In 1981, fourth grader Manda Ghaferi and her parents fled Iran to Los Angeles.
“My father worked for an international company, and my parents were fearful for our future. We fled under the cover of night, leaving everyone and everything we knew behind,” she recalls. “That stays with you and colors your life going forward. You have a different mindset when it comes to opportunity, and the adversity and challenges that come your way.”
One early challenge for Ghaferi was how to understand and deal with the anti-Iranian sentiment common in the 1980s.
“With the amount of hostility toward Iranians following the hostage crisis, it was a difficult time for many Iranian immigrants in the US, particularly for young kids,” Ghaferi says. “I didn’t want to upset my parents with what I was hearing at school, but I vividly remember wanting to call out the prejudice and confront it.”
Ghaferi worked to change the dialogue at her school and then realized she wanted to do more.
“From there, I was hooked on the idea of becoming a lawyer,” Ghaferi says. “I could have a career at an international firm, like my father, and maybe find a way at the same time to give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.”
She attended UCLA for college and Loyola Marymount University for law school. In 1999, Ghaferi began working for SunAmerica, a division of AIG headquartered in Los Angeles and focused on the development of annuities and retirement products. Over the years, as both her career developed and the company grew, Ghaferi took on more of a leadership role.
“The first few years of my career were incredibly formative,” she enthuses. “I was a jack-of-all-trades in the legal department and worked on many different issues and projects. It was an integral part of my training as a lawyer to have that experience of being able to take on all kinds of situations.”
Today, she serves as vice president and deputy general counsel for the company in the Life & Retirement division and lead counsel for individual annuities. “I have an amazing team of professionals who make coming to work a pleasure every day. There’s a commitment to excellence and collaboration, and a dedication to community.”
“I am so grateful to be able to work for an organization that gives me the opportunity and platform to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. It’s something I am enormously passionate about.”
Ghaferi has always been passionate about diversity and inclusion. She coled AIG’s first Women and Allies employee resource group in the Los Angeles area and helped create the Women in Distribution network, which supports the success of women across AIG Life & Retirement’s sales teams.
“It was inspiring to see Terri Fiedler become the chief executive officer of our sales and distribution organization. There is still so much opportunity across financial services for women to lead businesses and manage teams,” Ghaferi notes. “With our Women in Distribution network, we have created a space for those who are already successful—and for those who are on their way up—to build relationships and take their career to the next level.”
There have been three sessions so far, each time partnering with a local nonprofit focused on women and financial independence, and Ghaferi has already seen an important shift.
“I am so grateful to be able to work for an organization that gives me the opportunity and platform to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives,” she says. “It’s something I am enormously passionate about.”
She’s even prouder of AIG’s robust pro bono program, in which she is an active participant. One highlight is AIG’s partnership with Street Law’s Legal Diversity Pipeline Program, which Ghaferi started in Los Angeles in 2012 and now has expanded to AIG offices in Houston and New York. The program matches in-house legal departments with diverse local high schools to educate students about an area of law and the legal profession. The program culminates in a field trip to the AIG office for a mock trial on issues like the scope of First Amendment rights of students in school.
“One of the great things about this program is the goal of increasing diversity in the legal profession by bringing to life what the legal profession is,” Ghaferi says. “I continue to get feedback from some of these kids years later about how our time together with Street Law inspired them and set them up for success.”
Ghaferi’s efforts within AIG’s Life & Retirement division is one part of the global insurance company’s larger pro bono program, which empowers attorneys to take an active role in their communities. Most recently, AIG’s General Counsel Lucy Fato announced that criminal and social justice reform will become a key pillar of the program, seeking to partner with global organizations on important topics involving racial and gender inequality and LGBTQ+ rights.
“Lucy has inspired me personally and reinvigorated our collective commitment to use AIG’s global platform to help those in need. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this team.”