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Board of Directors

Our Board of Directors has overall responsibility for the governance of Tahirih Justice Center, establishing our strategic direction, ensuring our mission integrity, and maintaining our financial health.

Maria A. Cestone

Partner, Board Secretary, Cestone & Thompson P.C.

Prior to the formation of Cestone & Thompson P.C., Maria Cestone maintained a private tax practice in Roseland, New Jersey. She concentrates her practice in the areas of estate planning and administration, the counseling of fiduciaries regarding estate, trust and charitable administration issues, as well as the creation, implementation, and taxation of businesses and succession plans. She is a member of the New Jersey State Bar Association, the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Planned Giving Advisory Council, and the Bergen County Estate Planning Council. She recently completed a four year term on the New Jersey Supreme Court Ethics Committee. She is also a member of the Inn of Transactional Counsel. Cestone joined Tahirih’s Board of Directors in 2014.

Education: Boston University School of Law, LLM; Seton Hall University School of Law, JD; Drew University, BA

Marjorie De La Cruz

General Counsel, PepsiCo Latin America

Marjorie De La Cruz is currently the Senior Vice President and Chief Counsel in the Office of the General Counsel, Global Groups and Functions at PepsiCo Inc. Among her current responsibilities, De La Cruz serves as the General Counsel’s lead lawyer on critical projects. She also leads the critical legal functions of litigation and global transactions, including global procurement, global marketing, and IT/cyber security legal support. Prior to joining PepsiCo, De La Cruz was a corporate associate attorney at Davis & Gilbert LLP and White & Case LLP. De La Cruz is admitted to practice in the State of New York and is a member of the New York State Bar Association and the National Hispanic Bar Association. She is fluent in both English and Spanish and currently resides in New Rochelle, NY with her husband and twin boys. De La Cruz joined Tahirih’s Board of Directors in 2016.

Education: Fordham University School of Law, JD; New York University, MA; University of Pennsylvania, BA.

Matthew Dowell

Senior Manager, Ernst & Young

Matthew Dowell is a Senior Manager at Ernst & Young. He has more than 16 years of experience serving a variety of governmental and commercial clients around the world with a focus on strategic risk, risk management, and business optimization. Specifically, he focuses on media, broadcast, and telecommunications clients. Prior to Ernst & Young, he was a senior manager at Deloitte & Touche where he worked with some of Deloitte’s largest clients, providing regulatory analysis and compliance services, strategic risk management, and financial reporting services. A Certified Public Accountant, he is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants. Dowell joined Tahirih’s Board of Directors in 2016.

Education: George Washington University, MA; George Mason University, MPA; North Carolina State University, BA

Guitty Ejtemai

Board of Directors, Association of Friends of Persian Culture

Guitty Ejtemai serves on the Board of Directors of the Association of Friends of Persian Culture and is the former Managing Editor of Persian Service, Voice of America. She joined the Tahirih Board of Directors in 2013.

Douglas Henck

Chairman, Aegon Life

Until his recent retirement, Douglas Henck served as Chairman & CEO of Aegon Asia, which comprises all of Aegon N.V.’s (and Transamerica’s) insurance businesses in Asia with 3,000 employees in eight countries.  He previously held executive positions at Aetna International, AIG Life Division, and Sun Life Financial.  He is a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries.

Prior to joining Aegon, Mr. Henck served as Chief Financial Officer at the Bahá’í World Centre.  During his time in Israel, he also served on the Board of Supervisors of China Pacific Life Insurance Company.

Mr. Henck was elected Chairman of the Asian Corporate Governance Association in 2014 He is a Past Chairman (1997) of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and served two terms as Chairman of the Asia Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Harmony Program, a New York based charity providing music lessons to economically disadvantaged children, the Leadership Council of the School of Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the International Advisory Board of the Bahá’í Chair for World Peace at the University of Maryland.

Education: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, BS

Fouzia Hillalzai

Former Tahirih Client

Fouzia Hillalzai recently graduated from George Mason University after moving to the United States a few years ago. She works as an IT professional.

Education: George Mason University

Michelle Montes

Audit Partner, Ernst & Young

Michelle Montes is an Ernst & Young audit partner with over 20 years of experience in public accounting serving a variety of industries focusing primarily in real estate and private equity. Montes has extensive experience serving both public and private REITS and real estate funds investing in various asset types, including multifamily, office, industrial, retail, data center, healthcare, and hotel properties. She frequently advises boards and management on a variety of complex accounting and reporting matters, including real estate mergers and acquisitions, complex valuation matters, capital transactions, emerging accounting standards, and internal control matters. Montes is a Certified Public Accountant in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. She serves on the Executive Committee of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Ball, as the partner sponsor of the annual United Way Campaign, and on the Accounting Advisory Council of the School of Business at George Mason University. Montes joined Tahirih’s board in 2016.
Education: George Mason University, BS

Soula Proxenos

Managing Partner, International Housing Solutions

Soula Proxenos is a Managing Partner at International Housing Solutions responsible for strategy, business development, and investor relations. Proxenos has more than 27 years of financial services experience. She has run business units, managed international marketing and sales teams, developed strategic alliances, and opened new markets for the international divisions of South African and European financial services companies. As a co-founder of the South African Workforce housing Fund, she is on the Senior Management Team of International Housing Solutions. Proxenos has been on Tahirih’s Board of Directors since 2010.

Education: Stellenbosch University, MBA; University of Witwatersrand, BA

Homa Sabet Tavangar

Author, Board Vice Chair

Homa Sabet Tavangar is the author of the widely-acclaimed, Random House/Ballantine Books release, “Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World,” named a “Best New Parenting Book” by Scholastic Parent & Child magazine, and hailed by national education and business leaders and media. She has worked with organizations ranging from the World Bank and USAID to Education First (EF), PBS Parents, Sprout TV,, and was a Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to turning her sights to global education and parenting, Sabet Tavangar spent 20 years working in global competitiveness, organizational, business, and international development with hundreds of businesses, non-profit agencies, governments, and international organizations. Born in Iran, she also has lived in East and West Africa, South America, and throughout the U.S. Sabet Tavangar joined Tahirih’s Board of Directors in 2013.

Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs, Princeton University, MA; University of California Los Angeles, BA

Olga Sanchez

Former Tahirih Client

Olga Sanchez is a former Tahirih client from Bogota, Colombia. She has been a member of Tahirih’s Wings since 2004 and is an active advocate for the Tahirih Justice Center. Olga worked as Liaison at the Rainy-Day Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports minorities and low income families by helping them with their mortgage payments and sponsor financing programs to help families keep their homes. She is currently working as Patient Care Coordinator at the at the Plastic Surgery Institute of Washington, were she works closely with reconstructive and aesthetic surgeons for cancer patients in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

Education: Jeveriana University, Nursing School; Saint Angelo State University, BA

James J. Sandman

President, Legal Services Corporation

James J. Sandman has more than three decades of legal experience. Before his current position, he worked at Arnold & Porter LLP and was General Counsel for the District of Columbia Public Schools. He is currently the chair of the DC Bar’s Pro Bono Committee and chair of the District of Columbia Circuit Judicial Conference Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services. He is a member of the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project Advisory Committee. He is a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s District of Columbia State Advisory Committee. He is Chairman of the Board of the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Vice Chairman of the Board of the Washington Performing Arts Society, and a member of the boards of the Meyer Foundation and the Women’s Bar Association Foundation. He joined Tahirih’s Board of Directors in December 2014.

University of Pennsylvania, JD; Boston College, BA

Shira Saperstein

Independent Consultant

Shira is a sought after expert on social justice philanthropy and nonprofit development with a notable track record of seeding, supporting, and strengthening efforts to advance women’s rights in the U.S. and internationally.

In her consulting practice, she focuses on program strategy and design, collaborating with human rights and social justice nonprofits and foundations on organizational development and positioning, capacity building, board development, meeting design and facilitation, leadership development, and strategic planning. She is known for identifying and nurturing emerging ideas, leaders, and programs, resulting in a tangible and sustainable impact on policy and movements. Her expert facilitation helps organizations and coalitions to work across issue and programmatic silos.

Previously, Shira was deputy director of the Moriah Fund, building a $13 million annual grantmaking program that supported policy advocacy and other efforts to advance women’s rights and reproductive health, economic justice, Israeli pluralism and democracy, and global human rights. Her achievements include launching a new generation of women of color leaders who are transforming U.S. reproductive rights advocacy. She has been a pioneering grantmaker in community-based efforts to change cultural norms around gender violence, to improve refugee and asylum policies for women fleeing gender-based discrimination and abuse, and to explore the health, ethics, and public policy implications of new reproductive technologies and other emerging and/or neglected issues in women’s rights and health.

Shira was the founding co-chair of the Funders’ Network for Population, Reproductive Health and Rights. She also served as the founding chair of the International Steering Committee of the Global Campaign for Microbicides, as a board member of the Management Assistance Group, and as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.  Currently, she serves on the board of the Summit Foundation and the Tahirih Justice Center, and is a strategic partner at ConwayStrategic, Inc., where she previously served as Principal.

Education: Harvard University, BA

Kelly Mahon Tullier

Executive Vice President & General Counsel, Visa

Prior to her current role at Visa, Kelly Mahon Tullier was Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for PepsiCo, Inc. where she managed the global operations of the PepsiCo Law Department, including 250+ lawyers worldwide. Before that, she lived in Dubai, U.A.E. and was Senior Vice President and General Counsel for PepsiCo’s Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa Division (AMEA). She has served as Executive Sponsor for the PepsiCo Women of Color Multicultural Alliance, on the Board of Directors for the Snack Food Association and the Legal Committee of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. She also served on the Management Council of the Tocqueville Society of United Way of Dallas. In 2013, Tullier received the Aiming High Award from Legal Momentum, an award that acknowledges extraordinary achievement by women business leaders. Now, Tullier serves on the Cornell Law School Advisory Council and Balefire Labs Advisory Board. She joined Tahirih’s Board of Directors in 2014.

Education: Cornell Law School, JD; Louisiana State University, BA

Mehrnaz Vahid

Law Firm Group Head, Citi Private Bank

Mehrnaz (Naz) Vahid is a Managing Director and the Head of Law Firm Group and Professional Services Group at Citi Private Bank.  She leads team of 150 professionals in providing high level financial services to top Law Firms and their partners in 13 locations in the United States and United Kingdom.  In addition her team also provides Advisory services to the Legal Industry.

Naz has been in the Head of Law Firm Group since June of 2009.  Prior to being appointed to this role, she managed the Northeast US and UK markets of the Law Firm group for four years.  Before joining the management team, Naz was a Private Banker with the Citi Private Bank with one of the largest client books at the firm.

She was also responsible for starting the mentoring committee at Citi Private Bank in 2011, and Headed the Diversity Committee at the Private Bank with over 100 participants.

Naz is presently a member of the board of directors at Bottomless Closet in NYC as well as Lawrence Woodmere Academy in Woodmere, NY.

Naz and her family reside in Lawrence, NY.

Education: Columbia University, MA; William Smith College, BA

Rishi Varma

Deputy General Counsel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise

At Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Rishi Varma oversees HPE’s Corporate, Securities, M&A and Financial Services practice groups. In that role he has worldwide responsibility within the legal department for representing and advising the company and its businesses and functions on such matters.

Rishi and his team handle, among other things, the company’s corporate governance, strategic acquisitions, divestitures, joint ventures and investments, securities law compliance and disclosure, treasury and financing transactions, and certain other corporate transactions and restructurings, bankruptcy, credit and collections matters and employee compensation and retiree benefits. Rishi and his team also provide legal support to HPE’s Financial Services business unit. In addition, Rishi manages HPE’s Global Equity Administration department, which handles HPE’s stock transfer agency and worldwide equity compensation plans.

Before joining HPE, Rishi served as general counsel for two different publicly traded companies from 2005 to 2013 – TPC Group, Inc., a petrochemical company, and Trico Marine Services, Inc., a global subsea service provider. During his time at Trico, Rishi also served in additional management roles including chief operating officer and president. Prior to these companies, Rishi served as securities counsel and director of investor relations for EGL, Inc., a publicly traded global freight forwarder (2002 – 2005), and as a business associate in the New York office of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, LP (1998 – 2002).

Rishi and his wife, Michelle, have three children.

Education: Georgetown University, JD, BS

Payam Zamani

Founder, Chairman, and CEO, One Planet Ops Inc.
Payam Zamani

Payam Zamani is an Internet pioneer, die-hard entrepreneur and angel investor who has founded several technology and Internet-based companies, including, (formerly, and Shout The Good. Currently, he is the founder, chairman, and CEO of One Planet Ops Inc., a unique hybrid firm combining operating technology companies, a socially-responsible angel fund, and a startup business incubator, all designed to run, build, and invest in disruptive technology businesses—and serve humanity in the process. Born in Iran, Zamani is a member of the Bahá’í faith and was forced to flee the country at the age of 16 to escape religious persecution. He was granted asylum in the U.S. and has been living in the San Francisco bay area since 1988. Zamani has served on the Board of Directors and Advisory Councils of many technology-based startups, including The RealReal, TalkWheel, ChatSports, Fundly, SoulPancake, EnerAllies, and Les Concierges. Payam joined Tahirih’s Board of Directors in 2015.

Education: University of California at Davis, BS