It was supposed to be a one-time conference celebrating Iranian-American women of all ages by showcasing their success in this country and detailing their career paths. That was Mariam Khosravani's plan in 2011.
But the conference sold out. The community embraced it and wanted more.
A year later, Khosravani founded the Iranian-American Women Foundation, based in Irvine. Two years and more than 1,400 members and 50 to 60 volunteers later, Khosravani's project has evolved into a full-time gig. She also is the executive director of the Coastline Community College Foundation in Fountain Valley.
The Iranian-American Women Foundation was designed to inspire and empower women ages 25 to 65 and provide them an opportunity to share their journeys and celebrate their achievements.
"It was founded to showcase Iranian-American women's success in this country," Khosravani said. "We want speakers to share their contributions, tell us their level of education and be willing to inspire, not impress. This is the message we want to give, especially to our younger generation."
On Nov. 2, the foundation, which has chapters in Orange County, New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, will host its seventh conference — and fourth in California — at the Beverly Hilton. More than 500 attendees will listen to speakers discuss their career paths and their influence on global issues.
They'll hear a panel of professionals share their experiences in their fields, including stories of obstacles, challenges and rewards. They'll listen to women talk about surviving discrimination. They'll find out how business executives lead with empathy, courage and strength. And they'll learn how to dedicate themselves to changing the lives of others and their communities.
"It's close to my heart," Khosravani said on a recent Thursday morning at her office in Fountain Valley. Behind her were framed pictures of herself with President Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton. A magnet with the words "Seize the Day" was stuck to a file cabinet.
Philanthropy runs in her family.
Khosravani grew up in an affluent neighborhood of Tehran. "Kids got everything they wanted," she remembered. Her father wanted his daughter to see another world.
At the beginning of winter, he would ask her to accompany him on a drive to a neighborhood she hadn't visited. Khosravani remembered feeling afraid. It was the unknown that made her feel uncomfortable.
As she sat in the car, she would watch her father go to door to door with grocery bags. He was dropping off rice, oil and coal so families could cook, eat and warm themselves during the cold. He'd return to the car and share stories with her. In one family, two children couldn't afford to go to school.
"He wanted me to see how people live, and he wanted to teach me how to give," she said.
That vision is representative of the speakers and honorees she has invited to the annual conference, like Nilo Ghandehari.
Ghandehari, 31, founded the Breast Cancer Fundraiser, a nonprofit that creates care packages for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients of beauty products and resources.
The Iranian-born Corona del Mar resident is also the founder of Irvine-based Kapture Vision, an event production agency that has been recognized by People magazine and lifestyle company Oakley. She will be honored at the conference as a young professional who achieved success by following her passion.
"It's such an honor to be invited among such accomplished women who come from Iranian descent," Ghandehari said during a phone interview. "It's a proud day to be an Iranian-American woman."
"If she's not a rising star, who is?" Khosravani said. "The reason why I invite these ladies is because I want others to hear that at any level you are at, you can give back to the community."
And in any field.
Diplomacy? Check. There's Goli Ameri, president and CEO of the Center for Global Engagement, who was the undersecretary for humanitarian diplomacy at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Ameri is a former U.S. representative to the United Nations.
Fashion? Check. There's Behnaz Ghahramani, director of relational marketing at Gucci America, who supported the brand's launch of Chime for Change, a global campaign founded by Gucci to raise funds and awareness for girls' and women's empowerment.
Journalism? Check. There's Parisa Khosravi, senior vice president for CNN Worldwide. A few days after graduating from college, Khosravi played a role in covering the network's live coverage of the first Gulf War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of apartheid.
Science? Check. There's astronaut Anousheh Ansari who in 2006 made headlines around the world as the first female private space explorer. Ansari, who immigrated to the United States as a teenager and did not speak English, earned a master's degree in electrical engineering from George Washington University. She is the first astronaut of Iranian descent.
"I wanted the community to know about how much we are engaged in society," Khosravani said. "I thought it is our duty as a citizen of this country to showcase our contribution to the country and show our light."
Members of all faiths will be in attendance. Muslims, Jews, Christians and members of the Baha'i faith are involved in the organization. The conference is in English so everyone can hear the stories. It was a goal of Khosravani to have a united voice but also to promote interfaith partnership.
"What's special is we are able to bring these interfaith leaders under one roof, and that day, they're all hugging and inspiring and sharing stories," Khosravani said. "That's the beauty of humanity."
IF YOU GO
What: Iranian-American Women Foundation Women Leadership Conference
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 2
Where: The Beverly Hilton, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills
Information: (949) 461-1996 or iawfoundation.org
[For the record, 5 p.m. Nov. 6: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Iranian-American Women Foundation operates under Khosravani’s capacity as executive director of the Coastline Community College Foundation in Fountain Valley. The Iranian-American Women Foundation is a separate nonprofit organization that Khosravani started.]