Who we are and how we got here.
The Organizing Committee
The Afghan-American Conference started as an idea implemented by a group of students and working professionals volunteering remotely from across the United States. Our team is comprised of individuals with deep passion for our community, a commitment to service, and diverse personal and professional experiences that seek to advance AAC’s vision of building a supportive, empowered, and engaged Afghan-American community.
ZACHIA NAZARZAI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Growing up, Zachia was surrounded by a large Afghan community in Southern California. However, it was upon joining the United Afghan Club at UCLA that she first started working with the community, and she has not stopped since. Zachia is driven by the strength of her community and hopes the Afghan-American Conference will serve as a space for the community to learn from and work with one another.
Zachia is a Policy Analyst on the Neighborhood Services team in Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office. In her role, she works closely with the Department of Recreation and Parks and the LA Zoo. She received her BA in International Development Studies and Political Science from UCLA and her Masters in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University.
SARA NOORZAY, OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
Born in Afghanistan, but raised in the United States, Sara always felt a deep connection to her Afghan roots. Serving her community was never an option, it was a requirement. As a previous member of the Afghan American Youth Council, a non-profit organization established post-9/11, Sara worked on various programs and events focused on engaging, supporting, and empowering the Afghan-American community in Southern California. Through the years, life became busy and her involvement with the community diminished–but after attending her first AAC conference in 2015, she felt inspired and energized to re-engage in a more meaningful way. After serving as an AAC participant the last few years, Sara decided to join the AAC Organizing Committee in 2017 and take an active role in shaping the experience for future participants.
Sara currently resides in Los Angeles and serves as a Sr. Director of Business Systems Operation at PebblePost, a programmatic direct mail startup based in New York, with operations on the West Coast.
ATIQ AHMADULLAH, ADMINISTRATIVE CHAIR
After attending AAC, Atiq became captivated by a group of dedicated Afghan-Americans that were brave enough to share their vulnerabilities. He wanted to come back to AAC to be part of a conversation where members are actively deciding the cultural future of our hyphenated community.
Atiq received his Biology degree from the University of Kansas and continued on to medical school. While in medical school, he served as his state’s American Medical Association (AMA) president. He traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with congressional leaders to advocate for an increase in Graduate Medical Education. After two years of medical school, Atiq realized it wasn’t the best fit for him and rather than finishing medical school, Atiq went back to the University of Kansas and received an Engineering degree. He now works for Netsmart Technologies, a health IT company, as a consultant on the implementation team.
NAZIEH FAZLI, COMMUNITY INITIATIVES CHAIR
Nazieh was born in Iran and raised in Australia. After graduating from university, she spent some time living in Hong Kong and London before moving to New York in 2016. In 2014, she joined the Executive Team at APN (Afghan Professionals Network) in London with a team of professional Afghans to develop educational, professional development and charitable initiatives that benefited the people of Afghanistan. In 2017, she joined the Women For Afghan Women (WAW) Junior Board to bridge the gap between the youth and older generation of Afghans in the community, as well as communicate the work of WAW both in New York and Kabul. Though she grew up in Australia, she has noticed the same pattern of cultural challenges faced by the Afghan community all over the world.
Nazieh is currently the Director of Internal Controls at Brookfield Asset Management and manages teams, both locally and globally, on financial risk, process improvement projects and audit and compliance initiatives.
WAHEED GARDEZI, PROFESSIONAL NETWORKING CHAIR
Waheed is a native of Orange County, California who is passionate about seeing fellow Afghan Americans succeed personally and professionally. Having grown up without a strong Afghan American community outside of immediate family, Waheed has come to view AAC as his second family. A three-time AAC participant, Waheed has moderated professional panels on business and consulting at previous conferences and mentored Afghan teenagers through the Afghan Mentorship Program (AMP).
Waheed is currently the Chief Counselor of Edvanced Learning, a provider of high-quality educational services to high school students. For over nine years, Waheed has counseled thousands of high school students seeking admission to top US universities. Prior to Edvanced, Waheed worked in business consulting for over four years. He is a 2009 graduate of Harvard College and former admissions interviewer for the Harvard College Office of Admissions. In his free time, Waheed enjoys surfing, exploring new restaurants and taking impromptu road trips.
GINA KARIMI, APPLICATIONS CHAIR
Gina Karimi’s passion for the Afghan-American community began as a child, seeing her father participate in various community events to unite our community. In college, she was one of the leaders of ASA-West’s nationwide clothing, blankets and school supply drive for Afghanistan. Later on, she became more involved with the United Afghan Club at UCLA and the Afghan Health Initiative.
Gina is currently a statistical analyst in Los Angeles, CA and received her M.S. in Biostatistics from UCLA. She is passionate about music and advocates for musicians and artists. She also loves memes and the Los Angeles Lakers.
MADINA SALEMI NOORISTANI, FINANCE CHAIR: BUDGET
Being born in Kabul, Afghanistan and witnessing first hand the sacrifices her parents made to escape the war in order to give Madina a brighter future has made her realize how privileged she is. She has tried in the past to pay it forward to future generations who may not have been as fortunate through various organizations but none inspired her like AAC.
She hopes that AAC will continue to grow and prosper so that one day, it can give her son a community to belong to, learn from, and be proud of. Madina has worked on Wall Street at AIG for the past 12 years as an Actuary. She graduated New York University, Stern School of Business with a major in Actuarial Science, Finance and minor in Mathematics.
ARESH RAMIN, FINANCE CHAIR: DEVELOPMENT
Aresh was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY until his entire family moved out to the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania while in high school. He grew up in a large Afghan family and didn't have an Afghan community outside of that. Growing up as an Afghan-American, he faced the struggle of his family never understanding his life as an American and his friends never understanding his life as an Afghan. AAC gave him the community that he was searching for and created new friendships with people that share the same hyphenation.
Aresh graduated with a B.S. in Biology from Penn State University and graduated with a M.D. from the University of South Florida. He is currently completing his last year as a Resident Physician in Emergency Medicine. Aresh currently resides in the Bronx where he is doing his residency at the Montefiore Health System and Jacobi Medical Center, which is part of NYC Health + Hospitals.
OMAR AZIZ, PROGRAMMING CHAIR: BREAKOUTS
Omar Aziz is a proud Fremonti who grew up with Afghan soccer, Lake Elizabeth picnics, and the beautiful chaos of Afghan Sunday school. Hip-hop music and culture educated him to think critically about society, and he hopes to use the knowledge and skills gained from the experiences of other minority communities to further the agency of Afghan-Americans. Omar is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, former high school teacher, and higher education administrator.
Inspired by attending the inaugural AAC, Omar helped start The Samovar Network, which is an online forum for Afghans to discuss issues affecting the diaspora. He is currently a Graduate Teaching Assistant and PhD student in Higher Education at George Mason University. On the side, Omar works tirelessly to convince doubters that he is a life-long Golden State Warriors fan and has never rode on any bandwagon.
SOPHIE HOSSEIN, PROGRAMMING CHAIR: PLENARY
Sophie believes she is most aligned with her purpose when she is helping her community work tirelessly to overcome generations of trauma. Growing up, her positive and negative experiences and interactions in the community encapsulated every reason she cares strongly about service for others, the power of human connection, and the ability to heal.
Sophie is a Surgical Technician in Newport Beach, California and is an aspiring Physician Assistant. She was born and raised in the Bay Area and lives in Orange County, California. Sophie graduated cum laude from UC Riverside, where she founded UCR’s then-defunct Afghan Students Association.
HAROUN DADA, LOGISTICS CHAIR
Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Haroun grew up without an Afghan community (outside of his family). An AAC attendee in 2015, a speaker in 2016, and a cohort lead in 2017, Haroun decided to get involved as an organizer for our 2018 conference. He felt the conference provided him with so much both personally and professionally; he wanted to ensure the same is provided to all participants.
Haroun is a Senior Analyst at The Wendy’s Company in Columbus, Ohio and the Head of Healthcare Management for GliaLab, a new startup that develops artificial intelligence solutions for the healthcare industry. He received his B.A. in International Studies at The Ohio State University and his M.H.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to Wendy’s and GliaLab, Haroun was a Consultant at Deloitte.
ARZO KADERI, COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT CHAIR: CONFERENCE
Growing up in Southern California, Arzo was always surrounded by other Afghans through her dad’s work but avoided interacting with them. In her junior year of university, she was struggling to feel connected to her peers and she reluctantly joined the Afghan Student Association, where she instantly felt a sense of belonging. Her ASA attended the first AAC together and Arzo’s perception of the Afghan-American community changed drastically. She has attended three out of the four conferences and left each one feeling inspired and motivated to get involved.
Arzo moved to Washington, D.C. to work in international development. She is currently the Project Associate for the Social Enterprise Department at Population Services International, a global health NGO that focuses on issues such as women’s reproductive rights and family planning. She hopes to be able to follow this career path into Afghanistan one day.
MUKHTAR MAYAN, COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT CHAIR: NON-CONFERENCE
Mukhtar currently works in Property Management in the greater NYC area. He graduated from Queens College with a degree in Psychology and minored in speech pathology.
His dream job growing up was to be a speech pathologist, as he started his career in the field he knew it wasn’t the right field for him. He caught himself getting too emotionally involved at the job. At AAC 2016, he met a great friend who introduced him to his into the property management field and the rest was history!
LIDA AZIM, MARKETING CHAIR: COMMUNICATIONS
Born and raised in the Bay Area, Lida has always looked to give back. As an AAC participant the last few years, Lida focused her energy towards empowering her community. She and six other AAC alumni created the Afghan Diaspora for Equality and Progress, a non profit focused on raising awareness of social injustice and organizing change-makers in our community. Continuing in her efforts to be an active and involved member of the community, Lida joined the AAC Organizing Committee. She’s excited to give back to the same organization that gave her this community she loves so dearly.
Lida currently lives in Washington, D.C., working for a grantmaking program supporting various organizations working to address hate crimes, discrimination, anti-Muslim bigotry, and xenophobia. She is a graduate student
SABRINA NOORZAY, MARKETING CHAIR: BRANDING & SOCIAL MEDIA
Sabrina was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Being inspired by her family, Sabrina has been involved with the Afghan-American community from a young age. Sabrina served as a board member of the United Afghan Club at UCLA, where she helped raise over $50,000 for Afghanistan. After attending AAC in 2015, her passion to serve and uplift our diaspora was renewed. She helped start the Afghan Mentorship Program, which aims to provide mentorship for Afghan-American youth in the United States.
Sabrina is currently a Digital Marketing Senior Manager at L'Oreal in El Segundo, CA. She graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Psychology. Prior to L'Oreal, Sabrina worked for Hitachi Consulting and Slalom as a Consultant.