Much like any afternoon meeting that would call me to the offices of one of my start-up clients, I hunted amidst the mixed use office and industrial structures inhabited by the thousands of companies in search of their success stories in Silicon Valley. The difference on that particular afternoon was that I was not headed to a start-up client to provide legal guidance, but to meet and interview Noosheen Hashemi, founder of The H.A.N.D. Foundation and the newly launched webzine Forsat.org. I first learned of Noosheen's passion for entrepreneurship two years ago at the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Executives' (FWE&E) annual dinner and awards event.
Forsat.org is run with the discipline, team, and vision more akin to a high technology start-up than a non-profit endeavor. The core team's efforts are supplemented by a larger circle of volunteers sharing their professional expertise through contribution of articles. As an intellectual philanthropist and a member of the circle, I find my experience rewarding and want others to join this positive experience. Towards those goals, I sat down with Noosheen to get a better understanding for Forsat.org's opportunity and future.
It seems that entrepreneurship has been a theme in your philanthropic endeavors for some time, to what do you attribute this?
I helped launch FWE&E after graduating in 1993 as a Sloan Fellow from Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. It has grown from the small Palo Alto association to an international network of powerful business women. I found the philanthropic call of helping women start and grow Fortune 500 companies, expand their presence on boards and become venture capitalists very compelling. An early, pre-IPO employee of Oracle, I had a first-hand taste of entrepreneurship and fast growth and wanted others, who had not been so lucky to have grown up in a meritocracy, to have the same chances as I had.
Could you briefly describe Forsat.org?
A mother of two young kids, I think a lot about the future of the planet and direct our philanthropic work towards helping solve root cause problems through platform solutions. Forsat.org is an educational nonprofit committed to tackling joblessness through promotion of entrepreneurial and free market values among 15-35 year olds in the Persian-speaking world. The site offers how-tos, best practices and links to resources as well as covers big ideas, meta trends and role models, all aiming to bring context and awareness to young people committed to a professional career. One of the popular articles listed is “Teen entrepreneurs: How to start a web hosting business.” Others might focus on bringing commercial thinking to artists or monetization know-how to bloggers. Personal development is another key focus whose articles include dos and don'ts of interviewing, school selection and admission strategies, and how to get the most out of one's college experience.
What motivated you to launch Forsat.org?
I am grateful that I landed right here in Silicon Valley when my family immigrated to the U.S. in 1977. The educational and professional opportunities before me have been boundless. I have had the opportunity to observe and learn from spectacular role models who not only created jobs for themselves and their friends; they created entire industries that employed tens of thousands of people. Perhaps naively, I wish that young people everywhere would have such opportunities. I am proud to support College Track, a nonprofit that tutors and mentors high-talent low-resource high school students to get into college, and 100% of them do.
Forsat.org is an attempt to decode the black box of entrepreneurship in the hopes that more people would attempt it. Granted, the irrepressible will of the individual to create or invent something is only one small part of a multi dimensional system that includes significant R&D investment, a world class university system, access to capital, intellectual property rights, sophisticated financial markets to allow returns for investors, bankruptcy protection laws, etc., and yet, given the size of the unemployed population in at-risk parts of the world, even a small step might be useful. Did you know that, in Iran alone, some 700,000 people join the workforce and 200,000 immigrate each year? Both populations need to become independent as quickly as possible.
So how did you settle on the idea of a webzine and as opposed to alternatives to promote entrepreneurial thinking?
Before comprehensive sanctions were put into effect, a few friends and I considered the idea of encouraging Indian software houses to set up boot camps in Iran and take advantage of the large, inexpensive and highly educated labor force there while the youth “learned by doing” and transacting with the outside world. I soon learned of the legal, cultural and infrastructural limitations which included language barriers. More than a dozen years later, distance learning became an option for getting the youth to be proactive about creating opportunities for themselves. The same content can be distributed via small booklets to people in Afghanistan who do not have access to the internet though we are not prepared to take on physical production and distribution.
What are some of the specific goals you have for Forsat.org? What do you hope to achieve?
We have three goals:
a) To provide a platform for intellectual philanthropy using the web;
b) To develop a network of professionals beyond family and geographic boundaries; and
c) To help people start businesses everywhere.
How can readers contribute?
Forsat.org is an inclusive forum and welcomes feedback and, especially, articles!! If you feel that you have something to share, please err on the side of action and put your thoughts down in writing. Please refer to www.forsat.org/pages/writeforus for more information. We are open to collaboration and partnerships with other organizations that find promoting entrepreneurship in the developing world a worthy cause.
I left my meeting feeling energized and hopeful. The cumulative impact of a professional network coupled with dissemination of fresh thinking might be just what the doctor ordered! If one person starts a business because of something that I or one of my team members wrote, then we're off to a good start.
Alaleh Azarkhish is an attorney at law in Menlo Park, California.