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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.

The Tahirih Justice Center is proud to announce a new leadership team that will head the organization’s Board of Directors starting March 2023. Tara Hogan Charles and Shabnam Mogharabi were elected new Chair and Vice-Chair, respectively. Their appointments mark a historic moment for Tahirih since it is the first time two women will lead the 20-person Board.  

Tara and Shabnam are joined by Maria Cestone and Rishi Varma who are serving another term as secretary and treasurer, respectively, as Tahirih’s Board Executive Committee.

The board also welcomes four new members in the new term:

  • Andrew Connor – Chief Operating Officer, Japan Society 
  • Dr. Neha Batool – Licensed Psychologist, Compass Health Network
  • Jian Khodadad – Vice President, Corporate Development & Strategy, SiriusXM Radio Inc.
  • Saphira Rameshfar – United Nations Representative

Rafa Abdalla

Customer Service Representative, The World Bank

Aicha Abdoulaye

Public Speaker, Advocate for Gender-Based Violence, Entrepreneur in Import-Export, Former Tahirih Client

Portrait image of Aicha Abdoulaye smilingAicha Abdoulaye is a survivor, an entrepreneur, a public speaker, and an advocate for survivors of human trafficking and forced marriages. She has been working with the Tahirih Justice Center since 2007. She was honored with the Courageous Voices Award in 2018, and has been a Client Ambassador since 2019, giving speeches, telling her story, and advocating for other survivors. She has recently completed her Google IT Support Professional Certificate and is in the process of setting up an online business selling African jewelry and accessories.

As a former Tahirih client Aicha continues to be an asset through her firsthand experience with the organization and navigating the legal and justice systems in the U.S.

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 Global Women’s Initiatives Committee and the DC office’s Hiring Committee. She also serves on the firm’s Ethics Committee and on the Washington, D.C. office’s Diversity Committee.

Kady has two daughters and resides in McLean, VA. She graduated from the University of Michigan Law School, JD; Duke University, BA

Dr. Neha Batool

Licensed Psychologist, Compass Health Network

Dr. Neha Batool is a first-generation immigrant from Pakistan. She earned her doctoral degree in counseling psychology in 2021 at the University of North Dakota. She is a licensed psychologist at Compass Health Network in Columbia, Missouri and embodies a multicultural and integrative approach as a core value, reflecting on aspects of socio-cultural, developmental, and contextual framework. Her clinical work consists of provision of supervision, psychological assessments, and psychotherapy services, which primarily incorporate Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Internal Family Systems (IFS).

Dr. Batool is a former Tahirih client. Her passion to support and empower women experiencing gender-based violence led to her dissertation research project entitled, Mental Health Impact of Forced Marriages. Through presentations and trainings grounded in her research, she hopes to continue to increase awareness and understanding of forced marriages within the field of mental health.

Brigida Benitez

Partner and General Counsel, Steptoe & Johnson LLP

Brigida Benitez has been an attorney for almost 30 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.

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

Rwanda Campbell

Pro Bono Manager, Arnold & Porter LLP

Rwanda Campbell is the Pro Bono Manager at Arnold & Porter LLP in the Washington, DC office. She is responsible for overseeing, managing and helping to develop the firm’s pro bono initiatives and implement projects firm wide. Rwanda maintains a very active pro bono practice, providing extensive services in their pro bono immigration practice. In 2016, Rwanda was honored as the Tahirih Justice Center’s “Greater DC Pro Bono Attorney of the Year”. She has also provided pro bono services in the area of voter protection, and assisted at the DC Superior Court Landlord Tenant Resource Center. Rwanda is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and New York.

Prior to her role as Pro Bono Manager, Rwanda was a staff attorney in Arnold & Porter’s litigation department. She has extensive experience in electronic discovery, with specialization on the discovery phase of complex civil litigation such as antitrust and environmental litigation, as well as regulatory review in connection to governmental investigations.

Rwanda received her B.A. from York University and her J.D. from Howard University School of Law.

Maria A. Cestone

Board Secretary, Attorney , Coughlin Midlige & Garland LLP

Maria A. Cestone is an attorney with Coughlin Midlige & Garland LLP in Morristown, New Jersey. She concentrates her legal practice in the areas of estate planning and administration (domestic and International), the counseling of fiduciaries regarding estate, trust and charitable administration issues, as well as the creation, implementation and taxation of businesses and succession plans. Her clients include individuals, corporations (for profit and not-for-profit) and fiduciaries.

Maria received her undergraduate degree in Economics and Political Science from Drew University, her law degree from Seton Hall University School of Law and her LL.M. in Taxation from Boston University School of Law. Upon graduation from law school, she clerked for the Hon. David S. Cramp, J.S.C. Maria is admitted to practice law in New Jersey and before the U.S. Tax Court.

Maria serves as Secretary of the New Jersey State Bar Association Section of Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section, having previously served as Legislative Liaison/Assistant Secretary. She is a member of the Business Law Section, the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Planned Giving Advisory Council and the Bergen County Estate Planning Council. Maria is a prior member of the New Jersey Supreme Court Ethics Committee (District VB) and is a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), a worldwide professional association for advisors with clients having international interests. She is conversant in Spanish and co-counsels on transactions in many Spanish-speaking countries.

Maria lectures on topics such as Closely-Held Business, Domestic and International Estate Planning, Trust and Estate Administration, Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts, Tax-Exempt and Charitable Entities, and Board Governance and Liability.

Maria became a member of the Board of Directors of the Tahirih Justice Center in 2014 and has served as Secretary of the Executive Board and co-Chair of the Expansion Council (and other subcommittees) in the years since.

Tara Hogan Charles

Board Chair, Senior Director, Communications, Race Equity Programs & Partnerships Leader, Procter & Gamble

Tara Hogan Charles is a Senior Director, Communications, Race Equity Programs & Partnerships Leader. Located in Washington, DC, Tara is responsible for providing strategic guidance to P&G and its portfolio of iconic brands on creating and implementing impactful race equity programs and partnerships.

Prior to joining the Communications team, Tara worked for 20 years in P&G’s Global Government Relations & Public Policy office and in the Legal Division. In these roles, Tara provided legal counsel and helped P&G navigate the legislative and public policy landscape covering a broad issue portfolio including intellectual property, brand protection, workforce, privacy and corporate citizenship.

Tara is currently a member of the Board of Directors of 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.


Andrew Connor

Chief Operating Officer, Japan Society

Andrew Connor is the Chief Operating Officer of Japan Society, the premier organization connecting Japanese arts, culture, business, and society with audiences in New York and around the world. He is responsible for leading key internal operations including HR, IT, building operations and revenue generating initiatives. As a member of the leadership team, he is also involved in key external strategic initiatives and management of the Office of the President. Andrew previously served as CHRO for Eurasia Group and its subsidiary GZERO Media. As a member of Eurasia Group’s leadership team and head of HR and Administration, Andrew held global responsibility for an employee population in 8 offices spanning 5 countries. 

Andrew’s prior experience includes work as vice president of an Asia-focused executive search and HR consulting firm, where he managed full-cycle recruiting projects for major multinational corporations doing business throughout the Asia-Pacific region. He began his career as Office Manager of Tahirih Justice Center nearly 20 years ago. Andrew, who graduated summa cum laude from Hamilton College with a bachelor’s degree in Chinese language and Russian studies, speaks Mandarin Chinese and has spent time studying and working in Russia, China, Bangladesh, and the UK. He has also completed courses of study at SOAS University of London and the Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing. 

A linguist at heart and an avid reader and traveler, Andrew has visited more than 45 countries, including overland travel from Hanoi to London. Andrew, his wife and two children spend their time in central New Jersey by necessity and the Champlain Islands of Vermont by choice. 

Jian Khodadad

Vice President, Corporate Development & Strategy, SiriusXM

Jian Khodadad is the Vice President of Corporate Development and Strategy at SiriusXM. He is an experienced corporate development and strategic partnerships leader with significant background in deal negotiation, business case development, investments & acquisitions, post-deal implementation, corporate strategy, and marketing.

Jian received his bachelor degree in Economics from Lake Forest College and his MBA from Georgetown University.

Yabo Lin

Partner, Sidley Austin LLP

Yabo Lin is a partner at Sidley Austin’s LLP Palo Alto office. Yabo counsels both U.S. and international clients on corporate matters, including mergers and acquisitions. His experience covers a wide range of industries, including information technology, e-commerce, mobile payments, biotech, and manufacturing. Yabo also counsels foreign-based clients on transactions involving U.S. national security issues in connection with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS”).

Yabo is a Board Member at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, a member of the Advisory Committee of the Stanford Program in Law, Science, and Technology, as well as a member of the International Advisory Committee for the Stanford University Rock Center for Corporate Governance. In 2006, Yabo received the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s (NAPABA) highest honor, the Trailblazer Award, for “making substantial and lasting contributions to the Asian Pacific American Community.”

Education: Washington University School of Law, JD; University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, LLM; Sun Yat-Sen University, LLM; Fudan University, BA

Shabnam Mogharabi

Board Vice Chair, Media and Entertainment Executive, Co-Founder of SoulPancake

Shabnam Mogharabi is an entrepreneur, entertainment executive, and producer with more than 20 years of leadership experience in media and storytelling. With actor Rainn Wilson, Shabnam co-founded and ran as CEO SoulPancake, an inspiring entertainment studio that produced dozens of award-winning series, specials, and documentaries for television and social platforms. The company amassed 10M fans online and 1B+ video views on its content. The company was sold to social impact film studio Participant, where Shabnam served as an EVP.

Shabnam was named Entrepreneur of the Year by The Hustle in 2017 and SoulPancake was named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Video Companies that same year. Prior to SoulPancake, Shabnam was an award-winning journalist and editor, having served as the youngest Editor-in-Chief at Hanley Wood Business Media. She has won numerous writing awards, including the Jesse H. Neal Award (the Pulitzer Prize of B2B journalism). She is a New York Times bestselling author with SoulPancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions.

Shabnam currently works as a business and strategy consultant for media and entertainment startups and frequently keynotes national conferences and events speaking on the power of positive psychology, impact entertainment, and strategies of social storytelling. Shabnam is on the board of film crowdfunding startup Seed&Spark; is an industry advisor for USC Annenberg’s Media & Storytelling Program; and is on the board of directors of the national nonprofit Tahirih Justice Center. She is a Henry Crown Fellow and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. Shabnam resides with her husband and son in Los Angeles.


Rosita Najmi

VP of Strategy and Innovation, UPS Foundation


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

Jennifer Okwudili

Deputy Director for Gender Equality Policy, Advocacy, and Communications, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Portrait image of Jen Okwudili smilingJennifer Okwudili is a Deputy Director at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and leads a team focused on policy, advocacy, and communications for gender equality. In this role she focuses on the development and execution of overarching goals, strategies, and budgets for the team in addition to leading a discrete portfolio of supportive investments and special projects. She is passionate about reducing inequalities and working to accelerate progress and exploring innovative approaches toward achieving policy and finance goals.

Prior to this role, Jennifer worked for six years as a senior program officer at the Gates Foundation, leading a policy and advocacy portfolio on domestic education. Before joining the Gates Foundation, Jennifer served in numerous roles within the New York City Department of Education, and in D.C. Public Schools, where she worked in their Office of Teacher Effectiveness. She has worked as a policy researcher for several think tanks including the Center for an Urban Future and the Center for Social Justice. She is a proud alum of the Georgetown University Praxis Fellowship in Education; AmeriCorps: Jumpstart; and Education Pioneers, where she worked as a consultant with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

Jennifer holds a B.S in International Politics from Georgetown University, and an M.A. in Politics and Education from Columbia University, where she studied the ways in which politics and education affect one another through systems of governance, institutions, ideologies and race.

Saphira Rameshfar

United Nations Representative

Saphira Rameshfar currently serves as a Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations Headquarters in New York, leading engagement on gender equality, climate justice and global governance. Saphira currently serves on the Executive Committee of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women to the United Nations in New York and serves as a Co-Chair of their Young Professionals program. 
Saphira has previously served as Chair of the Working Group on Girls to the UN, convener of the Faith and Feminism Working Group to the UN, on the Youth Steering Committee to the UN Department of Global Communication and has collaborated closely with UN Women, UNFPA, UNDP, UNICEF and the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, as part of the Inter Agency Network on Youth Development and the Major Group on Children and Youth, to host the Youth ECOSOC Forum, Youth CSW and other civil society spaces at the United Nations. 
Ms. Rameshfar has worked for over a decade on projects aimed at the empowerment of young people in Australia as well as in communities throughout the Asia Pacific region and North and South America. She has worked at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) in New York and for the Australian Federal Government in Canberra. Saphira is an executive leadership coach and certified mediator. 

Paul B. Salvaty

Partner, Winston & Strawn LLP

Paul Salvaty is a litigation partner with more than 20 years of trial and appellate experience. He focuses his practice on complex commercial litigation, antitrust and competition, and technology litigation matters. Paul has prosecuted and defended major companies and public agencies spanning many industries in both state and federal courts. He has experience as first chair trial counsel and has successfully represented clients in over $150 million in verdicts and settlements.

Paul is active in the Los Angeles and San Francisco legal communities. Paul currently serves on the board of directors for the Tahirih Justice Center, helping immigrant survivors escape gender-based violence. He previously served as president of the board of directors of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

Paul served as a law clerk for the Honorable Dickran Tevrizian and the Honorable Kim M. Wardlaw at the United States District Court for the Central District of California. He also was a judicial extern for the Honorable Richard Gadbois at the United States District Court for the Central District of California.


Olga Ponce

Former Tahirih Client, Patient and Surgical Care Coordinator, Mid Atlantic Plastic Surgeons

Born in Bogota Colombia, Olga grew up in an Airforce family and traveled to countries like Brazil, Panama, and the USA. She lived in Colombia until age 9, moved to the United States with family on a diplomatic visa and grew up in Arlington, VA where she graduated from high school and went to college in San Angelo State University in TX on an Air Force Scholarship.

In 1988 she was awarded the Medal of Honor and Leadership by The Air Force Association when she was a cadet in the AFROTC in San Angelo State University the medal was given to a selected minority cadet for their excellent academic achievement and leadership performance.

Ms. Ponce moved back to Bogota, Colombia to continue studies at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana where she was part of a Nationwide campaign for Premature Birth death on low-income communities and native communities of the Andes Region. She graduated as a nurse in 1995.

Olga worked at Gimnasio Vermont as a Science and Health Ed. teacher for 10 years. At the school with a coeducational system, pioneer in Colombia for the education of boys and girls, with the institution she was awarded the Simon Bolivar Price to excellence in Education in 2001.

The single mother of one in 2003 became a Tahirih client fleeing violence from an abusive relationship with an American citizen. After 2.5 years of immigration processes and divorce from the abuser, she was finally granted a permanent residency through VAWA. Ms. Ponce has been a member of Tahirih’s Wings since 2004 and is an active advocate for the Tahirih Justice Center including writing a piece for the Editor’s page of The New York Times in 2017 on behalf of the organization. In 2021, Ms. Ponce got married.

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 then worked as Patient Care Coordinator at Plastic Surgery Institute of Washington, where she works closely with reconstructive and aesthetic surgeons for cancer patients in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. For the last five years, Ms. Ponce has worked as a Patient and Surgical Care Coordinator at Mid Atlantic Plastic Surgeons and continues to work with breast cancer survivors.


Rishi Varma

Board Treasurer, 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).

Over the course of his legal career, Rishi has advised public company boards as outside counsel and as in-house counsel on a variety of matters including financial planning, M&A transactions, corporate governance and shareholder activism.

Rishi oversees HPE’s nationwide pro bono campaigns and has worked with Tahirih’s Houston office on various matters including visa and asylum cases. In addition to serving on the Tahirih board, Rishi serves on the board of the Texas Asia Society, the leading educational organization promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among the peoples, leaders, and institutions of Asia and the West.

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


Enoch Varner

Partner, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Houston

Portrait image of Enoch Varner smilingEnoch Varner is a partner in the Houston office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. His practice concentrates on mergers and acquisitions and private equity transactions.

Before joining Kirkland, Enoch was Vice President and Counsel with Energy Capital Partners, a private equity firm. Prior to Energy Capital Partners, Enoch was a corporate associate in the Chicago and Houston offices of Latham & Watkins LLP.

Enoch completed the JD/MBA program at Northwestern University and received his BA from The University of Georgia.