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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.

Rafa Abdalla

Customer Service Representative, The World Bank

Katherine Ashley

Partner, Mergers and Acquisitions; Corporate Governance, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP

Katherine (Kady) Ashley is a partner in the Washington, DC office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, specializing in M&A and general corporate and securities law. Kady advises public and private companies in sales, acquisitions, minority investments, hostile and friendly transactions, stock and asset transactions, proxy contests, auctions, joint ventures and other strategic transactions. Kady started at Skadden in 1996, following a judicial clerkship with the Honorable Ernest Torres on the Federal District Court for the District of Rhode Island.

Kady co-chairs Skadden’s Women’s Initiative and serves as the head of the firm’s Washington, D.C. pro bono program. She also serves on the firm’s Ethics Committee and global Pro Bono Committee and on the Washington, D.C. office’s Diversity Committee. In 2016, Ms. Ashley was one of 25 women selected worldwide by Harvard Law School as an honoree for its International Women’s Day celebration. She also was a 2014 fellow in the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity Fellows Program, for which she mentored incoming minority students at law schools in Washington, D.C.

Kady has two daughters and resides in McLean, VA.

Education: University of Michigan Law School, JD; Duke University, BA

Brigida Benitez

Partner, Steptoe & Johnson LLP

Brigida Benitez has been an attorney for more than 25 years, focusing on complex litigation, internal investigations, and global anti-corruption matters.  She has litigated cases in federal and state trial and appellate courts throughout the country, including the United States Supreme Court.  She conducts internal investigations relating to financial fraud and corruption, employee misconduct, ethics, codes of conduct violations, accounting issues, whistleblower complaints, and sanctions procedures of the World Bank and other international financial institutions.  Brigida is past president of the DC Bar, the largest unified bar in the country, with more than 100,000 members worldwide.

Brigida also has served as Chief of the Office of Institutional Integrity of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), heading the independent office responsible for investigating potential fraud and corruption in IDB-financed activities throughout Latin America, and implementing anti-corruption policies and procedures.

She has been recognized by Hispanic Business magazine as a “Woman of the Year” and by Latino Leaders magazine as one of the “25 Most Influential Hispanic Lawyers” in the U.S. Brigida also has been recognized by Super Lawyers for Litigation, by Best Lawyers in America for Employment Law, and by Global Investigations Review as one of the 2018 “Women in Investigations: One Hundred Investigation Specialists From Around the World.”

Brigida is fluent in Spanish and is a member of the American Law Institute and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation.  She also serves as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

Education:  Boston College Law School, J.D.; University of Florida, B.S.

Maria A. Cestone

Board Secretary, Partner, 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

Tara Hogan Charles

Associate Director, Global Government Relations and Public Policy, Proctor & Gamble

Tara Hogan Charles is an Associate Director, Global Government Relations & Public Policy, for The Procter & Gamble Company (P&G). Located in Washington, DC, Tara is responsible for helping P&G navigate the legislative and public policy landscape covering a broad issue portfolio including intellectual property, brand protection, workforce, privacy and corporate citizenship.

Prior to joining the Government Relations team, Tara worked for 11 years in P&G’s Legal Division in Cincinnati, OH. Tara served as Senior Counsel to the Global Antitrust and Trade Relations group, focusing on promotion and pricing policies and antitrust analysis, and to the Global Transactions team responsible for acquisitions and divestitures. As Legal Counsel Tara advised several billion dollar brands on advertising and contract matters.

Tara is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the US Global Leadership Campaign and All In Together.

Tara received her B.A. in Political Science and German from Agnes Scott College, and her J.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Education: Agnes Scott College, BA

Marjorie De La Cruz

Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Latin America, PepsiCo

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

Board Treasurer, 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

Douglas Henck

Board Chair

Until his retirement in late 2016, 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 qualified as a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries in 1978. He currently serves as a Senior Advisor to Nuebridge Consulting and to Assured Enterprises, a cybersecurity firm.

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 and served until 2018. 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; SolHEALTH, a non-profit organization that works to maintain health and prevent illnesses in the developing world; 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 graduated in Management Information Systems from George Mason University. She works as an IT professional.

Education: Management Information Systems, George Mason University

Shabnam Mogharabi

CEO, SoulPancake

Shabnam Mogharabi is a media and entertainment executive, entrepreneur, author, and public speaker with more than 15 years of experience building organizations around entertainment, digital and social platforms, and news media. She is currently the CEO of SoulPancake, a content studio she co-founded with actor Rainn Wilson that creates daily positive, socially conscious videos about human connection that have raked up nearly 1B video views online. She also advises SoulPancake’s parent company, Participant Media, and its board on strategic issues, acquisition opportunities, and the company’s social impact goals.

Prior to SoulPancake, Shabnam was an award-winning journalist and editor, having served as the youngest Editor-in-Chief at Hanley Wood Business Media. One of the youngest winners of the Jesse H. Neal Award (the Pulitzer Prize of B2B journalism), Shabnam has also worked as a contributing writer, editor, and stringer for a number of publications, including People, Pool & Spa News, Sunset, and HuffPost. She is a New York Times bestselling author with SoulPancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions.

Shabnam is a member of the 2016 class of Henry Crown Fellows and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. She is a frequent speaker on the importance of joy, how to connect with Millennials, and meaningful online engagement. She resides in Los Angeles, where she is active with a number of interfaith organizations and volunteers with the Crisis Text Line. She is on the advisory boards of Wayfarer Entertainment and Daughters of Rosie. She received her B.A. in journalism and business administration from the University of Southern California and her Master’s in media management from Northwestern University.

Rosita Najmi

Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Rosita Najmi has been an international social and economic development specialist since 2001. She is a Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), working to increase access to and usage of financial services by those living under $2/day. She leads a range of fintech related investments and bodies of work, including women’s financial inclusion and work at the intersection of digital financial services and taxation. She serves on the Executive Committee of the Better than Cash Alliance (BTCA), a UN-based alliance, which was created to catalyze a global shift from cash to digital payments. She is also on the board of FinEquity, a women’s financial inclusion global community of practice hosted by CGAP at the World Bank; it comprises a network of researchers, public, private, and nonprofit organizations, which coordinates efforts to increase funding effectiveness, creates intellectual capital, and spurs innovation in women’s financial inclusion across nearly 60 countries. Prior to joining BMGF, she was at the Omidyar Network, The World Bank, and leading NGOs, including Accion, Mercy Corps, and America’s Promise. She began her career as a social entrepreneur as co-founder and executive director of an international NGO in Benin. Her experience includes field research, publications, and operational and advocacy experience across Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, and Central Europe. She has advised and led collaborations with governments, the private sector, civil society, and multilateral organizations, including the G7 and G20. Tahirih’s inaugural Baha’i Service Fellow, Rosita joined Tahirih’s Board of Directors in 2019.

Education: Harvard Business School, MBA; Wake Forest University, BA

Soula Proxenos

Independent Director and Adjunct Professor, Johns Hopkins University

Soula Proxenos is adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business and School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS).  She is an independent non-executive director of several organizations, consultant, and advisor.  She has extensive experience as board chair, committee chair (nominations, and compensation committees), committee member (audit and credit) of not for profit as well as commercial boards.

Ms. Proxenos has more than 30 years of financial services experience.  She has managed P+Ls, opened new markets globally. She has sound decision making skills, is strategic in her thinking, a strong communicator and good team player.   She has a deep understanding of the capital markets, fundraising, brand-building and real estate.

She was formally Managing Director of International Housing Solutions (January 2017).  She led the effort in founding South African Workforce Housing Fund. As founder, she developed the concept, was responsible for staffing, raising the capital, strategy and government relations. She was co-chair of the investment committee since inception. IHS closed its second fund, bringing its AUM to approximately $600 million.  She was with the group for eleven years and remains on its advisory board.

Previous to this she was Managing Director of Fannie Mae’s International Housing Financial Services for seven years.  She had responsibility for the P+L of Fannie Mae’s international consulting services and training programs, assisting in the development of market-based housing finance systems in over 35 countries.

Ms. Proxenos received an M. B. A. from the University of Stellenbosch, in South Africa. She has been on Tahirih’s Board of Directors since 2010.

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

Homa Sabet Tavangar

Author, Growing Up Global

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

Paul B. Salvaty

Partner, Hogan Lovells

Paul B. Salvaty is a business trial lawyer. His primary focus is in the prosecution and defense of business disputes with an emphasis on complex commercial litigation, entertainment cases, and antitrust matters.  Paul has represented a variety of major companies and public agencies both as plaintiffs and defendants.

Paul is active in the Los Angeles and San Francisco legal communities.  He served as president of the Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and president of the Board of the U.C. Hastings Foundation.  He is a recipient of the Inner City Law Center’s Katharine Krause Award for work promoting access to decent, safe and habitable housing for homeless and working-poor families and individuals in Los Angeles.

Paul served as a law clerk for the Honorable Dickran Tevrizian, United States District Court for the Central District of California and for the Honorable Kim M. Wardlaw, United States District Court for the Central District of California. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and his law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

Education: University of California, Hastings College of the Law, JD; University of Notre Dame, 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 Saperstein has deep roots in social justice philanthropy, long-term experience with nonprofit development, and a significant track record of seeding, supporting, and strengthening efforts to advance human rights and social justice in the U.S. and internationally.

In her consulting practice, Shira works with nonprofits and foundations, focusing on program strategy and capacity building; meeting design and facilitation; leadership, board and organizational development; and strategic planning and organizational positioning. She is passionate about racial justice and gender equity, and is known for identifying and nurturing emerging ideas, leaders, and programs to address these and other challenges 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, racial and economic justice, and global human rights. She has also served as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and as board member of the Management Assistance Group. Shira was the founding chair of the International Steering Committee of the Global Campaign for Microbicides and the founding co-chair of the Funders’ Network for Population, Reproductive Health and Rights. Currently, she serves on the boards of the Summit Foundation and the Tahirih Justice Center.

Education: Harvard University, BA

Kelly Mahon Tullier

Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary, Visa Inc.

Kelly Mahon Tullier is the Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary of Visa Inc.  In her role, she leads the legal and compliance functions for the premier global payments technology company. Her responsibilities include leading the company’s global litigation, regulatory, intellectual property, corporate governance, and M&A matters related to Visa’s operations in over 200 countries, including the 18 billion Euro acquisition of Visa Europe in 2016.

Prior to joining Visa, Kelly worked at PepsiCo, Inc. as Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel. She also served as Senior Vice President and General Counsel for PepsiCo’s Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa division, based in Dubai.

Previously, Kelly was Vice President and General Counsel for Frito-Lay, Inc. Earlier in her career, she was an associate at BakerBotts LLP and also served as a law clerk for the Honorable Sidney A. Fitzwater, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas.

Kelly serves on the Cornell Law School Advisory Council, Tahirih Justice Center Board of Directors, International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR) Board of Directors, and the Corporate Advisory Committee of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

Kelly received her B.A. from Louisiana State University and her J.D., magna cum laude, from Cornell Law School.

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

Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Rishi Varma serves as General Counsel and oversees Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s legal department globally. Rishi and his team handle, among other things, HPE’s corporate governance, strategic acquisitions, divestitures and investments, litigation, intellectual property, commercial contracting, sales and supply chain issues, 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. From 2013 – 2017, Rishi served as Deputy General Counsel overseeing HPE’s corporate, securities and M&A practice.

Before joining Hewlett Packard Enterprise, 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).

He holds a Juris Doctor degree from the Georgetown University Law Center and also graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science. Rishi and his wife, Michelle, have three children.

Education: Georgetown University, JD, BS

Payam Zamani

Board Vice Chair, Founder & 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