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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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Montes

Partner, Assurance Services, 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

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

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

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