By: Sunny Zia
A couple of months ago, I had the great pleasure of interviewing David Nahai, an Iranian American who has touched the lives of so many by his leadership and great acts of public service. His efforts through Environmental Stewardship and public policy has not only made a tremendous impact in the Iranian American community and the greater Jewish Community, but globally through his appointment as the Senior Advisor to the Clinton Climate Initiative. The Clinton Climate Initiative is a division of the Clinton Foundation established by the former President Bill Clinton with the aim of fighting the causes of global climate change. The mission of the Clinton Climate Initiative is to bring about the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale through specific project partnerships with governments around the world.
Prior to this role, Nahai was nominated as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP's) Chief Executive Officer and General Manager by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and confirmed by the Los Angeles City Council in 2007. As the CEO and General Manger of the largest municipal utility in the United States, Nahai oversaw more than 9,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $4.5 billion.
Nahai is also widely recognized for his efforts as a leading expert on water issues by his service of over a decade on California's Regional Water Quality Control Board. He was appointed as the chairman of the Board by Governor Pete Wilson, and re-appointed by both Governor Gray Davis and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Nahai was elected to an unprecedented four terms as Chairman of the Board in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2006.
It was only natural for me to ask the series of questions that could give a glimpse of David's journey throughout his years of success and my hope is that his insight will inspire you to follow his lead in excellence as much as it has inspired me:
Sunny: How did the journey of public service begin for you in America?
David: It started when I was living as an Iranian American in the U.S. at the time of the Iran hostage crisis. Despite being a Democrat, a group of Iranians including myself decided to form the Iranian American Republican Council (IARC) consisting of Iranians with diverse backgrounds joined together in educating the general public and distinguishing the distinction between the conduct of the Iranian regime and Iranians in the Diaspora. The organizations' efforts were both effective and successful, and through my work with the Council, I was highly encouraged by the President of IARC, Ali Razi to apply for California State Water Control Board commissioner's position. I applied and was appointed to the position followed by a Senate confirmation process, which marked the start of my work in the realm of public service in the U.S.
Sunny: Who were your role models?
David: There are so many people that inspired me throughout my life; the people who were most instrumental in my life were my parents. My father along with 5 of his family members who started a private insurance company. I learned a lot from the men who established the company, passion, commitment, and a desire to succeed and make it no matter what. All of which I've tried to incorporate in my private and public practice. My mother was another great role model in my life in that she taught me to practice kindness in anything I do and in her words: "never miss an opportunity to be kind".
Other role models and people who have inspired me have been President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Ben Gurion in his practice of no traps of power, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and of course I'm a big fan of President Obama.
Davis Nahai and Sunny Zia
Sunny: As an Iranian living abroad, what are your views on the current state of Iran?
David: It's so vile that it will crumble on the weight of its own depravity.
Sunny: David, you have been very committed to peace in the Middle East throughout your work in the community. What are your views on the future of Israel and the peace process?
David: I am a strong supporter of a two-state solution and believe that the economic well being of both Israelis and Arabs are key as economic opportunity for advancement is a necessary ingredient for the peace process.
Sunny: What is your message to the Iranian American community especially the youth and young adults?
David: Get involved! Out of all my accomplishments in the private and public sector, the discovery I've made has been the tremendous reward of public service and there are no words to capture it fully. We need to imprint this discovery in our community and inspire our youth and young adults to serve our Iranian American community and the community at large by taking an active role in public service and office.
Sunny: David, I want to thank you for your time spent with me and sharing your valuable insight. I look forward to conveying your message of wisdom to our community in the hopes that more of our community members will partake in leadership roles in the United States and be able to make the kind of difference you have made.
So I leave you with that my fellow Iranian Americans to take part in Civic life and public service and follow one of our great community leaders David Nahai's footsteps. Someone who has proven it is possible to excel in civic life and make a grand difference in the American public policy and offic . And in the words of David's mother, Mrs. Nahai, while you're at it "Never miss an opportunity to be kind"!
About the author: Sunny Zia is the founder and chair of Humanity Unites, an Irvine-based humanitarian organization focused on building bridges of understanding and advocating community action and projects in support of causing peace and unity locally and globally. Ms. Zia is also the CEO of a Civil Engineering consulting and management firm based in Orange County. As an Iranian American raised both in the U.S. and Iran, and having lived through the Iran-Iraq war, the aftermath of the American hostage crisis, and the tragedies of "18 of Tir (Kooyeh Daneshgah)" in the 1999 University of Tehran uprisings, she believes that it is her duty to not only raise awareness about oppression but to transform it and work towards solutions. Her past efforts include working with inner city at-risk youth, with legislators in implementing policies advocating human rights, and on international relief efforts for Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, and Darfur. She is the recipient of local and congressional distinctions for her work in the U.S. & abroad.
Note: the above article was first published by Payameh Ashena magazine
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