When Zeenia Irani (EWMBA ’23) visited Columbia and Venezuela to provide emergency response, she remembered most the conversations she had with refugees and the vulnerabilities they expressed about starting a new life not by their own accords.

“I remember standing with one foot in Venezuela and the other end in Colombia with people carrying their home supplies on their backs and just seeking refuge.”

She connected with their stories because she could see the story of her own family fleeing Iran to India. For Zeenia, helping the most vulnerable communities is not only her passion. It is also her purpose stemming from her culture and religion as a Zoroastrian woman.

Driving change to build better communities

Growing up, Zeenia visited India and witnessed the culture of philanthropy that the Zoroastrian community built based on the core tenants of the Zoroastrianism faith: good thoughts, good words, and good deeds.

“I have seen how the embrace of democratic societies welcoming my people have contributed to building a culture of philanthropy and giving back.”

Advocating and leading teams to support vulnerable communities have been core tenets of Zeenia’s career working at institutions including the United Nations Foundation, United Nations World Food Program, and currently at FINCA International as the Director of Strategic Initiatives.

Choosing the Journey to Haas

For Zeenia, the decision to move to the West Coast from Washington D.C. where she built her life was not easy. But she knew that the Evening & Weekend Program at UC Berkeley Haas will equip her with the knowledge to be a CEO of an international organization that advocates for refugee rights.

“I know the ways I think traditionally, as it relates to nonprofit NGO work, and I came to an MBA to go beyond and think in a really new direction.”

Going Beyond Yourself at Haas

While at Haas, Zeenia partnered with her classmate Eugene Kim to create the Hearts Against Hunger campaign. In less than two months, Zeenia and Eugene provided 11,000 meals to vulnerable individuals globally.

“Having worked for the United Nations World Food Program in the past, a recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, I wanted to bring a handful of my colleagues from the UN to Haas to see how we could work as a global community to create change.”

Looking Ahead

As the recently appointed VP of Social Impact in the Evening & Weekend MBA Association, Zeenia’s passion and purpose to drive change continues to help better the Haas community.

To learn more about Zeenia’s story and to get her advice on how to start purpose-driven community initiatives, click below to listen to her Here@Haas podcast episode.

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