We spoke with Narges Khoramshahi, who is currently embedded in our Louisville YTF headquarters for a year. She’s part of the Next Generation Leaders program, in collaboration with Arizona State University. The program selects professionals in their early or mid-career to spend one year in one of the leading nonprofits in United States and learn from best practices.
YTF: We love your story – it’s clear why you were chosen as an emerging leader! Tell us how you got to where you are.
Narges: Back home, I was teaching entrepreneurship. This teaching experience made me realize students are very enthusiastic and talented, and there is this potential in them. I was totally blinded by questions they asked when I first started teaching, and I quickly realized I wanted to become a mentor. I started collaborating with a foundation and made programs to help students progress.
I found that even though Iranian youth were enthusiastic, they were also disappointed. They couldn’t nail down next steps to reach their goals. They needed motivation to give them confidence, so we provided workshops to go start own business or start in the workforce.
One thing led to another, and I became a social entrepreneur, participating in different projects related to youth and women and empowerment. In particular, we know women entrepreneurs have a wide range of people they influence. My action plan is based on having female entrepreneurship clubs and centers in different universities.
In the end, I found teaching to be the most inspiring part of my background. I already had a masters in entrepreneurship. When everything came together, I discovered I wanted to learn more about social entrepreneurship.
YTF: What are you doing in particular with YTF?
Narges: I’m here to learn and to share my story. I’m listening to YTF stories, and I am coming to know that this is a path that I can follow.
I see similarities with Nigeria and Kenya and my country in that there are a large number of youth and great potential. I’m motivated by an understanding that we have to provide students with the right research and consulting. They are willing to do everything to be better students or to be better parents. The potential is there, as I see it. I just need to find the proper collaboration between government, private institutions and universities.
Ultimately, I’m glad I’m with YTF. When I saw how far you have come, I was inspired. I’m inspired to go back and do things right.
YTF: So what’s the most different with how we work here?
Narges: Everyone here is really forward and on board with new ideas and new models. Back home it’s harder. Iran has been an isolated country – they are not open to receiving what an international organization could do for us. So the global collaboration is certainly different there. A U.S. nonprofit like YTF could work in Nigeria, but in Iran, that’s not possible. We are still learning to open our doors to our global community.
People do see collaboration as a good thing, but it’s just the environment that typically stops it. The youth are enthusiastic. They want to do something, but they’re not allocating resources to help. And investors aren’t willing to invest in nonprofits.
I encourage any Iranian student to go for higher education in European countries or the U.S. or Canada to get a global connection. I especially want people in those countries to meet Iranian youth, to create that connection, and to see that Iranians are different than what’s expected.
YTF: One last question – what’s one thing you admire about YTF?
Narges: I really like that YTF stands by their values. They aren’t trying to just collaborate with anybody. They want to do more – something influential.
If doing something is really going to help the youth to have a better standard of life or gain good experience, they would go for it. From Latin America to Louisville, YTF has the vision to provide opportunities for every youth. Not only African countries.
They “believe talent is universal,” as [YTF President] Njideka always says. They really want youth in so many different countries to have equal opportunities.