PAAIA’s Founding, 2007
In November 2006, a group of approximately 70 Iranian Americans from across the United States gathered in New York City to examine and discuss issues confronting the community. Despite significant individual achievement in all aspects of American life over the preceding three decades, there was a consensus within this group that Iranian Americans had failed to come together as a community to promote their image, support their advancement in public affairs, and present an effective national voice.
A task force created during the gathering drafted and submitted a proposal to the group of 70 on how these goals could be achieved. The task force’s main recommendation was the formation of a national organization dedicated to promoting the goals of community building, image building, and influence building. The recommendation was detailed in a prospectus and presented at another gathering in Northern California in April 2007, where the participants overwhelmingly endorsed the task force’s recommendations. Thus, the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, (PAAIA)1, was born in August 2007 as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, bipartisan, non-sectarian, national membership organization together with an affiliated 501(c)(3), IA-100, to represent and advance the interests of the Iranian American community. PAAIA publicly launched in April, 2008.
PAAIA was conceived to meet three needs: Community Building, Image Building, and Influence Building.
At that time, the task force carefully considered the issue of US-Iran relations and PAAIA’s role in such relationships. After much consideration, PAAIA decided not to do so at that juncture. There were two principal reasons for this decision. First, the founders of PAAIA felt that at the time, the issue of Iran was divisive for the community and taking it on would prove to be more of a hindrance rather than a catalyst for building an organization from the ground up. Second, it was felt that US-Iran issues required a level of experience and proficiency that transcended the resources of a startup community organization and would be best handled at a more mature stage of development where the organization’s credibility would not be in doubt.
The Intervening Years, 2007 – 2014
By 2014, PAAIA evolved to become the leading Iranian American organization which represents the needs of our community. Working in tandem with the community at large and with other organizations, it has effectively promoted the role of Iranian Americans in the social, cultural, and economic tapestry of the United States.
By implementing programs such as the Passing the Torch of Success, the Nowruz Project, Nowruz on Capitol Hill, Cyrus Cylinder Tour at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, and A Thousand Years of the Persian Book at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, PAAIA has helped build and portray a more accurate image of our community with three key audiences: the general public, policymakers, and lawmakers.
PAAIA also routinely stands up for the rights of our community, such as addressing inflammatory remarks about Iranians made by a retired Stanford faculty member, ensuring the professional networking website, LinkedIn, placed Iran back on their education drop-down menu from where it had been removed, and working with the American Values Network (AVN) to drop an anti-oil ad campaign that targeted Iran in favor of a new concept promoting clean energy while shielding innocent Iranians and Iranian Americans from a bad image.
In 2009, realizing the importance of investing in and supporting the future generation of Iranian Americans, PAAIA added a fourth pillar that facilitated the path of success for our younger generation, NexGen. Since then, hundreds of young Iranian Americans have benefited from programs such as the Mentorship Program, Capitol Hill Internship Program (CHIP), Opportunities for Growth and High Achievement (OGHAB), and the Leadership Conference.
In 2012, PAAIA launched the PAAIA Public Policy Center, which formalized PAAIA’s public policy activities, including our annual national survey of Iranian Americans, multiple publications such as PAAIA’s Iran Sanctions Reports, Congressional Scorecards, and Report on U.S. Interest Section in Iran, panel presentations, and congressional and administration briefings. The national survey of Iranian Americans, in particular, is the only scientific survey of its kind and is distributed to every member of Congress. PAAIA has also helped address issues impacting the community, such as changing the single-entry visa policy for Iranian students in 2011, issuance of a general license to provide humanitarian relief to victims of the 2012 earthquakes in Iran, and supporting a diplomatic resolution to U.S. – Iran issues.
In addition, through its affiliated political action committee, the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC), contributes over $300,000 to a bipartisan group of candidates for local, state, and federal offices as well as all four congressional party committees, as well as Iranian American candidates for public office. It has also helped raise an additional $3.7 million for endorsed candidates.
In the intervening seven years, Iranian Americans have evolved beyond a population of successfully-assimilated first and second-generation immigrant individuals to become much more of a community unto themselves. While one or two cultural groups had earlier origins, the more recent formations coalesced to meet a more diverse set of community needs. Today, there are hundreds of local and national Iranian American organizations, including those that provide legal protection, political representation, civic engagement, philanthropy, professional or business representation, or simply the celebration of a rich tradition of art and culture.
In addition, some of the issues that existed in 2007, such as questions of image, potential for discrimination, or cultural identity have either considerably diminished in importance or are being addressed in a more impactful, targeted manner by the different organizations that have since sprung into existence. In parallel with these changing community priorities, the nature of U.S.-Iran relations has also evolved. After more than three decades of hostility, government representatives of the two countries have recently begun direct public dialogue, and an interim, confidence-building accord was struck to resolve international concerns about the path of Iran’s nuclear development.
Ultimately, the intervening years built a strong enough foundation for PAAIA to strategically pivot its mission and direction while maintaining its core principles.
Strategic Redirection, 2014
By 2014, Iranian Americans evolved beyond a population of successfully-assimilated first and second-generation immigrants to become an established, vibrant community. Today, there are hundreds of local and national Iranian American organizations, including PAAIA. The growing support these organizations receive not only illustrates the vacuum that needed to be filled, but is also indicative of how the Iranian American community is maturing and entering a new stage of its evolution.
It is clear that the need for an organization like PAAIA – which was established with a set of objectives developed to meet the challenges of a different period – has changed. The PAAIA Board, therefore, carefully examined how PAAIA should change its mission and structure to serve the needs of the IA community of today and of the future, taking into account PAAIA’s more seasoned stage of development as well as the evolving needs of the community and the nature of US-Iran relations. Based on these reconsiderations, starting in 2014, PAAIA refocused its efforts on three specific pillars: Bridge-Building, Influence-Building, and Leadership-Building, while maintaining its core principles.
1PAAIA, pronounced “pa-ya,” means “firm” and “steadfast” in Persian.