are held in English, and the organization is always looking for volunteers and mentors to assist with their operations, as well as seeking internship opportunities with organizations in the area for mentees from their programs to participate in. In addition to their annual programming, this year also featured an August summer wellness retreat in Irvine — an all-day event featuring yoga, meditation, sound healing, conscious nutrition, mindfulness, vision work and wellness workshops offered to participants as tools and practices to inspire balanced and mindful living.
Attending the retreat was a life-changing experience for Monir Jalili, president of InstantFigure, Inc., an apparel manufacturing business in Irvine. “This event covered issues related to women’s health, wellness and spiritual practice, and gave great ideas to manage the daily stress and pressures we face,” she says. As an active member with IAWF since 2012, Jalili adds, “I am honored [by] the opportunity to empower women, impact communities, and transform their lives and those of next generations.”
In fact, it is the next generation that Khosravani has her sights set on. As a first-generation Iranian moving to the U.S., she faced the same challenges as many others — from learning a new language and culture to earning an education and employment. She hopes IAWF can “provide role models to younger generations to help them walk this path easily and teach them how they can give back to society.” Khosravani’s concern is, “For many that were born here or moved here as a child, they don’t associate themselves with the culture as much as their parents. When they come to our conference and see their community members’ achievements, I hope they are proud and feel a sense of belonging, that they are inspired, and it gives them hope and a vision to look forward to.”
The city of Irvine, of course, holds a special place in Khosravani’s heart as she has called it home for more than 25 years. “This is my city,” she says fondly. She has served on the boards of many organizations including the United Way of Orange County, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, California Community College Foundations, and the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian-Americans. She is a member of the Advisory Board of PBS SoCal, Orange County’s PBS station as well as a 2015 recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, all while she continues to find satisfaction in her current role of 15 years as the executive director of the Coastal Community College Foundation. For 2020 and beyond, Khosravani would like IAWF to partner more with local nonprofits.
She hopes IAWF can connect with other women’s organizations in Irvine and across the country, even if it’s an annual event to network and help each other. “I always believe we started the organization for Iranian American women but it isn’t just for us. It’s for bringing all of us women together to provide our services to the community. In the end, the message, especially these days, is that communication and understanding, and educating ourselves about different cultures, is very important.”
For more information on events and volunteering opportunities, visit IAWFoundation.org