Board of Directors
Amir Kia, Chair
Amir is a Principal of Spirit Living Group and leads the Company in the areas of finance and operations. Amir is a founding Principal of AgeSong, Inc. and brings extensive experience in senior housing finance, operations and management, having served in various capacities for the Company until 2007, including Executive Director, CFO and CEO. He is responsible for funding acquisitions and development while keeping a close pulse on quality of care and services, receiving the American Society on Aging’s National Award for Excellence in creating exemplary programs and performance models.
Amir is a graduate of Wharton and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley where he has taught and served as Vice-Chair on the board of trustees of the Unitarian Universalist seminary. He currently serves as trustee of the Helix School in Marin County.
Amir’s interests include improv, tennis, and nature, hiking 850km to Camino de Santiago along the northern coast of Spain in 30 days. He’s also a fan of Wisdom 2.0 and the Modern Elder Academy.
Ari Kelman, Director
Ari Y Kelman is the Jim Joseph Professor of Education and Jewish Studies in the Stanford Graduate School of Education.
Kelman’s research and teaching focus on forms and practices of religious knowledge transmission, and he is an expert in the social scientific study of American Jewry. He is the author of a number of books that explore varieties of religious education from schools and synagogues to radio and worship music. Recently, his research has focused on the racial and ethnic identities of American Jews, the politics of American Jewish demography, and the question of how people learn to be Jewish.
His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, and his work has been featured in news outlets like the New York Times, Inside Higher Education, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Firuzeh Mahmoudi, Director
Firuzeh Mahmoudi is the founder and executive director of United for Iran, a leading Iranian advocacy organization globally recognized for championing human rights and civil liberties. Her steadfast opposition to the Iranian regime’s policies led to her being named an “anti-revolutionary fugitive” by Iran’s leadership in 2013, barring her return to Iran but not diminishing her influence.
Firuzeh established United for Iran following the 2009 Iranian uprising, organizing an unprecedented global rally across 110 cities, marking it as the largest day of global support for Iran to date. United for Iran, run by Iranian refugees, activists, and former political prisoners, is renowned for the Iran Prison Atlas and various innovative mobile apps that promote civil liberties and support women’s and LGBTQ rights in Iran. Notable apps include Gershad, aiding women in evading the morality police, Hamdam, providing covert legal and reproductive information, and Toranj, offering assistance to individuals at risk of violence.
Prior to her current role, Firuzeh engaged in environmental activism at the UN and with Healthcare Without Harm, focusing on environmental justice and health in the Global South. Her influential work has garnered attention in major publications like Ms. Magazine, Forbes, and Wired, highlighting her contributions to social change and advocacy.
Galorah Keshavarz, Director
Galorah has spent most of her professional career working as an advocate for immigrants, refugees, and at-risk youth. After graduating from UCLA, she spent a year teaching inner city at-risk youth in South Central Los Angeles. After completing law school, she dedicated her career to litigating civil rights cases, consumer rights cases, and mass class action lawsuits on behalf of Plaintiffs. Galorah is the founder of a boutique immigration law firm with a focus on providing services to those who do not have access to our legal system. She dedicated a large portion of her practice to advocating on behalf of asylum seeks, Dreamers, unaccompanied minors, and women who were victims of violence.
In 2014, she traveled on an aid mission to Zaatari camp in Jordan, the largest camp for Syrian refugees in the world. This visit was a life-changing experience and Galorah now dedicates most of her time to helping refugees. In 2016, she collaborated with a local non-profit called Refugee Transitions to create a “Women’s Initiative” that is dedicated to the needs of refugee women and their children in East Oakland. Galorah deeply believes in the philosophy that we all need each other in this world, and there is no better way of humanizing a crisis than through the art of sharing your personal experience.
Karen Cowe, Director
Karen Cowe is an education-industry executive with over 30 years of experience in sales and fund development, marketing, program design, professional learning, business development, and operations.
She is currently the CEO of Ten Strands, a California-based nonprofit focused on strengthening the partnerships and strategies that will bring environmental literacy to all of California’s public school K–12 students.
Prior to joining Ten Strands, she was President and CEO of Key Curriculum Press, an innovative and award-winning K-12 STEM publisher. Before that she was Managing Director of Burlington Books in Athens, Greece—the first publisher in Greece to offer locally-focused English language instructional materials for Greek students.
Karen is currently the board chair of Cognia and Open Up Resources and on the advisory boards of the Biomimicry Institute and Seventh Generation Advisors. She holds a Bachelor in Business and a minor in Education from Saint John’s College, York and a Master of Business Administration from Saint Mary’s College, California.
Saad Khan, Treasurer
Saad Khan is the co-founder of Uprising where he focuses on stuff that matters. He and Uprising have invested in purpose driven companies like Lyft, Change.org, Devoted Health, ClassDojo, GoodEggs, Lending Club, SV Academy, Long Term Stock Exchange (LTSE), Virta Health, UpWorthy, LandIt, Watsi, and earlier in his career Jobvite, DianRong and Evolution Robotics (now iRobot). He was formerly a Partner and led all digital media / software investments at CMEA Capital. Prior to that, he was at Garage.com where he helped build incubator 1.0 in the valley.
He was one of the producers on multiple Grammy-winning jazz projects with Arturo O’Farrill “The Offense of the Drum” (Grammy in 2015 for best Latin Jazz Album) and “Cuba: The conversation continues” (Best Instrumental Composition in 2016). Most recently, he was a producer on Ted Nash’s “Presidential Suite,” winner of the 2017 Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.
Saad has guest lectured at the Stanford Design School and the UC Berkeley Business School. He’s mentored at StartupWeekends in post-Revolution Egypt, at the Google Developer Conference in Saudi Arabia, and has been a frequent speaker at the U.S. State Department.
Saad serves on the Board of the SETI Institute, co-founded by Jill Tarter, the scientist who was the inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character in ‘Contact‘ (written by Carl Sagan, one of the early Board Members of the Institute). He loves storytelling, all things Sufi, and is down to play ping pong anytime.
Yalda Modabber, Co-Founder, Executive Director
Yalda, is a former molecular immunologist, and later consultant to for-profit and non-profit organizations. As an undergraduate, she majored in Psychology, with an emphasis on Child and Developmental Psychology, finishing a dual degree in Experimental Psychology and Human Biology. Yalda went on to pursue a career in biomedical research and spent eight years at Harvard Medical School, first as a research associate and later as a graduate student. In 2000, Yalda changed career paths and became a consultant for startups, Fortune 50+ corporations and non-profit organizations as a strategist and evaluator.
In 2005, Yalda posted an ad on a local listserv in Berkeley, in search of a Persian language immersion program for her first-born son Kian, then two years old. She received a response from another mother that led to a weekly parent playgroup and eventually became Golestan. Yalda was hired as Golestan’s full-time Executive Director in 2008 and is an active board member for several organizations in the education, human rights, and humanitarian sectors.
Ali Partovi, Advisor
Ali is an Iranian-American entrepreneur and angel investor. He is best known as a co-founder of Code.org, iLike, LinkExchange, and is an early investor and advisor at Dropbox, Airbnb, Facebook, Uber, and Zappos. Ali is also an early promoter of bid-based search advertising. He is currently the CEO of NEO, a communal venture fund, and serves on the Board of Directors at FoodCorps.
Katherine Whitney, Advisor
Katherine Whitney is a museum consultant and writer. She earned a BA in art history at Duke University and a Masters in Museum Studies at John F. Kennedy University. In 1995 she founded Katherine Whitney & Associates, an independent museum exhibition consulting firm.
As the wife of an Iranian man and the mother of two Iranian-American children, Katherine strives to learn about and weave Iranian traditions into her family life. She has had the good fortune to travel to Iran three times to visit her in-laws. In 2005, she published an essay about her hybrid family in the anthology Because I Said So: 33 Mothers Write about Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race & Themselves. In 2009, Katherine responded to an internet post about Golestan, hoping to find a Persian language class for her 12-year-old daughter, Leyla. With incredible generosity and creative maneuvering, director Yalda Modabber designed for Leyla a custom summer language program, and mother and daughter were instantly hooked.
Krista Bessinger, Advisor
Krista leads Twitter’s Investor Relations department where she is responsible for developing, implementing and managing a comprehensive, strategic IR program. Prior to joining Twitter in 2013, Krista spent five years at Google, where she led the Investor Relations team and served as the head of FP&A for Youtube. She has also worked as a sell-side research analyst, covering the Internet and software sectors, and as a buy-side research analyst where she generated long only ideas in the public software sector for a family of mutual funds and sponsored late stage private equity investments, eventually serving as an observer on the boards of six private companies. Krista holds a BA with honors from Smith College where she majored in cultural anthropology with a concentration in the history and social study of science and technology.
Laurie Capitelli, Primary School Site Committee
Laurie Capitelli is a Bay Area native and UC Berkeley graduate. Laurie is a three-term Berkeley City Council member and has served on the Berkeley Public Schools Fund Board since the 1980s when his own children were in the Berkeley schools. Laurie was a high school history teacher before becoming a real estate agent in the 1970s at Red Oak Realty; he is now retired. During his tenure, Laurie led the efforts on the Berkeley City Council for universal access to preschool and addressing substance abuse at Berkeley High School. Laurie’s civic life in Berkeley includes service on both the City’s Planning Commission and the Zoning Adjustments Board. Before running for City Council, Laurie served as the chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Development and the Permit Process.
Matthew Stromberg, Primary School Site Committee
Matthew is a LEED AP licensed architect in California, and sole proprietor of the firm, Stromberg Architecture, based in Berkeley. He received a graduate degree in Cultural Anthropology from Columbia University in 1994. For five years, Matthew performed internationally with the MacArthur Award recipient and daredevil choreographer Elizabeth Streb in her professional dance company Streb, Ringside, Inc. based out of New York City.
Matthew returned to his native Berkeley for a Master’s in Architecture from the University of California, which he completed in 2003. His practice includes residential, commercial, stage set, furniture and architectural hardware design. Before establishing his own practice, Matthew worked for five years with the award-winning firm Fernau & Hartman in Berkeley.
Neda Nobari, Advisor
Neda Nobari is an Iranian-American justice advocate and founder of Mozaik Philanthropy. Nobari earned her B.S. in Computer Science in 1984 from SFSU and her M.A. in Liberal Studies in 2015 from Dartmouth. She was the Co-Founder and Vice-Chair of bebe stores from 1984 to 2006. Nobari established her private foundation in 2007 and has served on over a dozen nonprofit boards and advisory boards catering to both Iranian and non-Iranian communities.
Since becoming a trustee of IAWF in 2013, Nobari has served as Chair of Northern California Chapter and Co-Chaired two conferences in San Francisco. In 2016, Nobari established the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies at her alma mater, San Francisco State University where she is the current Chair of the University Foundation Board. Nobari was named the Alumna of the Year in 2020 and inducted into the Alumni Hall of Fame at SFSU. In 2023, Nobari received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
Golestan Community Association
The Golestan Community Association is a team of parent-led volunteers with the mission to bring Golestan’s extended family and circle of friends together to support the activities of the school and collaborate with our local/greater community.
The Goals of the Community Association are to:
- Create individual committees to coordinate and facilitate activities such as community service, fundraisers, arts and cultural events, seminars and educational events, holiday events, and work parties.
- Build bridges with our local community.
- Make involvement in events well-defined and limited in scope so more parents and other community members can be involved.