In 2003, in a shisha bar in London, we started talking about what we, as young Iranians in the diaspora, wished for our community. That casual conversation between two junior year abroad students in May 2003 grew into IAAB’s First International Conference on the Iranian Diaspora in May 2004, and ultimately the organization we celebrate today. After our first conference, some were already describing IAAB as having started a movement. What seemed implausible in 2004 is today truly materializing in the impact IAAB is having in our community. From helping shape an open-minded, communicative Iranian diaspora to getting our youth involved and empowered, IAAB’s progress has exponentially gained momentum in the last nine years.
In our student experience in London we were surrounded by like-minded hyphenated Iranians from the United States, Finland, Italy, Sweden, and Germany. This diverse Iranian environment encouraged us to be particularly thoughtful about the Iranian American student experience in Boston (where we were returning for our senior years) versus London. We discovered that we both felt a strong need for more opportunities for Iranians to connect and self-reflect back in the US and we decided that we were in a position to do something about that. Importantly, we wanted to create a critical, but open, environment to look at our community and who we are—we wanted to move away from clichés and seek out young Iranians pushing the boundaries.
The immediate challenges were: what to focus on, where to get the money, and what to call ourselves. To explain how all of these were overcome would require many pages, but suffice to say that by reaching out to our schools for financial support, friends and family for advice on developing and communicating our message, and looking inward to our own skills and strengths, we tapped a largely undeveloped potential in the topic of the Iranian diaspora. The concept of diaspora immediately became something close to our hearts because it was about what we were experiencing.
In the history of IAAB there has been an undercurrent of looking outward to what is needed in the community around us, inward at what we can provide that is unique and will have an impact, while pooling together all the resources we can and holding the highest expectations of ourselves to provide the best quality organization possible. In its first two years, IAAB’s staff included students from six universities along the east coast of the United States, eventually growing into a staff of 25 from over 20 universities across the country.
In 2006, IAAB saw potential in creating a camp for Iranian-Americans, which has since impacted more than 1000 Iranian-American high school leaders in five years. Like many IAAB programs, the first camp drew a smaller group than the turnout we see today, but that initial session’s quality and success soon caught the attention of many, doubling attendance the following year. From Camp Ayandeh came the idea of the Student Summit, a forum for college and graduate student leaders to engage with one another, enhance their leadership training through IAAB’s unique approach to identity and leadership, and plan for a more cohesive community.
As a young organization run by young people, in IAAB we often find ourselves facing the challenge of proving ourselves to outsiders that don’t quite know why we are necessary for Iranian Americans or why we would make such sacrifices for a cause. But we continue to demonstrate to our community, donors, friends, other organizations, and the media that our combination of passion, vision, and commitment to quality makes us invaluable for our Iranian diaspora community.
Being in IAAB is about making an impact and continuing that conversation that started in 2003 about a community vision - one that we work to crystallize and actualize each year.
~ Narges Bajoghli and Nikoo Paydar
* Photo credit: Jonathan Timmes, Northern Virginia Magazine