Sabeen Perwaiz began six months working in Cambodia for a Swiss nonprofit on Thanksgiving Day in 2013. The “About Me” section of her online blog, called Restless Wanderlust, described some of her cosmopolitan life to that point:
“Born in Karachi, Pakistan. Raised in Fresh Meadows, N.Y. Refined in Birmingham, UK. Home and heart are in Jacksonville, FL. Currently in Phnom Penh, Cambodia with Aide et Action. Citizen of the world continuously seeking out new forms of adventure.”
Three years later, travel satisfies her wanderlust, having put down roots in Jacksonville with her husband, attorney Asghar Syed. After a series of local nonprofit jobs — interrupted by the stint in Cambodia — she found her latest adventure as the newly named executive director of the Florida Nonprofit Alliance, a 3-year-old statewide coalition of nonprofits focused on research, collaboration and advocacy.
“This is work I am really passionate about,” she said.
Now 31, Perwaiz came to Jacksonville in 2011 when she became engaged to Syed.
She had most recently worked in Washington, D.C., as an entrepreneurship and economic development intern at Vital Voices Global Partnership and earlier as a housing specialist in New York. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and pre-medicine from City College of New York and a master’s degree in international development from the University of Birmingham in England; she worked on her master’s dissertation in Pakistan.
Her initial adjustment to her new Florida hometown, she said, was “really hard.” But then she discovered the local version of TEDx, a daylong, volunteer-run speakers event that originated in California. Helping organize the annual event showed her what Jacksonville had to offer.
“There are so many amazing people here doing wonderful things. It is a phenomenal organization,” she said of TEDx. “They want the community to be everything it can be. … We don’t give credit to all the great things that are happening here. We don’t celebrate it enough. This community has evolved.”
In 2012, Doug Coleman was the lead organizer of TEDx RiversideAvondale, which in 2013 became TEDxJacksonville to include the whole city. Perwaiz, he said, has been a critical part of the team effort.
“Sabeen is the key driver of that team, inspiring all of us with her skills and wisdom. Her leadership has been key to our growing community impact,” he said.
Along the way she has had her own community impact, Coleman said.
“Her cultural, global background and her passion of opening minds has brought insight and understanding to our city,” he said. “Sabeen has curated programs on refugees, religion, race and women’s leadership. She’s actually so talented — and lovable — that it’s humbling.”
MORE ON HER PLATE
While volunteering with TEDxJacksonville, she also undertook a series of nonprofit jobs — leadership program specialist at Girl Scouts of Gateway Council, special projects manager at PACE Center for Girls and Earn Up project manager at the JAXUSA Partnership, a division of the JAX Chamber. Perwaiz was not looking to leave JAXUSA, but the alliance sought her out.
The alliance board of directors is “thrilled” at their good fortune, said board chairwoman Rena Coughlin, CEO of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida.
“She brings a terrific set of skills crucial for a new, statewide organization. She is equally at home in the world of policy, strategy, communications and association-building,” Coughlin said.
“Personally I’m proud that she’s a Jacksonvillian. Bringing a statewide organization’s headquarters here is a bonus!”
With her nonprofit work history, Perwaiz already was familiar with the challenges nonprofits face.
“We’ve always been seen as the stepchild to the public and private sectors, tugging on heartstrings,” she said.
Part of her job will be promoting the private sector’s economic and social impact: Northeast Florida’s nonprofit sector has about 1,000 organizations in a variety of fields, including education, adult and child care, health, public safety, religion, arts and culture, environment and animal protection. The sector has a $2.7 billion payroll and generates $6.8 billion in economic impact in Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties, according to the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida.
“They impact quality of life,” she said. “Without nonprofits, it would depreciate very quickly. We really just want to earn respect, to show the community we do valuable, important work.”
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109