Home > PUM Women's History Salutes: SIMIN YAZDGERDI CURTIS is President, CEO, and Founder of the American Middle East Institute (AMEI)

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PUM Women's History Salutes: SIMIN YAZDGERDI CURTIS is President, CEO, and Founder of the American Middle East Institute (AMEI)

SIMIN YAZDGERDI CURTIS is President, CEO, and Founder of the American Middle East Institute (AMEI), headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which she launched in 2008. AMEI is an independent, non-profit organization, focused on building business, educational and cultural ties between the United States and the countries of the Middle East.   Simin's core belief, which reflects that of AMEI, is that fostering these kinds of ties is truly a vibrant and rewarding path to social, educational, and cultural understanding and the most powerful form of diplomacy.  To this end, the institute has brought several high-level delegations to Pittsburgh from Egypt, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE to explore business opportunities and educational partnerships and has also led missions to the Middle East. Every year the Institute has hosted an annual business conference that has featured royalty and ministers from the Middle East, as well as internationally-known luminaries such as General Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Fareed Zakaria, and Thomas Friedman.

A graduate of Harvard University, Simin is a for-profit and not-for-profit entrepreneur, who co-founded Greycourt & Co., Inc. with her husband, Gregory Curtis. Simin is also a founder of the Ellsworth Avenue Business Association and is a Past President of the Harvard Club of Western Pennsylvania, Past President of the Harvard-Yale-Princeton Club, Past Director of the Harvard Alumni Association, Past Vice President of the Board of Winchester Thurston School, Board member of the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, and a Graduate of Leadership Pittsburgh.

Simin also founded the Western Pennsylvania Harvard Club's popular monthly lunch lecture series featuring prominent Pittsburgh leaders. Simin has served as a Senior Advisor to the Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, assisting the Center in marketing and public relations. Earlier in her career Simin worked on Capitol Hill and then became director of government relations for a non-profit organization in Washington, DC, concerned with immigration policy, for which she was honored to be invited to testify before several Congressional committees.

Although Simin was born in the United States, her father is Iranian and her mother is Czech. She lived in Tehran as a girl and attended the Community School of Tehran. She is known locally as a successful fundraiser, including raising corporate underwriting for AMEI’s large-scale annual conferences and chairing the leadership gifts effort for Winchester Thurston School’s capital campaign. In 2000, Simin was featured in the Pittsburgh Business Times' "40 under 40" community leaders. Simin was a concert pianist in her youth and while at Harvard she founded the University’s first coed a capella singing group, "the OpporTunes," which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.

Simin is the Honorary Consul of the Sultanate of Oman.

 

PUM: Celebrating Women's History Month what does that mean for you in terms of what you have been able to accomplish in your career?

Simin: In my role as head of the American Middle East Institute, I have the opportunity to travel often to the Middle East and am proud to represent my organization and my country as a woman executive.  I have never felt that being a woman has held me back--on the contrary, I'm of the generation of women who came of age in the late 1970s and 1980s, and we stood on the shoulders of the pioneering women of the 1960s who paved a path for us that allowed us to choose whether to stay at home or build a career outside the home.  Young American women today take for granted that they can choose whatever they wish to do in their careers--this didn't used to be the case. 

PUM:  In your position with AMEI you are focused on building business, educational and cultural ties between the United States and the countries in the Middle East, why is this an important mission for you? How is your organization making a difference?

Simin: There is a great deal of misunderstanding and fear that many Americans have about countries in the Middle East and that Middle Easterners have about Americans.  AMEI wants to use the power of business, as well as educational and cultural exchanges to change peoples' ideas about each other.  We have hosted many delegations from the Middle East and have led several missions to the Middle East.  Invariably, people come away with a different narrative and understanding about each other.

PUM: What is your advice and recommendations to women as they break through the glass ceilings in their careers? How were you able to persevere?

Simin: Never play the role of a victim.  Often women defeat themselves thinking they aren't worthy or capable enough to break through whatever glass ceilings might stand in their way.  Nonsense.  Have faith in yourself.  Everyone has self-doubt sometimes, but never let that define you.  I persevere because I never take NO for an answer.  Always try to find a way--and this applies to both women and men.

PUM: Balancing career and home life, what has worked for you on your path to success?

Simin: I have a great husband who, despite his demanding career that includes a lot of travel, has enjoyed parenting our four sons and two grown daughters as much as I have.  We are a crazy busy family, but we share driving and practices, and come together (when we can) over dinner. Everyone is close and group texts each other frequently. Technology has allowed us to be in better touch with each other than generations of the past. 

PUM: What are you most proud of as a Woman who inspires other women every day?

Simin: I'm proud to have started an organization that has developed important friendships at the highest levels with countries of the Middle East. I've been gratified to see the business projects and educational/cultural success stories that have resulted from our business conferences and events.  Currently I'm working to take the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on a breakthrough 50th Anniversary Concert to Iran this fall (2014).  Which will represent people to people cultural diplomacy at its finest.

 

http://www.americanmei.org/Simin_Yazdgerdi_Curtis.html

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