Zerbanoo Gifford

Zerbanoo Gifford

Zerbanoo Gifford (born India on 11 May, 1950) is a Human Rights campaigner, author, and founding director of the ASHA Foundation.

Early life

Zerbanoo was born in India, the eldest daughter of Bailey Irani, the founder President of the World Zoroastrian Organisation, and Kitty Mazda, who studied child development with the educationalist, Madame Montessori. She was brought up in London, where her parents ran a hotel, and attended Roedean School, near Brighton.

Zerbanoo’s charity work began when she was six years old. After seeing children in need in the Indian city of Pune, Zerbanoo returned to London, made flags and sold them to passers-by for a peent each; she raised ten pounds, which she sent to the then Indian Prime Minister Pandit Nehru. The Prime Minister sent Zerbanoo a thank you letter stating that if all little girls in London were like her, there would be fewer poor children in Poona (Pune).Years later, Zerbanoo would be honoured with the Nehru Centenary Award for her work championing the rights of women, children and minorities internationally.

Zerbanoo obtained a degree and trained as a journalist, but knew her vocation lay in philanthropy and in promoting human rights.


Zerbanoo made political history in 1982 when she was elected in Harrow, Middlesex, as the first non-white woman councillor for the Liberal Party. She went on to become the first Asian woman to stand for parliament three times, despite facing racism and threats from the British National Party. Her experience was the catalyst for the national press, politicians and the police to look at the whole issue of racial violence in Britain. Not being elected to parliament didn’t mean the end of her involvement in politics. No Asian woman to date has been elected to the British House of Commons. Zerbanoo is seen as a pioneer for the Asian community in national politics. She chaired the commission ‘Looking into Ethnic Minority Involvement in British Life’ and was a member of the advisory group on race relations to the then British Home Secretary, Jack Straw.

ASHA Foundation

Zerbanoo is the Founding Director of the ASHA Foundation, a charity which encourages and supports philanthropy worldwide and works for interfaith and intercultural understanding. The core of the Foundation’s work is the ASHA Centre in the Royal Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, which promotes peace and understanding amongst diverse groups. The Centre fosters community participation through a holistic programme of performing and visual arts, conservation projects and personal transformation. In an example of its pioneering work, groups of Arab and Jewish Israeli young people spend a month at the Centre and having overcome their initial hostility, work together to create a play which they then take home and perform in Israel, uniting audiences from their deeply divided communities. The experiment has now been expanded to include young people from South Africa, India, Britain and other divided communities worldwide. The ASHA House in Coventry is used for young people from all over the world and by the charity, Minorities of Europe, for its work on peace and reconciliation.

Inspirational women

Zerbanoo’s book, "Confessions to a Serial Womaniser- Secrets of the World’s Inspirational Women" highlights the achievements of three hundred women from sixty countries, all of whom Zerbanoo interviewed. The women have succeeded in all walks of life, including business, government, the arts, science, academia and religion. To accompany the book, Zerbanoo has also launched a website and international mentoring project. The website contains biographies and photographs of the “Inspirational Women” in her book, and she plans to expand the listing. Many of the women in the book are involved in the web project, acting as mentors, and as everything is done on-line, distance is no object. Zerbanoo has already successfully matched up young women from all over the world with their chosen mentors. She’s now developing the mentoring project into a multi-media resource for schools and universities.A member of the Race Relations Forum and an advisor to the former British Home Secretary, Zerbanoo has chaired the Commission "Looking into Ethnic Minority Involvement into British Life"."

Charitable work

The patron of several international charities, Zerbanoo founded the ASHA Foundation and Centre and also helped set up the Charities Aid Foundation in India. She has been the Director of Anti-Slavery International and London Organiser for the homeless charity Shelter. She also set up the first Shelter shops in London when she was still a teenager.

*Founder of the ASHA Foundation
*Director of Anti-Slavery International
*Director of Charities Aid Foundation (India)
*London organiser for Shelter
*Patron of United Nations Year of Peace
*Patron of Asian Friends of the RSPCA
*Patron of United Religions Initiative
*Patron of Minorities of Europe
*Patron of Mummy’s House for Mumbai Street Children
*Advisory Board member of Public Concern at Work
*Friend of the Day Care Trust
*Council Member of the Voluntary Arts Network
*Board Member of the Independent Broadcasting Trust
*Co-founder of Warwick University Centre for Research Into Asian Migration
*Co-chair of the Dadabhai Naoroji centenary celebrations
*Vice-chair of the Community Sector of the Prince’s Youth Business Trust
*President of the Harrow Zoroastrian Association


Zerbanoo has been editor of the women’s magazine, Libas International, and written widely on historical, social and political themes, with all proceeds of her books going to nominated charities. Her written works include:
*"The Golden Thread", Asian experiences of post-Raj Britain – pioneering work drawing attention to the achievements of over one hundred British Asian women
*"The Asian Presence in Europe" – used in schools as a book on Asians who have helped to transform the way we live in Europe
*"Dadabhai Naoroji, Britain's First Asian MP" – to complement the Dadabhai Naoroji Centenary celebrations in 1992, which Zerbanoo co-chaired
*"Thomas Clarkson and the Campaign Against the Slave trade" –used in events marking the bi-centenary in 2007 of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in the British Empire
*Foreword to "Race and British Electoral Politics"
*"South Asian Funding in the UK" – written to be used by the charitable sector
*"Celebrating India" – widely used in schools on 50th anniversary of Indian independence and to complement a Channel Four schools programme
*"Confessions to a Serial Womaniser: Secrets of the World’s Inspirational Women" – featuring interviews with 300 exceptional women from sixty countries. The book, website and international mentoring project are the result of Zerbanoo’s being awarded a NESTA (National Endowment of Science, Technology and Arts) Fellowship. The website mentoring project is now being developed into a multi-media resource for schools and universities.

Marriage and children

Zerbanoo is married to the international human rights lawyer Richard Gifford and lives in England with their sons Mark Mazda and Alexander Justice.


Zerbanoo has received many international accolades for her work, including:

*"Freedom of the city of Lincoln, Nebraska", in recognition of her work against modern forms of slavery
*"Asian Times Award", for achievement and service
*"Asian City Club Award", for services to the media
*"Nehru Centenary Award" for championing the rights of women, children and minorities internationally
*"International Woman of the Year 2006", awarded by Zee TV
*"Splendor Award" for human rights achievement on 60th anniversary of Indian independence


* [http://www.zerbanoogifford.org ZerbanooGifford.org] - official web site

External links

* [http://www.asha-foundation.org ASHA Foundation]
* [http://www.ashacentre.org ASHA Centre]

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