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Narges Bajoghli and Nikoo Paydar

Bridge-builders Narges Bajoghli and Nikoo Paydar

When the 1979 Iranian Revolution forced many citizens to flee the country in different directions, a sense of connectivity between community members was lost. Determined to rebuild a strong foundation for the Iranian community to flourish upon, twenty-four year-olds Narges Bajoghli and Nikoo Paydar co-founded the Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB) in 2003. IAAB is the only non-profit organization in the Iranian diaspora that focuses on strengthening the connection between Iranian youth. The organization strives to provide various resources and opportunities that will help foster youth empowerment. These opportunities include nation-wide conferences, seminars, and other youth-oriented programming. Having already experienced extraordinary success from their first two conferences and youth leadership camp, IAAB is moving forward to plan more events for the near future. Learn more about how Narges Bajoghli and Nikoo Paydar are transforming a lasting vision into reality by checking out this week’s Non-Profit Spotlight.

Non-Profit

Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB)

Founded

Spring 2003

Website

www.iranianalliances.org

Name

Narges Bajoghli, 24 and
Nikoo Paydar, 24, Co-Founders

Hometown

Narges: Northern VA
Nikoo: Memphis, TN

Current residence

Washington, DC

Education

Narges: – Wellesley College, International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies, 2004
Nikoo: Tufts University, Art History, 2004

Ethnicity

Iranian-American

About the Non-profit

Established in 2003, Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan organization that strengthens the Iranian diaspora community and empowers its youth through conferences, seminars, an annual high-school leadership camp, and other youth-oriented programming.

Our projects are intended to facilitate community building, develop ways to better understand what it means to be part of a diaspora community, and to help Iranians in diaspora enhance connections with their new communities while maintaining connections with their root community.

Most notable milestones

  • Two International Conferences on the Iranian Diaspora (Boston, MA 2004 and Washington, DC, 2005) which engaged over 300 scholars, students, journalists, activists, artists, and NGO leaders. These conferences were the first of their kind in creating a forum for the Iranian diaspora to discuss issues pertinent to our community.
  • The first Iranian-American Leadership Camp for high school students (Thompson Island, MA, June 2006). Students from across the United States gathered for one memorable week to develop leadership skills, connect with their Iranian heritage, and build friendships. The weblog of the camp, including photos and entries from campers themselves, is located at http://www.iranianalliances.org/blog/2006camp.htm
  • Since the 1979 Revolution, Iran has been inaccessible to many, including Iranians abroad. Project Connection, a collaborative project between IAAB and the Iran Studies Group (ISG) at MIT, helps college students find internships in Iran. To date, Project Connection has enlisted over 50 NGOs, universities, and businesses in Iran to host interns/volunteers and over 250 students worldwide have signed up to take advantage of these opportunities. Project Connection’s website: www.project-connection.org
  • Following the destructive 2003 earthquake in Bam and the overwhelming support and response from the Iranian diaspora in relief and reconstruction efforts, IAAB organized a transatlantic seminar series on recovery efforts in Bam. IAAB’s Bam and Beyond: Building Alliances Between Iranian and Iranian Diaspora NGOs, Universities, and Private Sectors seminars, held at Columbia University on November 12, 2005, and at the Hamyaran NGO Resource Center in Tehran on January 26, 2006, brought together representatives from over sixty national and international NGOs, private businesses, and scholars.

What’s the niche?

We’re the only organization in the Iranian diaspora community that focuses on our youth and connecting Iranians in the diaspora. Since the Iranian diaspora community has not existed for very long, we feel it is important to build a strong foundation for our community by providing opportunities for our youth to empower themselves both as individuals and community members.

What’s the biggest challenge?

Given that our community in diaspora is a young one, raising funds for non-profits in our community is still a new concept.

What’s in store for the future?

  • Building on the success of our first two conferences, we will be holding the Third International Conference on the Iranian Diaspora (NYC, 2007) and will be making this a biennial event.
  • Due to the tremendous success of our first Iranian-American Leadership Camp, we will be organizing the Second Iranian-American Leadership Camp (Summer 2007) to ensure that our younger generations continue to grow as leaders and as Iranian-Americans.
  • In trying to humanize Iran for a Western audience, IAAB will be holding two sister exhibitions of Contemporary Iranian and Iranian Diaspora Art in Washington, D.C. and Tehran (Summer 2007).

Who would you like to be contacted by?

We would love to hear from anyone interested in our mission and the programs we create, as well as anyone willing and able to give human and/or financial resources towards our cause.

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Guiding principle in life

N.B.: The harder you work, the luckier you get.

N.P.: Do what you care about—life’s too short.

Yardstick of success

How often our young community members create a stronger Iranian diaspora community with a voice and a social infrastructure for future generations.

Goal yet to be achieved

Having already expanded our staff internationally, we look forward to creating a broader reach through our future programming.

Best practical advice

N.B.: Even when everyone doubts you, keep working hard for what you believe in because it will eventually pay off.

N.P.: Think of yourself as a resource—what can you provide that is unique and meaningful?

Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture

“Go for it!” and “We’re proud of you.”

Mentor

N.B.: My parents. They are a constant source of unbelievable support and advice. They’ve taught me to go after what I believe in and never be afraid of what lies ahead. Each has played a different role in my life as a mentor: my dad is my best friend. He is the best person in the world to get advice from because he always approaches issues with a level head and has treated me as a friend, an equal. “Fear” simply doesn’t exist in his vocabulary and he’s taught my brother and me to go after what we believe in and never be afraid of what lies out in the world. My mom is my biggest supporter and has taught me through example how to interact with different people and adapt to difficult situations. Her strength as a mother, woman, and immigrant is admirable.

N.P.: I have different mentors for different areas of my life: I love to ask for advice from my family, friends, and people I respect.

What motivated you to get started?

After growing up in different cities of the United States, we met for the first time in London at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. During this time we noted the utter lack of communication between our communities at home in the United States, between those American communities and their British counterparts, and between all of these communities and the Iranian community in Iran. Not only was there not much communication, but it was felt that no one was talking about these issues in a public forum. From this experience we resolved to address these issues – and IAAB was born.

What keeps you motivated?

A sense of responsibility to our community. In reality, a desire to create for our community what we didn’t have when we were growing up. And, a hope that we can play a role in humanizing our region of the world for the societies in which we now live.

Like best about what you do

The impact our programs make in people’s lives and the opportunity to meet and work with inspirational people in our community.

Like least about what you do

Convincing wealthy Iranians that giving to community non-profits is an important and worthwhile venture is often challenging, but it is also necessary to create a solid foundation for our community.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

N.B.: The first female player in the NBA—this was before the WNBA existed!

N.P.: I wanted to be a Figure Skating Coach. I did a lot of figure skating back then!

Biggest pastime outside of work

N.B.: Reading, dancing, being with friends, and traveling, traveling, traveling!

N.P.: Traveling, art, and playing violin.

Person most interested in meeting and why

N.B.: I have to mention two people here: my paternal grandmother who passed away months before I was born. I would love to meet her because I’ve heard so many stories of what an incredibly kind and strong woman she was and I know how close my dad was to her. The second person I’d love to meet is Ahmad Shamlu, one of the greatest poets of contemporary Iran. Not only do I love his poetry, but I admire his courage in never being afraid to write what he believed and for understanding the importance of using his pen to be a social critic.

N.P.: My great-grandparents on both sides of my family – they were from Covington, Tennessee; Batesville, Mississippi; and Shiraz, Iran. I would have loved to bring them all together!

Leader in business most interested in meeting and why

N.B.: Steve Jobs because I admire the way he has been able to reinvent himself and consistently work to create what he is passionate about, despite the bumps in the road.

N.P.: Warren Buffett because of his unique approach to business and life.

Three interesting facts about yourself

N.B.: I’m a 3rd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I spent one year studying and researching at the University of Tehran after I graduated college. Also, I’ve been to Cuba and Nicaragua twice each. Actually, I have a funny, Middle Eastern related story about Nicaragua. I served as a country coordinator for the educational non-profit organization, Global Learning, working in public schools in San Jorge (in the south of the country). The kids I worked with were intrigued that I was from Iran and that we write in a different script than the Latin script. So, I decided to teach the Persian alphabet to them, and one of the brightest fourth graders, Michel, took the sheet home and memorized the letters. The next day, he came to school and handed me a note—when I opened it, I saw that he had written me a letter in Spanish but with Persian letters! This became our secret language and we’d pass notes to each other on a daily basis in Spansian (I guess you’d call it). Soon, all the kids started copying Michel, and for a few months all the fourth graders of San Jorge were creating their own language with the Persian alphabet! N.P.: When I was two years old, I decided that I wanted to ice skate and play violin. My parents didn’t believe me at first, but after one year they let me start violin lessons and after two years they let me start ice skating lessons. I ice skated seriously for over 15 years. I played in orchestras and chamber music groups for over 15 years and performed in Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Jamaica. Now violin and ice skating are hobbies.

I participated in a year-long Chinese Foreign Policy cross-cultural exchange program with 26 students from Tufts University, Peking University in Beijing, Hong Kong University and Chinese University, Hong Kong.

In 2002 I traveled to Iran for the first time since my family moved from Shiraz to Memphis when I was two years old. I received a grant from Tufts to lead a conversation group in Shiraz on Iranian perceptions of America and American perceptions of Iran. From this trip, I created a photography exhibition of Iranian lifestyle and culture, which was shown in Boston and London.

Three characteristics that describe you

N.B.: Fun-loving, passionate, and always interested in learning new things.

N.P.: Passionate about whatever I do, persistent, Southern and Iranian

Three greatest passions

N.B.: Teaching, dancing, and all things Middle Eastern (from history to culture and sheesha and music).

N.P.: Art History, particularly contemporary non-Western art.

Travel: India and Nepal with an Indian family, S. Korea with a Korean family, Greece, Egypt, Italy, France, and others.

Helping people through my organization and as an individual.

Favorite book

N.B.: Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres, War and Peace by Tolstoy

N.P.: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Ways of Seeing by John Berger

Favorite cause

N.B.: Education

N.P.: Finding ways to make museums more engaging, especially when it comes to non-Western art.

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Credits

Interview by Ani Zakarian
Introduction by Charlie Mulvey

Also this week

     
Melissa HungAlexis ParraAshwini Srikantiah

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