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Get to Know Ehsan Zaffar on Team Rubicon’s Board of Advisors

1We’re proud to welcome Ehsan Zaffar to Team Rubicon’s Board of Advisors. Zaffar works to build resilient communities and increase trust and diversity in organizations. He is the founder of the Los Angeles Mobile Legal Aid Clinic (LAMLAC) which helped to pioneer the delivery of mobile legal care to vulnerable populations in California and in post-disaster environments abroad.

He also serves as a Senior Advisor on civil rights at the Department of Homeland Security where he advises the Department on the civil rights implications of homeland security programs and policies. Zaffar is a member of the faculties of the Washington College of Law at American University and George Washington University where he teaches civil rights and national security law and policy. His writing has appeared on, Slate, and The Huffington Post. His book, Understanding Homeland Security: Foundations of Security Policy, will be published in fall 2017 by Routledge Press.

1. What brought you to Team Rubicon and what was your first impression of the mission?

I learned about Team Rubicon from a few colleagues at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. They had worked with Team Rubicon and were deeply impressed with the organization’s commitment to disaster relief and service. I’ve worked to bring legal assistance to post-disaster environments and was impressed with how CEO Jake Wood and his team went where others didn’t and leveraged the generosity and fighting spirit of our veterans. I had to find out more.

2. What most excites you about joining the Board of Advisors of a nearly 7-year-old disaster response organization utilizing the skills of veterans to help their communities?

I can’t believe we haven’t started doing this before. Our military is the most capable, professional, and courageous institution in our country. They respond to the greatest man-made threats. Who better than military veterans to respond to our most challenging natural disasters? Communities affected by disasters deal with a whole host of psychological and physical challenges – and the tenacity of military veterans and their supporters is what post-disaster communities need to get back on their feet, just as much as food, aid, and grant money.

3. You’ve been described as “an educator, advocate, and public servant who helps build resilient communities by increasing trust and transparency in government, non-profits, and private enterprise.” What are some of the challenges you think nonprofits face in gaining the trust of the public and how do you recommend Team Rubicon continue to build it with supporters?    

Non-profits are unique in that they serve communities, but often draw operational support from a very small number of private actors who do not live or work in those communities. Should the non-profit continue to support the communities in a way they feel is best for the community even if its donors disagree? This is an inherent conflict found in non-profit organizations and one that is not easily overcome. These and other institutional challenges arise in non-profits as they mature into reputable and effective non-profits and I hope to help TR tackle them in the future should they arise.

Another thing I admire about Team Rubicon is it’s focused mission and strong ties to our Armed Forces. The U.S. armed forces are the most diverse organization in the country – perhaps the world.  As a someone who focuses on building strong, diverse communities, I want to see that diversity translate to Team Rubicon’s member corps. I can’t tell you how excited I am to work with everyone at Team Rubicon from the staff, the Fellows, to the volunteers to help evangelize TR with diverse communities of veterans and civilians around the country.   

4. Our members are currently sweating through their grey shirts while serving the flood-stricken community of Baton Rouge, Louisiana where the heat index reached 103 this week. When’s the last time you perspired to the point of ripping your sleeves off? 

I spend a lot of my time in Washington D.C., – so that means I’m ripping my sleeves off during every sweaty, humid DC summer. Seriously though, the last time was when I was working with volunteers in New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy – cleaning public buildings, moving medical equipment from waterlogged hospitals, and packing cleaning kits. And speaking of Louisiana, it’s where my passion for service began. When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was still in law school. I packed my bags and headed out the day after Katrina hit and ended up spending a significant amount of time in Louisiana and Mississippi helping Americans recover from the worst natural disaster in our history.

While there, I also ended up providing legal advice to homeowners and small businesses. I would have failed law school had I not returned. And after coming back to Los Angeles, it was my work in Biloxi, MI that encouraged me to start a small, mobile legal aid clinic for low-income communities in Southern California. I’m passionate about serving communities in need and as someone who has roots in both service and national security, an admirer of my friends, colleagues and fellow Americans in the Armed Forces. One of the first things I’m going to do is get Director of Field Operations David Burke to sign me up so that I can deploy on TR’s next op.  Keep an eye out for the good looking, naturally tanned, short lawyer in the #Greyshirt.