"A Pressing Global Issue." Behind a Diasporic Studies Gift at SF State

San Francisco State University recently received a $5 million gift from alumna Neda Nobari to establish the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies (CIDS). CIDS aims to be a platform for new academic programs that foster intellectual engagement with local and global Iranian communities across different disciplines. The Neda Nobari Distinguished Chair at CIDS will create a "vigorous, dynamic and fresh approach to the study of and research about Iranian diaspora communities, their development, contributions to host societies and impact on Iranian identity." 

Neda Nobari immigrated to the United States from Iran in 1978 when she was 15. She graduated from SF State in 1984 and went on to work at Bebe Stores, where she was once vice chair. She ended her long run at Bebe last decade, and has since turned to philanthropy, establishing the Neda Nobari Foundation, which aims to promote social and environmental justice through arts and education. Nobari also went back to school and last year earned a master’s degree in liberal studies from Dartmouth College, focusing her research on the intersection of the diaspora and cultural identity of Iranian-American women.

Clearly Nobari's background and heritage is important to her, but while the study of the Iranian diaspora might seem rather specific, Nobari's gift can also be seen within a broader context. As she puts it, "Mass migration is one of the most pressing global challenges of the 21st century. It's also an opportunity to learn. Nearly 37 years have passed since the Iranian Revolution and migration of Iranians across the globe. The diversity of these cross-national communities and their cultural evolution provides a window for scholarship and research into their impact on the Iranian socio-cultural identity and the relationship between individuals and different communities around the world."

Not too long ago, I wrote about Dresden-born Henry Arnhold, who gave a multimillion dollar gift to New School's Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, an outfit interested rethinking the ways we describe the movement of people in service of social justice and equality. Amidst a more connected world, but also a conflict-filled one, it makes sense that a certain set of funders, particularly those with international backgrounds, might key in on these issues. 

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The Neda Nobari Foundation has so far moved a modest amount of money out of the door annually. One of its grantmaking categories is holistic education, and the foundation states that it believes "that education is a powerful driver for the development of the individual and society as a whole, expanding the psyche, improving intelligence, health, gender equality, peace, and stability."

Within this grantmaking category, the foundation supports places like the Golestan Center for Language Immersion and Cultural Education in Berkeley, which teaches Iranian culture to children, as well as the OMID Foundation, an organization which supports and empowers vulnerable and disadvantaged young women in Iran. 

Keen readers of Inside Philanthropy might remember another Iranian-American woman passionate about these issues. On the other side of the Bay, not too long ago, engineer Bita Daryabari gave a $5 million to UC Berkeley to establish the Bita Daryabari Presidential Chair in Iranian Studies. Daryabari also set up two nonprofits that focus on the Iranian community. 

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One final say on diaspora. California is home to one of the largest Iranian populations of the Iranian Diaspora, with a good chunk arriving in the region around the time of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Given all of these forces, perhaps another one of these gifts isn't far behind in the Golden State.