Today we’d like to introduce you to Shani Moslehi.
Shani, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
In November 2014, as I was enjoying the last year of being my children’s high school foundation president (a parent-run organization to raise money for school improvements), a board member/friend, Sheila who was serving on the same foundation suggested I start a non-profit organization to help the Iranian American
Community! She had seen my effective involvement as a grass-roots organizer helping with abused women shelter among other charities. It was at that moment that she lit the fire and my passion to help others took over! I started the conversation with my friends as to what needs we could serve in our local community as the list was long and our resources limited. A few months later a connection at the Small Business Administration(SBA) introduced me to a young Iranian American business owner who was a highly educated recent immigrant. In a conversation with Sara, she indicated to me that newly immigrated business owners had a strong need for direction and guidance. Her exact words were, “Why should we have to experience what you have already gone through? Give us your wisdom.”
I came to California as a high school student in 1978 after attending a boarding school in Switzerland. I completed my BA in Social Sciences in 1983 from APU. I worked for years in management and banking. I have been a business owner since 1995 and an active volunteer with my local chambers of commerce and networking organizations. I knew the value of networking very well and considered myself an expert.
I knew to fulfill Sara’s request a networking organization specifically tailored to Iranian American business owners will be the bridge needed to connect the recent immigrants to the experienced business owners. Networking was a new experience for many immigrants so with the knowledge I had of the chambers of commerce, I encouraged my partners to start the OC Iranian American Chamber of Commerce. It was a difficult road to travel. I had to educate my partners as well as volunteers on how and why we needed to do networking. I quickly realized that I had to take ownership of the organization and be th
e voice of it to promote our mission and move forward. I think the reason for our success has been providing what we promised consistently all while continuing to improve.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
My biggest challenge was to find volunteers who would be dedicated and would have the time to help the organization. People would step up and wanted to help but had limited time, didn’t have the knowledge, or simply didn’t recognize the importance of their commitment. I had to re-organize and re-do so much that was assigned to others to complete and that was exhausting.
Please tell us about OCIACC & LAIACC.
OCIACC and our new chapter LAIACC provide a platform for small business owners and entrepreneurs to meet, connect, and refer business to each other. Our website business directory is a valuable tool to keep our member’s information available at all times. Members can log in and update their information and add their product specials and discounts throughout the year. What differentiates us from other business associations is to emphasize stronger interpersonal relationships among our members. They become sources of advice for each other and we have been responsible for many successful partnerships.
One of the events that we are very proud of is our Business Awards. We encourage small business owners to provide superior service, work on their economic growth, and overall performance in exchange for free advertisements through our chamber and our media partners. These business owners are nominated by their peers and an independent group of judges reviews their applications. Each year we host a nice ceremony at a high-end hotel with great speakers, state and city officials, and award seven businesses in different categories. These businesses display their awards at their office alongside other certificates provided by our partners to take credit for the recognition.
OCIACC is now 250 members strong. We have served over 3,000 business owners and collaborated and hosted events with more than 45 international and local business ass
ociations. We are also involved with many community events and have hosted free annual health expos, delivered bags of food to homeless shelters, and have partnered with various local charities such as Alzheimer’s OC, Arthritis Foundation and Second Harvest Food Bank to raise awareness and give back to the community.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Our chamber is a very challenging non-profit because unlike other chambers we don’t belong to a city, county, or state. Our membership supports our programs and our board is an all-volunteer group. There are so many out of control forces that impact our operation, e.g., the current pandemic. If I had to start over, I would have taken my time, educating and informing more people about our mission to secure a larger support system.