Azadeh Tajdar Joins Maxwell as Inaugural Cramer Family Professor of Practice in Community Impact
July 7, 2023
Seated in citizenship and civic engagement, the professorship was created with a generous gift by the Gerald and Daphna Cramer Foundation.
After studying law at the University of Amsterdam, Azadeh Tajdar went to work in public policy, hoping to be part of the inner workings of the European Union (EU) at an exciting time: A year before she graduated, the EU was poised for a stronger global presence thanks to the Treaty of Amsterdam, which also brought added resources for employment and citizens’ rights.
Tajdar did, indeed, get a close-up view of government—but it wasn’t what she hoped for. She was a lobbyist, and her job was to convince lawmakers to make decisions that supported special interests. She found herself promoting things like tobacco and deregulation.
“I was so disappointed to see how democracy happened from the back end,” she said. “I was very much disenfranchised by what I saw.”
When directed to lobby in support of weapons, Tajdar knew she needed a new career, something that empowered her to uplift others and supported her beliefs.
Now, nearly 20 years later, Tajdar is an expert in the field of social entrepreneurship and shares her experiences as a startup founder, project manager and incubator consultant to empower innovators. At the start of the Spring 2023 semester, she was appointed as the Maxwell School’s inaugural Cramer Family Professor of Practice in Community Impact.
Seated in the Citizenship and Civic Engagement (CCE) Undergraduate Program, the professorship was created with a generous gift by the Gerald and Daphna Cramer Foundation to provide support to students across a range of community engagement efforts that develop capabilities and skills in entrepreneurship, civic engagement, philanthropy, systems change, social innovation and impact.
The late Gerald B. Cramer earned a degree in accounting from the Martin J. Whitman School of Management in 1952 and went on to become one of the Maxwell School’s most generous and dedicated supporters. He and his wife, Daphna, funded professorships and graduate assistantships and supported the creation of the Global Affairs Institute at Maxwell (now the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs) as well as the University’s Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (now the Institute for Security Policy and Law).
Cramer’s dedication and impact were recognized with numerous University distinctions, including a George Arents Pioneer Medal—the University’s highest alumni distinction—and an honorary doctor of laws degree.
In establishing the latest professorship, Daphna Cramer noted that her husband’s vision was that students would “find the value of a Maxwell School and Syracuse University education to help them think globally while acting locally.”
“He said that his goal is to always seed fund new initiatives that create opportunities for independence and entrepreneurship, and to see the benefits of impact investing by bringing about sustainable prospects for community benefit by all types of organizations and to all people,” she said of Gerry, who served as a University trustee before his passing in 2018.
Dean David M. Van Slyke says the professorship honors the legacy of Gerry Cramer, who he called “an extraordinary friend and benefactor” to the Maxwell School. He says Cramer found joy in working quietly and effectively behind the scenes to support programs and opportunities and was committed to Maxwell’s focus on global engagement and citizenship.
“Generations of students will benefit from the extraordinary support of the Cramer family,” says Van Slyke. “I am certain Gerry would have been an enthusiastic supporter of CCE and of the addition of Professor Tajdar to the Maxwell community. Her expertise and experience are a natural complement to our cross disciplinary approach and our efforts to teach students to think about public issues from a systems perspective.”
As the Cramer Professor, Tajdar helps students work with community-based organizations in Central New York including Utica, Rochester and Syracuse; assists students with their capstone projects; and teaches courses in community development, social entrepreneurship, philanthropy, grantsmanship, and program design and evaluation.
Before joining Maxwell, Tajdar held a diverse mix of positions across the globe. She has worked with numerous impact ventures as a mentor, consultant and donor. She has consulted for the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office, monitoring and evaluating humanitarian projects in Afghanistan, and, at the Urban Justice Center in New York City, she studied the feasibility of setting up a cooperatively owned mobile food vendor commissary.
Tajdar’s startups have focused on building the capacity of diaspora-led community organizations in countries of origin, including in Rwanda and Senegal, as well as co-founding Kabul’s first incubator and coworking space for peace building through social entrepreneurship. After she left the latter, called the Center for Business and Social Innovation, she enrolled at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, to continue her graduate studies. She earned a Ph.D. from the Faculty of Management, Economic and Social Sciences in 2021.
Tajdar is excited about her next chapter at Maxwell. Among the lessons she hopes to impart on students is that “democracies flourish when you give people the opportunity to change their own civic and economic lives.” She added, “Social entrepreneurship does that.”
In addition, Tajdar said she strives to share the importance of adopting an entrepreneurial mindset for innovation and impact.
“Today, many organizations across the public, private and nonprofit sectors embrace entrepreneurial skills and mindset to solve problems more effectively—and are breaking silos through public, private and people’s partnerships,” she said.
She said some of the greatest inventions of our time—smartphones and GPS—are a result of the U.S. government having a “visionary entrepreneurial mindset” to invest in the technology. “Some of the most defining social, economic and ecological movements of the 19th and 20th centuries were radical innovations—they disrupted conventional institutions at the time, for new ways to solve societal problems,” she said, adding, “My goal is to help students to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset to solve problems with societal, economic and ecological impact.”
By Jessica Youngman
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