I am deeply honored, and humbled to stand before this impressive audience and share this award with two great women- Patricia and Annalisa.I want to begin by giving thanks to my friend, partner and colleague Bonnie Wingate, for your dedication to the HBA and for championing my nomination.
I am grateful for the incredible friends and extended family that stand by me cheering loudly and exuberantly. To my partners in co-founding Insigniam Nathan Rosenberg and Michael Waldman and our other partners and colleagues from Insigniam, I am blessed to work shoulder to shoulder, with people like yourselves who find joy in passionately giving the best of your heart and mind in service of the success of others. And always a special appreciation for our Insigniam clients you inspire us everyday with your bold commitment to transform healthcare in service of patients around the world.
With $200, a hunger for freedom from religious persecution and in pursuit of the American dream, my parents had the guts to move their young family from Iran to the USA. To the pillars in my life, my Dad who always beamed with pride, Mom you have always been there any time anywhere to encourage me to reach high and far; my husband Shahab, you are the gentle hand on my back pushing me forward and the guy who still gives me butterflies in my stomach. To our three sons, Kavian, Kian and Carey—I thank you for guys for always giving me unconditional love—through the whirlwind adventure of having an intense Mom like me.
As far back as I can remember the star that I navigate my life by has been a phrase I read in a long forgotten book: “I want to die knowing that my having lived made a difference.”
I dreamt of righting wrongs and building a better world. I was also always drawn to the world of business as an arena one could make a big difference. Upon showing up at the Wharton school as a starry eyed freshman (and as one the of the few women to boot) on a hot August day in 1977 my advisor asked me my goals. “I’d like to make a big difference and live the comfortable life that comes with success,” I replied.
This didn’t sit so well with the advisor—she threw her pencil in exasperation on her desk and looked sternly into my eyes- “listen, if you want to make a difference go work on an Indian reservation making a $110 a week. If you want to live a comfortable life apply yourself diligently to this school and you will have that!”
Those of you who know me well know that telling me I can’t do something is the best way to get me to do it. Then and there I had my defining moment and decided that I was darn well going to have both!
After many years of working hard and having grown our business from an extra desk in a spare bedroom to offices in multiple countries, my partners and I were not satisfied with our social impact. How could we make the maximum contribution and have a material impact on the world we live? We had the inspiration, and just had to find an innovative way to do this without having the deep pockets of mega organizations! We came up with two ways I want to share with you.
First we give each employee several days of paid time every year to volunteer with a charity of his or her choice. Our employees cheered at this announcement louder than an announcement of any other benefits involving cash. The result is that Insigniam employees have served underprivileged communities around the world, as well as worked with foundations serving populations such as macular degeneration, spinal muscular atrophy and suicidal gay youth. Each time, they come back to work refreshed, energized and having a bigger sense of themselves.
Secondly, Insigniam decided to get involved on a pro bono basis with a couple non-profit organizations each year —we literally give them a blank check on our consulting services. We have had the privilege of supporting several enterprise wide transformations including the Boy Scouts and Red Cross. And apropos for today we have had the profound opportunity to support the creation and continued growth of the Somaly Mam Foundation. Somaly Mam is a person and a global leader, a survivor of sex slave trade in Cambodia who has pioneered the movement against sex slavery for nearly two decades. One of our consultants heard Somaly’s story on CNN and used his time to meet with Somaly. During an inspiring conversation on a car ride from Phnom Penh, Somaly explained her vision to provide a platform for the survivor voice to be heard around the world. The Somaly Mam Foundation was born.
It’s been almost 37 years since I met with my counselor at Wharton, I have learned many lessons. I have learned that the opportunity to make a difference rarely shows itself at a time when you have a huge block of unscheduled time or wads of money waiting to be donated. There are few invitations to politely intervene when you witness injustice and almost no opportunity to contribute risk-free.
For those of us who are inspired by the possibility that we can leave the world a bit better, while balancing work demands, kids’ needs, mortgage payments and little snippets of rest, making a difference requires creativity to carve out acts of contribution in all kinds of everyday moments.
EB White says it best. He says: “I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.”
I say: for me – this is joyful!