2019 Civic Engagement Forum

PAAIA’s inaugural Civic Engagement Forum took place in June of 2019 in Washington, DC, bringing together Iranian Americans from across the United States for the first-ever conference of its kind. The flagship event is part of a broader program recently launched by PAAIA, the Civic Engagement Initiative.

In recognition of the historic election of six Iranian American women in 2018, the 2019 conference highlighted female leaders in public service. We celebrated the achievements of Iranian American women and empowered aspiring leaders to get involved in public service, public advocacy, or elected and appointed office.


Mahnaz Afkhami
Yassamin Ansari
Negar Azimi
Narges Bajoghli
Maya Berry
Hon. Anna Eskamani
Hon. Amir Farokhi
Hon. Shireen Ghorbani
Cookab Hashemi
Judge Nahal Iravani-Sani
Samira Jali
Hon. Zahra Karinshak
Sima Ladjevardian
Amanda Makki
Nili Moghaddam
Avideh Moussavian
Vali Nasr
Mitra Jalali Nelson
Ali Nouri
Yasmin Radjy
Jason Rezaian
Mahyar Sorour
Manar Waheed
Navid Zanjani



Johns Hopkins SAIS in Washington, DC on June 8th & 9th

Saturday: Breakfast 8-9am  |  Conference 9am-4pm  |  Book Talk & Soirée 6:30pm-8pm

Sunday: Training Session 10am-2pm

The Pioneers Who Got Us Here

As the former Minister for Women’s Affairs in Iran, Mahnaz Afkhami has been a pioneer and leading advocate of women’s rights for decades. She currently serves as the president and CEO of the Women’s Learning Partnership, a partnership of 20 autonomous women’s rights organizations located throughout the Global South that promote women’s leadership, civic engagement, and human rights. From Iran to the United States, this session will delve into Mahnaz’s extraordinary journey in public service, and the challenges she and other female leaders have overcome along the way. It will surprise you, amaze you, and we hope, leave you inspired for what’s next.

Time: 9:15am
 Mahnaz Afkhami
Moderator: Negar Azimi

The Women Breaking the Glass Ceiling for You & Me

2018 was a game-changer in American politics. We witnessed more than 100 women elected to the United States House of Representatives, making this the youngest, most diverse Congress in history. The Year of the Woman was also a historic one for the Iranian American community, as five Iranian American women were elected to public offices across the country. This makes 2019 the year with the greatest number of Iranian American elected officials in U.S. history.

Join this session to hear directly from these inspiring women. They will talk through the unique challenges they faced as candidates (and now as elected officials) and their plans to make waves in the political arena for years to come.

Time: 10:00am
State Representative Anna Eskamani, Councilmember Shireen Ghorbani, State Senator Zahra Karinshak, and Councilmember Mitra Jalali Nelson
Moderator: Councilmember Amir Farokhi

Translating Your Voice into Impactful Policy

Public service is not all about running for office yourself— far from it. Your voice can be a powerful tool to make change happen on an issue you feel passionately about, at all levels. From volunteering your time, to writing letters to Congress, to creating social media campaigns, advocacy can take many different shapes and forms. This panel will delve into some of the most effective ways that you can be an advocate for positive change.

Time: 11:15am
Maya Berry, Avideh Moussavian, and Manar Waheed
Moderator: Yassamin Ansari

Rethinking Iran: Role of Arts, Culture, and Communities in Shaping Policy and Politics

Our luncheon presentation will be a moderated discussion about SAIS's new initiative: Rethinking Iran. At a time when Iran is viewed in starkly black and white terms, Rethinking Iran aims to highlight the intricacies and nuances of this complex nation and its people to present a richer perspective.

Time: 12:30pm
Narges Bajoghli and Vali Nasr
Moderator: Shamila N. Chaudhary

Diversifying the Bench 

As the first Iranian American Superior Court Judge in Santa Clara County, and one of only five nationwide, the Honorable Nahal Iravani-Sani is a force to be reckoned with in the legal arena. She was appointed to the position in 2017 by former California Governor Jerry Brown, after serving as the Deputy District Attorney for more than twenty years.

In this session, Judge Iravani-Sani will be speaking not only about her own experiences, but also about the importance of diversity in the legal profession as a way of ensuring fair access to our courts and instilling public confidence in our legal system.

Time: 1:00pm
The Honorable Nahal Iravani-Sani
Moderator: Nili Moghaddam

Why Money Matters

Tired of all the fundraising calls? Wonder how your donation is used? Not sure about the difference between a PAC, Super PAC, independent expenditure, or other kinds of fundraising committees? Or maybe you’re just someone that doesn’t have time to volunteer at your local shelter or food pantry but care about the mission and are thinking about donating instead. Well, this is the panel for you.

Understand the way even a few dollars translates to advocating for work you’re passionate about through the lens of organizations and campaigns that make strategic decisions behind every dollar they receive. Learn the importance of early money contributions and how they can set the tone for the long run.

Time: 2:00pm
Sima Ladjevardian, Yasmin Radjy, and Navid Zanjani
Moderator: Samira Jali

Behind the Scenes

How do you actually influence a Member of Congress to do what you want them to do? Take a peek inside the Capitol and learn from current and former staffers about what really goes on in the halls of Congress. Panelists will discuss how to most effectively communicate concerns to elected leaders, the day-to-day life and tasks of a Hill staffer, and the importance of getting involved with your local, state, and federal elected officials.

Time: 3:15pm
Mahyar Sorour, Amanda Makki, and Cookab Hashemi
Moderator: Ali Nouri

Book Talk: Prisoner with Jason Rezaian

Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian will be speaking about his latest book, a memoir of his time imprisoned in Iran. In Prisoner, Rezaian writes of his exhausting interrogations and farcical trial. He also reflects on his idyllic childhood in Northern California and his bond with his Iranian father, how his teacher inspired him to pursue journalism, and his life-changing decision to move to Tehran, where his career took off and he met his wife. You'll hear about his experiences firsthand and be able to ask questions after his talk. Attendees will receive a signed copy of the book.

Time: 6:30pm
Jason Rezaian
Moderator: Narges Bajoghli

PAAIA Soirée

Join us for a summer soiree to celebrate PAAIA’s inaugural Civic Engagement Forum. What’s included? A delicious dinner by Kook Caters, LLC., live entertainment and DJ to get your gher on, and a fun night filled with laughter and dancing with friends, old and new. You definitely won’t want to miss it.

Time: 8:00pm
Live entertainment, dinner, drinks, and dancing

1st Regional Training Session

Following the inaugural Civic Engagement Forum, PAAIA will host its first regional training event in Washington, DC. If you are motivated to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, join us to learn the nuts and bolts of organizing and advocating for what you believe in. The only way to make a positive difference in our communities is to get engaged. The time is now.

Time: 10:00am



Mr. Hamid Moghaddam (President's Club)

Anonymous Donor (President's Club)

Dr. Abbas Ardehali (Congressional Club)

Mr. & Mrs. Bijan Ansari (Mayor's Club)