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An Evening of Hope, Celebration, and Dedication

Our annual fundraiser turned out to be an incredible event, with very special guests, wonderful food and entertainment, and an amazing turnout of Sonia Shah Organization supporters. Together visit this website we are changing the world, one girl at a time!

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In Memory of Sonia: Letter from President Barack Obama

obama letterOn the 3rd anniversary of Sonia’s tragic, untimely death, we often remember Sonia through the words of those who knew her. This letter from President Barack Obama shows that the young women we knew and admired so much shined through to all she met and worked with.

“Dear Iram and Mahmood,
I want to convey my heartfelt sympathy at Sonia’s passing. I hope that your cherished memories bring you and your family some measure of comfort at this tragic time.
My team says that although Sonia was one of the youngest interns at campaign headquarters, she was one of the most determined. There’s no doubt that her dedication will continue to inspire all those who were lucky enough to work with her.
I am grateful for all of Sonia’s hard work, and I am proud to have had her support. Please know that the Obama for America family is thinking of you.

Sincerely,
Barack Obama”

Help us continue Sonia’s dream–a school for girls in Pakistan–and change lives. soniashahorganization.com/contribute/

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To My Daughter with Love.

_DSC0019 (2)My dear Sonia,

On this third anniversary of your passing away I am this website filled with pain, loss, love and hope. Hope for all those girls whose lives you have changed forever. Your dream is coming true and you mission is progressing. On my recent trip to the school, I saw the heartwarming transformation in those young lives. Some of the children came to school without shoes but were happy to learn. I saw 15 years old girls proudly sitting in the first grade hungry to learn, writing their names for the first time, full of hope and laughter.

I saw your picture hanging in the principal’s office and realized that I will never see you, talk with you or touch you in this life but I will always be connected to you via these girls. Every girl in the world that you touch is Sonia, who will change their families and their communities. What a gift to the world!
You have changed my life for better too. I have a purpose and meaning in my life. I am stronger, wiser and resigned to a higher power. I feel I am following your lead and picking the bread crumbs. In your life we lived and traveled the world from Thailand to Switzerland, touched all the beautiful landmarks. In your death you are leading me on a spiritual journey from Mecca to Medjugorje to Jerusalem. You were a gift to me in your life and a gift in your death!

We continue to love you and inspired by you!

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In Memory of Sonia: Letter from Greg Mortenson

09192014.news_.mortenson.ap_As we approach the anniversary of Sonia’s tragic death, we wish to share the words of those who knew Sonia. This letter from Greg Mortenson touched us deeply, coming from a man who had the same dream as Sonia and realized it so profoundly.

“Iram and family,

Asalaam-o-Alaikum. Tara (my wife), Amira, Khyber Khan and myself offer our profound condolences on your tragic loss of Sonia. There is no greater bond than that between mother and child, and no greater loss than to lose your child, for which no words adequately suffice to. God sometimes chooses those who are most dear to us, to be his special angels to watch over us, and I know dear Sonia is amongst those. Our daily prayers are with you, and in the midst of this pain, we hope that you have some comfort in remembering the happy and precious times you shared.
When a child or young adult shows the courage and tenacity to be a humanitarian to serve others, that I believe is one of the finest examples of what a parent can be proud of. Sonia certainly was a leader of her peers, who at a young age, and in a chaotic world of mostly self centered youth, had a vision and did not hesitate to put her big heart into action to make a difference with the Kulsoom Foundation, and the children of Kangra. The note that Sonia wrote during a difficult time last year was tremendously inspiring and we should make sure her vision succeeds. Over the last week, I’ve looked at her pictures a few times, and when I see the girls and children sitting on the earthen verandah, it brings tears to my eyes and a conviction that we should do all we can to make sure her dream is realized.

With our love and sympathy,

Greg, Tara, Amira & Khyber”

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Join Us November 20th in Chicago

Join us Friday, November 20th at Pearl Banquets in Chicago for the annual Sonia Shah Organization fundraiser–an Evening of Hope, Celebration, and Dedication. We’re so excited about the amazing lineup we have planned and cannot wait to spend an evening for a cause with you. The lineup includes contemporary circus artists Vagabonds of the Runaway Circus–think aerialists, contortionists, jugglers, stiltwalkers and more–as well as Yohannes Abraham, Special Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff for the Office of Public Engagement, under Valerie Jarrett; keynote speaker, and comedian Aman Ali.

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Join us for a fun and exciting evening for you and your guests to enjoy!

Tickets
$75 Students (with ID)
$150 Individual
$1,250 Table of 10

Purchase tickets at
SoniaShahNov20.eventbrite.com

 

Note: Unfortunately peace activist Rais Bhuiyan is no longer able to join our lineup. We apologize for the last-minute change.

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Medical Care for the Sonia Shah Memorial School Students

Every three months, we have a team of three doctors visit Kangra and provide basic medical care to our students. We hope to increase the frequency of the care, but we need your help to do so – after all, how can a child focus in school if she is sick?

Contribute to the Sonia Shah Organization here:soniashahorganization.com/contribute/

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Happy birthday, Sonia!

Today we celebrate Sonia’s birthday, and the remarkable young woman that she was. Her mother, Iram, writes..

Today is Sonia’s birthday December 24th!
The happiest moment of my life was when I heard Sonia’s cry when she was born, the most painful moment was http://findviagrapills.com when I heard that she died and the hardest thing I will ever have to do is to live every day without her for the rest of my life.
Sonia had a short life but she achieved more than most people would in their entire life times. ” In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years”. 
Sonia left a legacy that will continue for ever!
Happy birthday my baby!

Though her life was cut far too short, she accomplished more in her short life than many ever do! We are so grateful for this, of course, as we change the world, one girl at a time, at the Sonia Shah Memorial School in Kangra, Pakistan. In an essay, Sonia wrote,

I want to serve and help others while I am pursuing my passions and interests. I want to leave this world knowing that I have changed it in some quantifiable, positive way, no matter how minuscule. I want to make history, instead of just witnessing it.

She truly accomplished this dream, in under 20 short years. We miss her everyday, but are so thrilled to be able to carry on her mission to educate girls in Pakistan. So many joined in to share their memories of Sonia on her birthday..

Sonia has changed so many lives and given purpose to my life. Stay Blessed.
Happy Birthday to a beautiful person who lives on in the hearts of many.
What am amazing and accomplished young woman with a similarly amazing Mom!

Make sure you end the year on a meaningful note – contribute to our mission in Pakistan to send girls to school and change the world, one girl at a time! It costs only $126 to provide basic education for a child for one year–a small contribution to change a girl’s life. For $300, you can adopt a girl and provide all of the basics that help keep a girl in school–basic healthcare, lunches, uniforms.

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The Sonia Shah Memorial School Is Open!

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After much preparation, fundraising, setbacks, and determination to see Sonia’s dream through, we are elated to announce that the Sonia Shah Memorial School is open, and the first class of students is in attendance. We can’t think of a better way to remember Sonia as we approach the 3rd anniversary of her tragic passing.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.52.36 AMTake a look at a progress report on the school and enjoy some photos of our very first students!

  • Construction, furnishing and setting up of school has been completed.
  • The Construction Work of HDF – Sonia Shah Memorial School Kangra was started on September 23, 2013 and completed in the month of February 2015. Additional work proposed subsequently has also been completed.
  • On 19th of October 2014, a ceremony was held to inaugurate HDF- Sonia Shah Memorial School. Education Minister KPK, Mr. Muhammed Atif Khan was the Chief Guest at the occasion and inaugurated the school. Apart from large gathering of village elders, Sonia’s mother, Iram Shah, was also present at the event. Watch the video from the inauguration.
  • Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.53.37 AMThe availability of teaching positions was advertised in newspaper & shortlisted candidates were called for interview. A panel conducted the interviews. Initially three teachers were hired, and more teachers will be hired as needed.
  •  The new teachers participated in a six-day long teacher-training workshop in the month of March 2015.
  • Enrollment campaign for admissions in Class Nursery to Class 5 in the School was started in April 2015. The social mobilization and motivation activities continued through HDF Mardan Region staff and teachers of the school. Banners were displayed on the school and at prominent places in the village. So far 38 students have been enrolled: 23 in Class Nursery, 14 in Grade-1 and one student in Class 4. Efforts are underway using our own staff and school teachers to enroll the maximum number of students in the school.
  • Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.53.48 AMText books have been provided to all the enrolled students.

Security 

The Sonia Shah Memorial School was bombed on December 14, 2014. There were no injuries, but the water-filtration plant was destroyed and several walls and windows of the school building were destroyed or damaged. The damaged parts of the school building and the room of filter plant have been reconstructed. As per assessment of M/S So-Safe Water Technologies (Vendor of Filter Pant) the original water filtration plant was completely destroyed, but a new plant was recently installed. Since the attack, two armed security guards have been deployed in the school to guard the school at night.

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The Sonia Shah Memorial School Is Open!

At long last Sonia’s dream was fulfilled on Sunday, October 19th with the opening of the Sonia Shah Memorial School in the village of Kangra in Pakhtoonkhwa, Pakistan. It was an emotional but happy occasion, and the village elders gathered for the occasion. Pakhtoonkhwa’s education minister, Mr. Mohammed Atif Khan, offered the opening ceremony; the program started with Khatme Quran and was followed by speeches.

Mr. Atif  Khan gave a touching speech reminding people of a young girl’s dream and mission to change the lives of poor girls of the village. He urged the audience to support and encourage such commitment and sacrifice. He ended his speech with an inspirational analogy of a bird who is trying to put out a  fire by bringing drops of water back and forth in her beak. Someone asks her the question, “How will you put out such a big fire with such few drops of water?” The bird replied, “On the day of judgement, I want my name to be included in the list of those who were trying to put out fire.. not in the list of those who caused the fire, nor in the list of those who did nothing!”

The school will open its doors in April 2015. Uniforms and lunch will be provided. The principal and the teachers are in the process of being hired. We will also start a vocational center for women of the village in 2 rooms of the school. Due to the constant electricity outage, we will install solar panels on the roof of the school. The water filtration plant is already providing drinking water to almost 700 households. Stay tuned for more update and progress! Click here to stay updated.

Thank you to all those who encouraged, supported and contributed to Sonia’s mission of educating and empowering under-privileged girls. Your name is in the list of those who tried to put out the fire!

Sonia’s legacy goes on!

We will continue to look to you for your support and commitment to this noble cause.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Sonia Shah Organization

The Sonia Shah School was bombed.

The Sonia Shah School was bombed.

This week has brought the gravest of tragedies: the massacre of 148 at a school in Peshwar–132 of the victims children. Our hearts break for these children and their families, and there are simply no words to express this fully.

A couple days before the attacks in Peshwar, the Sonia Shah Memorial School was bombed. We are beyond grateful that no one was hurt, but the water filtration plant–which provided clean drinking water to more than 700 families–was destroyed. Walls were demolished; windows were shattered.

Before:

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After:

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Sonia’s dream has been damaged, but it will recover. Luckily, we can share with confidence that the villagers are enthusiastic about the development of the school and the water filtration plant. We know we have to rebuild–for the girls, for the villagers, for Sonia. We cannot give in to terrorists, and this devastation, along with the tragedy of Peshwar, shows us that now more than ever, our cause is critical.

We are matching donations until next Sunday.

From now until next Sunday, December 28th at midnight CST, we are matching every penny contributed to our current campaign which will help run the Sonia Shah Memorial School for an entire year and rebuild the water filtration plant, which cost more than $16,000. Your support is more important now than it has ever been before. Stand with us! Let us show the world that we believe in the importance of educating girls and changing the world.

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If you have not yet contributed, now is absolutely the time. Double your difference, your influence, your piece of Sonia’s dream. Together we can rise up and say, “You won’t win. We won’t stand for it.”

Share the campaign with your networks and learn more here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/opening-a-school-for-girls-in-pakistan–2/

Stand with us!

Sonia Shah Organization

Enxhi (Angie) Uzeir, 22, studies biology at East-West University in Chicago, and is one of two current SSO scholarship students.

I support SSO for the reasons of enabling me to achieve goals that might otherwise be impossible,” Angie explained. “Through it I became the first person in my family to be able to attend college and follow my dreams.” 

Mehreen Zakeri, 31, immigrated to the United States from Pakistan in February 2017 and now lives in Chicago with her husband. Prior to her move, she worked at the Oil Marketing Company in Karachi, Pakistan. Her decision to volunteer for SSO was sparked by her experience at the organization’s 2017 fundraiser in Chicago.

“During the event, I got to listen to one of Sonia’s letters,” she said. “It touched my heart, and her passion towards girls’ education inspired me to contribute towards this cause. I believe, as I quote John Dewey, an American educational reformer, ‘Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.’ Hence, education is the basic right of each child and specifically, an educated girl equals to an educated generation. So, this revolution is so powerful that being a part of it is an honor in itself.”

When Rory McKee, a fifth-grader in Evanston, Ill., first heard Iram Shah speaking on the radio, she was stunned to learn that there are places in the world where girls can’t go to school.

“The radio person said there was someplace in Pakistan where girls don’t get to go to school because [their families] need help running the house and doing chores, so they choose their daughters to do that,” she said. That made her mad. “Girls should go to school because boys and girls are the same. Neither one is better. They should both go to school.”

Guided by her mom, Rory went to the Internet to learn more about how Iram’s daughter Sonia had started a girls’ school in a rural Pakistani village

“Sonia’s relatives live in Pakistan, and she visited them and was moved by meeting girls there that didn’t go to school,” Rory said. “[Sonia] wanted to do something about it. And I thought, there are a lot of people at my school. I could do something there. I wanted to get more money so more girls could go to school.”

So she did. Then a fourth-grader at Lincoln Elementary School in Evanston, she raised $200 for the Sonia Shah Organization (SSO). She said she wanted to tell these girls “that other people in the world care about them, their education.”

Zuleyma Cordero, 25, is a Sonia Shah Scholarship Program recipient, attending Harper Community College in Palatine, Ill. and on track to graduate in spring 2018 with a double major in accounting and business. She also works full-time and volunteers for SSO.

The first person in her family to go to college, she has said that Sonia’s legacy provides constant motivation, she added.

I think of what a great inspiration Sonia was and still is to this day,” Zuleyma said. “I like to reflect on how she is changing lives of young girls, including myself. And that it all started with the passion she had, and with the idea of making history. She didn’t give up at the sight of any difficulty, she pressed forward to achieve her goal.”

Zuleyma’s volunteer work includes help with fundraising campaigns and events.

Ruby Writer is a Chicago teen who became one of SSO’s first Youth Ambassadors after raising $600 to support SSO. Inspired by the film Girls Rising, she her friends “had the idea to bring the film to my school. We invited parents and friends” and explained how “necessary and life changing [education is], for not only the one girl’s life, but for the entire world,” said Ruby, now a 15-year-old freshman at Walter Payton College Prep. 

In conjunction with showing the film, Ruby launched an online fundraising campaign for girls’ education and, after hearing SSO President Iram Shah interviewed on Chicago public radio, decided to donate the proceeds to SSO.

“Sonia’s story really resonates with me because I feel as if I can compare to her,” said Ruby, who lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. We’re both young, driven, privileged girls, fighting for what I like to think we both feel is a fundamental right: education.”

Since then, “My mom and I have both become really strong supporters of this organization,” she said. In January 2017, Ruby and her mom, the artist Monica Rezman, were SSO’s ambassadors to the Women’s March on Washington, held on Donald Trump’s first day as president.

The mother-daughter duo also put in long hours to help organize SSO’s September 2017 fundraiser in Chicago, at which Ruby served as emcee. And she volunteered to do the audio recordings of Sonia’s college-application essays for the website.

“When I was reading them … I realized that so many people want to change the world and we all want to make an impact in such a positive way. But Sonia was able to articulate her aspirations so well. It made me cry. And since then, there’s no doubt in my mind that Sonia’s still with us here today and that she’s a role model for all of us,” Ruby said.

Shahzmeen Hussain, 22, graduated in May 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois-Champaign- Urbana, and now lives at home with her family in Skokie, IL.

“I came across Sonia Shah Organization at a dinner gathering over a year ago, where Iram shared the compelling story of Sonia’s sincere vision and goals for the children of Pakistan,” she said. “I come from a family that is dedicated to primary, secondary and higher education, so it was a no-brainer for me to become an ambassador for Sonia’s dream.

“It is true what they say, ‘If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.’ That change begins here, with us at SSO, and I’m proud to be able to improve the lives of children across the globe,” she said. 

Shayaan Alvi Borok,16, lives in Oak Brook, Ill., and attends Hinsdale Central High School. “My mom is one of the board members, so she told me about the organization and I wanted to get involved,” Shayaan said. “I support Sonia Shah Organization because it is truly trying to make a difference in Pakistan, a place that I have a strong connection to. I am also a woman and undoubtedly believe that all girls deserve a quality education.”

Greg Mortenson is a humanitarian and girls’ education advocate. He is the co-founder of Central Asia Institute (CAI), an international NGO that established hundreds of schools, especially for girls, in remote and often volatile regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. He co-authored three New York Times bestsellers about his experiences, Three Cups of TeaStones into Schools and Listen to the Wind.

Mortenson grew up with three sisters on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, where his parents helped start a medical teaching hospital and an international school. The family returned to Minnesota in 1973, where Mortenson finished high school. He then served in the U.S. Army in Germany; studied at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., on a football scholarship; and graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1983 with degrees in liberal studies and nursing. For a decade he worked as a trauma nurse, putting in extra shifts to save money for mountaineering expeditions.

The sudden death of his sister Christa from epilepsy led him to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, in her memory. His experiences there changed his life, prompting the creation of CAI and his enduring vision to promote girls’ education around the world.

Mortenson left CAI in 2016, but continues to advocate girls’ and women’s empowerment. He says, “You can drop bombs, build roads or put in electricity, but until girls are educated, a society won’t change.”

He has received many accolades for his work, including the Jefferson Award for Public Service and the Sitara-e-Pakistan (Star of Pakistan) medal, and honorary degrees from 16 universities.

He lives in Bozeman, Mont., with his wife Tara Bishop, daughter Amira and son Khyber.

Dr. Sairah Alvi is a scientist, lecturer and philanthropist with a passion for the written word. With a PhD in hematology/oncology and extensive post-doctoral work, she works as a consultant for large pharmaceutical companies and an adjunct faculty member at International Islamic University and Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan and Punjab University in Lahore, Pakistan.

Sairah’s first love, however, is Urdu literature. She is director of the Urdu Institute of Chicago, which promotes Urdu language and literature, and an ambassador for Pakistan’s National Book Foundation, organizing events at her home for writers, poets and musicians from Southeast Asia and the United States.

She was educated and has lived and worked in the United States, South Africa, England, and Pakistan. Her husband is an English South African physician and chairman of pathology at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.

Sairah earned her master’s degree in global management from London School of Economics, two masters’ of science degrees in immunology and molecular genetics from the University of Cincinnati, and a PhD in hematology/oncology from Rush University in Chicago. She did her post-doctoral work at the University of Cape Town and the South African Institute of Medical Research in Johannesburg.

She has published over 100 original articles in peer-reviewed cancer journals, and continues to lecture extensively at various universities, medical centers and scientific conferences.

Sairah hosts most SSO board meetings at her home and plays a key role in organizing annual fundraisers, SSO-related events in Pakistan, and visits to Sonia Shah Memorial School in Kangra. Her other charitable activities include support for the ARCS Foundation, dedicated to advancing women in science and technology; and HDF and TCF, which build schools and health centers in Pakistan. She is a member of Good Samaritan’s Festival Committee and her family supports numerous arts and cultural organization in Chicago, including the Chicago Art Institute and Goodman Theatre.

She lives in Oakbrook, Ill., with her husband. They have three children: her oldest daughter is a physician; her son studies economics and international relations at University of St Andrews in Scotland; and her youngest daughter is in high school and aspires to be a lawyer. 

Ms. Iram Shah is a humanitarian and global corporate executive with a career across multiple industries and countries. A senior vice president at Schneider Electric, a global leader in energy management and automation, she also runs the Sonia Shah Organization, started by her late daughter, which focuses on educating and empowering underprivileged girls.

Iram’s corporate career of more than two decades spans numerous Fortune 500 companies — including Schneider, Gatorade, Coca Cola, BP, and Zurich Financial — in five countries in industries ranging from oil and gas to financial services and manufacturing. 

She has served on several nonprofit organization boards, including Seeds of Peace, Central Asia Institute, Schneider Foundation and Chicagoland Habitat for Humanity. She is passionate about girls’ education and women’s empowerment and has been thought leader and keynote speaker at national and international women’s forums. 

Iram earned a master’s degree in business administration from University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s Advanced General-Management Program. She was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the UK in 2005one of 11 top international Woman Leaders in Chicagoland by Chicago Women magazine in 2017; received the chancellor’s excellence award from Chicago’s East-West University in 2017.

She lives in Deerfield, Ill., with her husband Mahmood, two sons, and her mother.

Gianni and Giavanna Geati are 11-year-old twins in sixth grade at St. James School in Arlington Heights. Gianni plays basketball and soccer, as well as being a percussionist in the school band. And Giavanna, also a musician, plays piano and percussion in the school band. She also enjoys cooking and sewing. 

A year ago, when Gianni Geati was in fifth grade at Saint James School in Arlington Heights, Ill., his teacher assigned him and his classmates to each “write a news story out someone you know who has done a good deed or performed an act of kindness.” Coincidentally, Gianni, then 10 years old, had just heard about Sonia from his sisters — Giuliana, Liliana and Giavanna. They had just attended SSO’s 2016 fundraising event. 

“When [my sister] told me all about it, I was very inspired about all the things Sonia Shah did,” he said. “The next day in religion class I had to write about somebody who inspired me.”

Here’s what he wrote: 

“This girl, Sonia Shah, went to Pakistan and built a school for girls. In the past, only boys were allowed in school. Sonia helped many other girls go and get their education. She was only 17 years old when she raised money and made the plan to build a school. Unfortunately, Sonia died in a car crash. Her mother then founded the Sonia Shah Foundation.”

In an appearance onstage at SSO’s 2017 fundraiser in Chicago, Gianni explained, “I chose to write about Sonia Shah because I have three sisters and I think it’s very important for girls to get education.” 

Mr. Zahir Lavji is director of ZL Advisory LLC, a consulting service to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical-devices industries, primarily focused on commercialization. He also mentors healthcare start-up companies, entrepreneurs, university technology-transfer offices, and medical faculty. Having grown up in Africa and managed businesses globally for more than 30 years, Zahir is keenly aware of the important role education plays in personal and social mobility.

In 1972, Zahir left Uganda as a refugee during the mass exodus and emigrated to Canada where he established his new roots. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in pharmacology from the University of Toronto, and his MBA from the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University, in Ontario, Canada.

He spent much of his professional career with Abbott Laboratories, an Illinois-based healthcare-innovation corporation working in more than 150 countries, from which he retired as vice president for international marketing. His career included commercializing billion-dollar pharmaceuticals and glucose-monitoring, medical-nutrition and critical-care devices. As regional director for Abbott in Central and Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, he successfully integrated the Knoll acquisition into single Abbott entities. And as president of Abbot Japan, where he spent eight years, he also managed business alliances with major Japanese pharmaceutical companies.

He devotes considerable time and expertise to mentoring healthcare startups from the Chicago Innovation Mentors group; chairs the Supervisory Board of Temple Therapeutics a development stage Biotechnology startup; is an active investor with Hyde Park Angels; is a Consultant with Breuer Partners & Company, a healthcare consulting organization; serves on the review committee for the University of Chicago’s Innovation Fund at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation; and is a panelist for PROPEL-Sikich Investment Banking’s private workshop series.

In addition to pro-bono work in his field, his charitable activities include assisting the Aga Khan Foundation in the Midwest and serving as a standing member of the Alzheimer’s Association Chicago Rita Hayworth Gala.

He lives in Lake Forest, Ill., with his wife Rozmin and daughter Safina.

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