By Corrie Parsonson

The first-ever Iranian Women’s Leadership Conference in London attracted more than 300 panelists and attendees to the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington on September 23. The event was organized by the Iranian American Women Foundation (IAWF) and co-hosted by the London-based Persia Educational Foundation.

MC Asieh Namdar (Left) and Keynote Speaker, Ambassador Azita Raji. Photograph © Corrie Parsonson

Panelists included Seema Kennedy, a member of the British parliament; Anousheh Ansari, a tech entrepreneur who was the first woman to go on a privately funded mission into space; Avid Larizadeh Duggan, a general partner at Google Ventures; healthcare executive and philanthropist Nazie Eftekhari; Fati Naraghi, global technology analyst at Newton Investment Management; and Nina Ansary, author and authority on women’s rights in Iran.

The keynote speaker was Azita Raji, the first Iranian-born American to serve as a U.S. ambassador (she was on assignment in Sweden from March 2016 to January of this year). The master of ceremonies was Asieh Namdar, an anchor with CCTV America in Washington.

In an opening address titled “The Courage to Lead,” Ambassador Raji made reference to the office of the British prime minister and said: “10 Downing Street has nothing on the power in this room.” She noted that leadership took many forms, including parenting: as a parent, you led “through the power of your example.” She encouraged women to exercise leadership in all walks of life.

In the next session, speakers picked up where Ambassador Raji left off, giving their own definitions of leadership.

“Because women generally lead a broader life, they bring different objectives to leadership,” said British-Iranian parliamentarian Seema Kennedy. “Resilience, perspective and experience are what women can provide.”

Co-panelist Ziba Ardalan, founder of the influential Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art space in London, spoke passionately about the need to encourage more “thinking time,” especially for children, and emphasized the importance of trial and error.

“We learn through doing, and acceptance of being perfectly imperfect,” she said.

The second plenary session was entitled “Impact and Importance of Gender in Corporate Culture.” Moderated by Jeyran Ghara and a spirited and humorous session, it featured personal testimonies by space traveler Anousheh Ansari, healthcare professional Nazie Eftekhari, Google Ventures partner Avid Larizadeh Duggan, and Newton executive Fati Naraghi.

The closing talk – “Lifting Up the Next Generation of Women” – focused on the younger generation. It was moderated by Shahrzad Ardalan and featured speakers Lily Mottahedan, Roxi Jahanshahi, Layla Yarjani and Iran’s first female triathlete Shirin Gerami. They all spoke candidly about their successes, failures and career paths.

Six separate “breakout’ sessions were held throughout the day in other conference rooms, each on a different theme. The sessions were: