LOS ANGELES, California — Mona Mahmudnizad was 17 years old when she was executed for her religious beliefs by the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1983. Mona was a Baha’i who risked her life to educate the children of her community, despite facing oppression from the government. This selfless act eventually led to her arrest. Two of the official charges included misleading children and Zionism. In 1999, inspired by the memory of Mona and her commitment to education, Mahnaz Javid, president and CEO, founded the Mona Foundation. Javid wanted to continue to provide Mona with the voice that was taken from her at such a young age.
The Mona Foundation
The Mona Foundation’s mission is to ensure education for all children while increasing opportunities for women and girls. It also strives to eradicate global poverty and prevent child mortality due to preventable diseases.
There are three key areas that the foundation focuses on: universal education, gender equality and community building. First, the foundation believes that everyone deserves a quality education. The World Bank has continuously shown that universal education can reduce global poverty and create sustainable economic growth. Second, investing in the education of women and girls not only provides them with a voice but also directly impacts economic development. The World Bank has proven the correlation between gender equality and economic development, showing how increased educational opportunities for girls means progression for all.
Last, the foundation believes in the “Oneness of Humanity.” The Mona Foundation supports communities’ self-advocacy efforts rather than assuming that it knows what’s best. As such, the foundation provides funding for a variety of programs that “foster harmony and build strong communities.”
Current Project and Initiatives
The Mona Foundation indefinitely supports and partners with projects that align with its vision and present equal opportunities for girls and boys. In a recent interview with The Borgen Project, Diane Samandi, a Board of Directors member for the past 20 years, described one of her favorite projects.
The Badi School, located in Panama, began as an afterschool program in the carport of the Torrez family trailer home and has since grown into a K-12 school providing a quality education for boys and girls. It is known to be one of the best schools in South and Central America, serving 450 students, 57% of them being girls.
Samandi spoke highly of the Torrez family and noted that the school has not moved from its original location, but rather the trailer home has been developed over the years to accommodate its growing student population.
Other projects and initiatives include the Barli institute and New Horizon. The former helps rural women in India. Samandi explained that Barli means pillar and that women are considered the pillar of the family in India. The program is six months long, and during that time, the women learn how to read, sew and operate solar cookers. This allows them to return to their villages and earn money independently.
New Horizon is one of the best K-12 schools in Haiti. It focuses on science, sports, fine arts and environmental training. The school also offers vocational training where children can learn culinary skills. This provides the students with job opportunities at the many surrounding hotels.
The Mona Foundation’ Global Impact
Over the decades, the Mona Foundation has had an incredible impact on the education and empowerment of students. Every year, 429,000 students from around the world are shown that they are worthy of a prosperous future. Since 1999, the foundation has provided 42 partner organizations with nearly $12 million to support these life-changing efforts.
The following are the results of the foundation’s work with partner organizations in 2020.
- 2,286,575 students enrolled (in-class and online)
- 3,145 teachers trained
- 23,494 parents trained
- 568 known service projects
- 833 schools served
- 3,246 known communities served (by schools or service projects)
- 864,705 individuals impacted by the Mona Foundation outreach programs
Mona Foundation’s 2020 Gala
On October 17, 2020, the Mona Foundation held a virtual Mona 2020 Gala to honor those who are making a difference on the ground. The Zoom gala was attended by nearly 400 people around the world, while 560 people viewed the live stream on Facebook. Over $445,000 was raised, exceeding the foundation’s goal. This total included the $25,000 raised for the Mona Foundation Canada. The gala was hosted by actor and philanthropist Rainn Wilson, an avid and longtime member of the foundation.
Those who attended were able to “hear from programs, schools and students from all over the world including 19 projects from 12 countries,” Chloe Rastegar told The Borgen Project in a recent interview. Rastegar is the youngest member of the Board of Advisors and founder of the statewide Mona Global Citizens Club. She went on to describe the online gala as a “blessing in disguise” because of the global interaction that was able to take place.
Celebrity Rainn Wilson and The Mona Foundation
Most know Rainn Wilson from his iconic role as Dwight Schrute in the hit show “The Office.” However, Wilson is also a long-time philanthropist, having founded the Lide Foundation in Haiti with author and wife Holiday Reinhorn. Wilson has been involved with the Mona Foundation for a number of years. He served on the Board of Directors for nearly a decade and is now on the Board of Advisors.
Samandi described Wilson as a dedicated and active member and explained that Wilson uses his celebrity status to be a spokesperson in many ways. Rastegar described Wilson as “incredibly generous with his time and talent.” She went on to compliment his continued humor and mentioned his most recent contribution to the foundation, auctioning off personal online meetings to fans. Rastegar concluded by saying that “his support means the world to us.”
The Mona Foundation is dedicated to transforming the lives of youth by providing outstanding education and unwavering support. Over the course of two decades, the foundation has radically transformed global education and modeled the proper way to aid foreign countries. Every year the foundation strives to provide more resources, educate more children and serve more communities than the last.
– Mary Qualls
Photo: With permission from Mahnaz Javid, president and CEO of Mona Foundation