Leveling the playing field
What do Koreans, Pakistanis, and Tongans have that Iranians
By Afshin Abedi
February 12, 2004
In the eyes of the US Small Business
Administration (SBA), Iranian Americans are one of the only ethnic
groups not recognized as socially
disadvantaged, a definition that applies to Japanese, Bangladeshis,
Hispanics, and almost every other immigrant and ethnic group in
It is time for the Iranian-American community to
stand up for its rights and gain official recognition of our ethnicity
in this nation.
As an Iranian-American businessperson, for years I have witnessed
firsthand the exclusion of our community from government and private
programs, contracts, and incentives because we are not recognized
as a minority ethnicity.
There is no question that the Iranian-American
community has had great entrepreneurial success in this country.
Yet like many other
ethnic groups, and especially within the climate of suspicion inside
the US toward those of Middle Eastern descent, Iranian-Americans
have faced their share of discrimination.
small business owners, the prejudices and cultural biases translate
to lost customers and contracts and directly affect their family's
livelihood. Unfortunately, when it comes to accessing the programs
and services designed to help a small business overcome these exact
obstacles, Iranian Americans are time and again rejected because
their ethnicity is not officially recognized as one that faces
these forms of social disadvantage.
From experience, I personally
know of the frustrations of competing in an economy in which the
playing field is uneven for ethnic minorities.
The US government through the SBA has created such programs as
the 8(a) Business Development Program and the SDB (Small Disadvantaged
Business) Certification Program to allow minority ethnic groups
with a strong potential for success to compete more effectively
in the American economy.
This is done through, for instance, training
and technical support or providing incentives to prime contractors
to seek small businesses owned by minorities. This concept is noble,
and necessary in my opinion, however, the part where the system
has been flawed is in its definition of “minority.”
Our company, Telnet, Incorporated, is a high-tech
Telecommunications and Information Technology consulting firm that
engineering solutions to clients in the US and abroad. Since
its inception in 1996, Telnet has developed a solid record of providing
high quality, timely, and reliable services and solutions to
While Telnet has unquestionably shown its potential
for success, we have been turned down repeatedly by numerous
government contractors because we are not considered a minority
company. Telnet has also applied for SDB certification.
months of hard work and providing the SBA with specific examples
faced discrimination because of its owner's ethnic background,
our application was rejected. Even though the discrimination
was similar in form to what other, recognized ethnicities
inquiry into this subject Telnet was informed that it does
not qualify as a socially disadvantaged company because
it is owned
by an Iranian-American. Apparently, the result would have
been different had the owner been Tongan.
Due to our lack of awareness and limited access
to these government programs, Iranian Americans have sat on the
other ethnic minorities have benefited from the prosperity
provide. This issue is not limited to the business world;
rather, gaining official recognition toward these government
is a major milestone in recognizing the entire Iranian-American
in the social fabric of our great nation.
The true meaning
of the United States of America is only realized when
all minorities are
recognized for their experiences and welcomed as an equal
member of our country.
I was very pleased to recently
learn of a new plan by an Iranian-American group to gain official
our ethnic community.
The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has recently
introduced its 8(a) Support Project, a strong, well-researched,
initiative that will put forward a petition on behalf
of Iranian Americans for recognition from the SBA toward
that exclude us.
Personally and professionally, I strongly support
NIAC's initiative. The team at NIAC has spent months researching
the process of attaining official recognition of
toward these types of programs, and has developed
a solid strategy.
I encourage everyone to check the latest
information on this exciting initiative for our community, and how our help
for its success.
Let's not wait another day to act toward gaining
the official recognition Iranian Americans deserve
as a participating member of this country. Together,
and with the
strong leadership of such groups as NIAC, we
can improve the overall standing and involvement of
Americans, whether in their
civic, political, or industrial activities, and
better contribute to the country we call home.
Afshin Abedi, Ph.D, is
Director of Advanced Technologies & Operations at
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