The smell of fresh paint filled the air when we entered the Pars Equality Center office, which has recently relocated from downtown Menlo Park to its new headquarters on the Alameda. Entrepreneur and philanthropist Bita Daryabari founded the Center two years ago, taking over the role of the Center’s director a year ago.
PEC is the only non-profit organization providing social and legal services to new Iranian emigrants, refugees and asylum seekers in California. While Bita’s financial backing has been substantial, she has also worked to involve the entire Iranian-American community in the Center’s mission.
Bita, who has been in the U.S. since 1985 and lives in Atherton with her husband and three children, also sees the Center as a conduit of bringing long-exiled Iranians back together. “My purpose is to unite the community regardless of an individual’s political or religious views,” she says. “I also want to highlight the many contributions that Iranian Americans are making and make them better known to the public.”
The Center is the latest in Bita’s philanthropic pursuits, the seeds of which, she says, were modeled on the actions of her father and grandfather. “If a beggar came to the door, my grandfather would always give him food,” she says. “My father, who became a dentist, set aside time to see patients who couldn’t pay for his services.”
Long interested in arts and literature, Bita has been particularly keen in supporting the study of Persian language and literature. She created the Bita Daryabari Endowment in Persian Letters at Stanford University, enabling the university to not only hire three full-time professors of Persian literature — one in Comparative Literature, one in Iranian Studies and the third for teaching Persian language and literary texts — but also to organize conferences and teach more courses in Persian language for all levels of proficiency. In another educational pursuit, she founded the Unique Zan Foundation, dedicated to supporting the education of women all over Asia.
In the field of science, she was a major contributor to the UCSF Neuroscience Research Center; she and her husband, Dr. Reza Malek, have established a fund to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. In addition, they are sponsoring the exhibit of the touring Cyrus Cylinder — one of the most iconic objects of the British Museum and a 2,600-year-old symbol of human rights — at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco in August.
Her contributions in these areas — and others — have clearly been transformative, but it’s her hands-on work at the Pars Equality Center, that is center stage for Bita now. “Writing checks is important,” she says, “but I enjoy being involved, being able to see the changes firsthand. I get tremendous gratification from seeing positive outcomes.
“I want to feel people’s sadness as well as their happiness. It provides validation that what we are doing is making a difference.”
Photo by Scott R. Kline