Each year Neda Nobari Foundation is privileged to meet and work with brilliant and innovative individuals working at the intersection of education, social justice, and grassroots activism.  Each
in their own ways, these change-makers are pioneering new systems’ approaches that ignite a transformative potential critical in today’s 21st century world, yet rarely receive the
acknowledgement they deserve.

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The NNF Spotlight Series seeks to give a platform to these global leaders, their exemplary work projects, backgrounds, and their driving passions that set them apart as some of the most progressive trailblazers of our time.

Hamid Rahmanian

New York–based Iranian Filmmaker and Graphic Artist


Hamid Rahmanian is a 2014 John Guggenheim Fellow. His work centers on film and graphic arts. Rahmanian was educated in Tehran, Iran where he gained his B.F.A. in Graphic Design from Tehran University. His work as a graphic designer spans two decades. He owned and managed a top firm in Tehran for five years. In 1992, he received the highest honor and was awarded recognition as the youngest professional designer in Iran. He has received numerous awards for his achievements and his work has been exhibited in international festivals and competitions. He continued working as a graphic designer in the US and has been commissioned to do work for cultural organizations and commercial companies including The United Nations, GQ Magazine, Lincoln Center, Tribeca Film Institute, Pacifica Radio/Democracy Now!, Aramex, and Eurasia Foundation.

In 2009, he wrote and illustrated a graphic autobiography entitled THE MAGNIFICENT BOOK OF M of which some of the illustrations were part of an exhibition called MULTIVERSE at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art in 2011. In 2013 he illustrated an adaptation of the 10th century Persian epic poem “Shahnameh” by Ferdowsi, entitled SHAHNAMEH: THE EPIC OF THE PERSIAN KINGS. This best-selling, 600 page art book was published by The Quantuck Lane Press and distributed by W. W. Norton & Company. His artwork from the book has been exhibited and purchased by several museums. He recently completed a pop up book, entitled, ZAHAAK: THE LEGEND OF THE SERPENT KING, to be released in 2016 through Fantagraphics Books.

Currently, Mr. Rahmanian is creating a cinematic shadow play for the theater based on the love story of Zaul and Rudabeh from the Shahnameh, entitled FEATHERS OF FIRE: A PERSIAN EPIC, which has premiered to sold out audiences from coast to coast in 2016.

Marjaneh Moghimi

Founder & Director of Butimar Productions


Marjaneh Moghimi is the founder and director of Butimar Productions, a San Francisco-based production company dedicated to preserving the cultural traditions of the East. Founded in 2003 in Menlo Park, California, Butimar Productions is a 501 c (3) nonprofit art organization dedicated to making world-class documentary/feature films and music videos.

Most recently, Marjaneh produced  Radio Dreams, a feature length film that won the prestigious Hivos Tiger Award for Best Film at Rotterdam’s International Film Festival Rotterdam in February 2016. Marjaneh is a true advocate and pioneer for Iranian and Iranian-American filmmaking and cross-cultural bridge- building. She has produced films for acclaimed international directors such as Bahman Kiarostami (Infidels, Kamancheh, Pilgrimage, Persian Gardens), Michael Apted (Power of the Game), Justine Shapiro (Our Summer in Tehran) and Mitra Farahani (Behjat Sadr, Fifi Howls from Happiness). She also served as the production manager for Jana and Baladoor-  the first shadow-play by Iran’s foremost playwright and director Bahram Beyzaie.

Prior to launching Butimar, Moghimi worked for seven years at the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco (SFMOMA).

Sarah Shourd

Journalist, Playwright, Educator, Public Speaker, Activist


“The necessity for me was to find artistic expression of an experience that threatened my sanity, my dignity and my future.” –Sarah Shourd

Journalist and playwright Sarah Shourd survived 410 days of solitary confinement while imprisoned as a political hostage by the Iranian government from 2009 to 2010. Since her release, Sarah has traveled across the U.S.—driving through snowstorms and snaking through Redwood forests in order to interview dozens of people in the isolation units of our country’s most remote and forbidding prisons. Sarah wove these stories into a play, The Box, about the rare but intimate bonds forged behind walls and the ultimate sacrifice of three exceptional men willing to die if necessary for the simple things the rest of us often take for granted.

Shourd’s play is about human resilience in the face of isolation, the plight of modern-day heroes who are enduring torture inside America’s prisons, the ripple effects of systematic torture, and what it means to be human. It evokes the atmosphere of prison with soundscapes of actual isolation pods, and reenacts common prison protocols that are designed to demean and humiliate. Drawing from her background in Theatre of the Oppressed, Shourd has created a play that shows the human cost of an inhumane practice.

Sarah is a writer, educator, Contributing Editor at Solitary Watch, and a Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley currently based in Oakland, California. Her memoir A Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran—co-authored by Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal— was published by Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt in March 2014.

Shahla Ettefagh

Founder, Mother Miracle School


Shahla Ettefagh has committed her life to assisting underprivileged children in India. Born in Iran, she moved with her family to the United States in 1980.  She has a master’s degree in Architecture and a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Child Psychology. In 1984, she started a successful commercial interior art design firm, as well as an adult community art school in the Bay Area of San Francisco, California.

After a visit to India in 1995 she was so moved by the children in the slums of Rishikesh who were living in terrible poverty that she vowed to come back permanently to help these kids. In 2002, Shahla closed her business, sold her house and belongings to fund Mother Miracle projects, and moved permanently to Rishikesh, India.

What started in 2002 as a program with 9 children in a rented apartment has flourished into a full-blown free educational institute serving both children and adults in the Shisham Jhari area of Rishikesh, India. Today 580 underprivileged gifted children and adults are being educated in a large compound.  Besides attending primary school, the children also learn music, art, karate, and yoga.   Young adults receive free vocational training in the Computer Institute, and impoverished women learn the vocational skills they need to bring their families out of poverty in the Women’s Empowerment Program. Shahla has come to have an immense impact on the local community of Rishikesh.

Since then, Shahla has devoted her life, energy, and spirit to this beautiful cause. As Ms. Ettefagh says, Mother Miracle is not only an educational institute but a big, loving, and nurturing family.”The project is funded by Ms. Ettefagh, the child sponsorship program, and general donors.

Tomás Alvarez III

Founded, Beats Rhymes and Life, Inc


Fueled by his discontent with traditional mental health systems, Tomás set out to re-imagine mental health for boys and men of color. In 2004 while working as a school social worker he pioneered one of the first Hip-Hop Therapy programs in an effort to engage youth turned off by traditional forms of therapy. In 2011, he founded the nonprofit Beats Rhymes and Life, Inc. and served as its CEO until 2015. In 2012, his efforts using Hip-Hop Therapy in Oakland were the focus of an award-winning documentary film (A Lovely Day). His unique approach to Hip-Hop Therapy has been the feature of numerous books and scholarly articles. As public speaker, Tomás has spoken at conferences, symposiums and colleges across the country.

Tomás’ numerous awards and recognitions throughout his career are a tribute to his vision, leadership and impact. In 2012 NBC Latino named Tomás Alvarez III one of the country’s Top 20 Innovators, whose work is changing their fields. The top honor placed Tomás in the company of other innovators such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Rosario Dawson and Dolores Huerta. In 2014 Tomás was selected as a lifetime fellow by Ashoka, an international organization that identifies and supports social entrepreneurs whose bold ideas have the power to transform patterns in society. Most recently Tomás was named a CNN Hero, a top honor that highlights everyday people who are changing the world.

Tomás received his BA in social work from San Francisco State University (2004) and Masters in social work from Smith College School for Social Work (2006). Currently, he is a SEERS fellow at Stanford University’s Program on Social Entrepreneurship where he is working to launch a global institute for Hip-Hop Therapy.


Xóchitl Sánchez Santos

Co-Founder & Director, SF State Guardian Scholars Program


“You can always spot the guardian scholars on move-in day,” said Xochitl Sanchez-Zarama, who co-founded the San Francisco State Guardian Scholars program, modeled after the nation’s first such program, founded at Cal State Fullerton in 1999. Today there are 150 similar programs, most of them on West Coast campuses.

“Guardian scholars are the ones dropped off on the curb by a taxi or a social worker,” Sanchez-Zarama said. “Maybe they get a handshake or a pat on the back, and they are carrying what little they have in a Hefty bag or cardboard box, while everyone else is hugging their parents and waving goodbye.”

Through advocacy, support, and empowerment, the SF State Guardian Scholars Program creates a vibrant community to engage current and former foster youth to attain college degrees, stable housing and career path employment. EOP students can apply for this collaborative program that works with the School of Social Work to provide clinical case management services

So far 64 students have gone through the Guardian Scholars program in San Francisco, and 88 percent of them have graduated – a higher rate than the campus as a whole.