Responses provided by: YP4’06 Combiz Richard Abdolrahimi
IG: @combizabdolrahimi Twitter: @Abdolrahimi
YP4’06 Combiz Richard Abdolrahimi hails from Washington, DC and is a Global Emerging Technology and Innovation Leader for the Deloitte company. He is a senior innovation executive with 15 years’ experience, serving as a national security & international human rights lawyer, economic and foreign policy advisor, regulator, and technologist at the Dept. of State, Treasury, The Obama-Biden White House and Senate. Born in Texas and the son of Middle Eastern immigrants, he is a graduate of UCLA, AUB, and Georgetown Law. He is the recipient of the 2020 Federal 100 Award, recognizing the top 100 executives who’ve made the greatest impact in government. He speaks Persian, Azerbaijani, Turkish, Arabic, and Spanish.
What social justice work are you currently doing in your community?
I have always been passionate about social justice as a first-generation American, born to immigrants from the Middle East. Ever since I was in government and now in the private sector, I have worked hard to reject and eradicate systemic bias, racism, and unequal treatment that sadly continues to plague many of our communities, including our black and brown brothers, sisters, and other people of color and those who have historically been underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by poverty or inequality.
I’m currently volunteering for organizations that are devoted to protecting everyone’s right to vote and fighting voter suppression laws, and I’ve personally trained and helped to hired nearly 50 young people of color while tackling social justice issues at both the state and federal levels.
As an innovation leader at Deloitte, I’ve taken on many pro-bono projects, volunteering in our local communities, and encouraging my team to contribute to organizations that are improving social justice, employment, wealth, equality, and equal educational opportunities for the underserved. I am currently working with thought leaders around the country in the social justice space to help educate our public and private sector workforce on race, racial identity, and allyship.
As a U.S. national security & international human rights lawyer, I’m currently volunteering in partnership with student and community activists and organizations across the country to provide pro bono legal representation and community support for both (1) noncitizen youth who would qualify for legal status under the DREAM Act and DACA and (2) immigrant families who were impacted and separated by the former administration’s Muslim ban.
Many of these noncitizens have no source of income to afford an attorney and need someone who they can trust. This collaboration has helped our communities to connect people who are facing deportation with a free and reliable attorney who will fight for their right to stay in the U.S. Helping people get justice is one of the main reasons why I became an attorney.
As a government technology & policy executive, I’m currently working with my government and private sector counterparts to prevent the baking of old biases into new technologies. This is critical if we want to ensure the ethical development and trustworthy applications of new and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI).
One of the things that I’ve focused on is to embed an ethical mindset into the government and private sector. When you start to think about the ethical implications, you start to sometimes see the gloom and doom and the scary aspects — such as the potential biases of AI-created algorithms being used for commerce, surveillance, and hiring — however, all of us use technology because we see the benefit in making things better for consumers, businesses, and governments alike.
We see the opportunity that these technologies and digital innovations can bring us. What we want to do is to just broaden the scope of how people are thinking about the technology that they’re designing or they’re implementing or they’re using — to think about what are the potential unintended consequences of the design, the usage, or the data that they’re collecting and who has access to it. So, it really is about practicing, recognizing the potential dilemmas that this technology presents, and then also broadening the way that you interrogate the decision to make sure that you’re coming at it from different angles and different aspects.
What is the main goal you want to accomplish in your social justice work?
My main goal right now is to help the public and private sectors better serve the people and to do what’s right for everyone, not just for a select few.
We are just beginning to scratch the surface in our efforts to build a fair, diverse, inclusive, and equitable technology-enabled world in which all perspectives are included, valued, and shared. I want our communities to recognize that all of us each possess immense power to reach and inspire a much wider circle than we can see, define, or articulate.
We should recognize our collective power to impact people, businesses, and governments and watch the world around us change a little bit at a time for the better.
Can you give an example of how your YP4 Fellowship helped you accomplish something meaningful for your community?
The YP4 Fellowship has empowered me with the network, tools, and resources I need to work towards lifting my communities, making things better, and advancing equity, diversity, justice, and fairness for everyone.