Laya Behbahani devoted to community engagement
By Diane Luckow
Laya Behbahani doesn’t sleep much. She’s too busy juggling a full-time job as a business and policy analyst in Simon Fraser University’s Student Services, with substantial volunteer commitments and four additional appointments.
So it’s no surprise that she is the recipient of SFU’s 2015 Staff Achievement Award for Community Contribution.
An SFU alumna who earned a BA and MA in criminology, Behbahani has spent the past 18 years devoting much of her time to volunteer and work projects aimed at eliminating human trafficking and improving social justice and governance.
“I grew up in Dubai where exploitation of workers is just rampant,” says Behbahani, who immigrated to Canada in 1997 at age 13.
“Even as a child, I knew that wasn’t right. I wanted to put my education to use to do something about it—to give a voice to workers who would otherwise never be heard.”
As a sessional lecturer for SFU’s Labour Studies Program, she teaches a course on “unfree” labour and modern day slavery. As a senior analyst for Humanize Global in Washington, D.C. she researches and consults on energy and security. In the SFU School of Criminology’s Police Studies Centre, she conducts research, and as a research associate with York University’s Schulich School of Business she works on initiatives related to eliminating forced labour and exploitation from business supply chains.
As an SFU student, she spent several extra years pursuing internships and volunteer positions, including a three-month internship in Vienna, Austria with the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime, Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section.
A devout Shiite Muslim, she now volunteers with Humankind, a humanitarian arm of her Muslim religious community that is currently helping to settle Syrian refugees in Vancouver, and with Mainstay Foundation in Detroit, which seeks to advance Muslim individuals and communities in the U.S.
“Laya is a remarkable young staff member who adds tremendous value to the world,” says her nominator Martin Mroz, director of SFU’s Health and Counselling Services.
“She puts herself out there to make positive change in her community with little fanfare—only her wits, courage, strong internal values and determination. She is inspiring.”