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Aava Farhadi '23

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This story is part of the Why Econ? series. Our affiliated students and faculty share why econ matters to them, their work and our world.

Aava Farhadi

When Aava Farhadi took AP microeconomics in high school, it was, admittedly, not love at first sight. At the time, her sights were stuck on pre-med.

But during her freshman year at the Farm, she fell for econ and became driven to find ways to empower small businesses and entrepreneurs, especially of underrepresented, under-resourced groups.

The change of heart came after she felt something was missing amid her pre-med courses. She spoke to her parents, who advised her to not be afraid of exploring options.

Farhadi’s mother, Baran Elahi, and her grandmother, Etrat Elahi, owned and operated a family cookie business. The operation stemmed from Etrat’s knack for baking and — more importantly — their need to financially support the family once they arrived in America from Iran just before the country’s 1979 revolution.

The business soon expanded from small-batch sales from their kitchen into a popular cookie shop in suburban California. Then came a wholesale business that sold to companies like Neiman Marcus and Whole Foods.

Reminded of her family’s economic story, a new interest was sparked for Farhadi.

The tale epitomized the so-called American Dream, but also illustrated inequities in a system not particularly friendly or helpful to women and underrepresented minorities who needed loans, advice and support to establish a business.

“The whole ‘pulling-up-by-the-bootstraps’ theory, is false,” says Farhadi, a first-generation Iranian American. “I think more people are seeing that that narrative is problematic and are looking at the structure and oppressive systems in place, and what we can do as individuals to fix that.”

Following her mother’s tip to explore, Farhadi took Econ 1, which cast economics in a whole new light. What could have just been a flirtation has since turned into a hard-core relationship.

“Understanding economic structures is so crucial to understanding everything else. I had underestimated that, but finally found that missing link,” she says. “Once I figured out that I can combine all my interests in this one field of economics, I was just blown away.”

Today, Farhadi is a leader in Stanford Women in Business, and has introduced changes to make its leadership summit more accessible to high school students from minority and lower-income backgrounds.

Before starting her sophomore year, she was a research assistant at SIEPR, working on a project examining COVID-19 health policies. She also interned at HerCapital, a nonprofit that helps educate women in financial management. The job gave her experience and also an important insight.

“This is what my grandmother and mother needed,” she says.

And she’s working to ensure more women have it.

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