Human rights campaigner, author and founder of the ASHA Centre Zerbanoo Gifford holds the International Woman of the Year Award 2006 for her humanitarian work, which spans over forty years of grassroots and global activism.
A pioneer for Asian’s in British public life, Zerbanoo made history in 1982 by being elected as a Liberal councillor in Harrow. She was also the first BAME woman to stand for parliament in 1983 receiving the highest vote of any ethnic minority in Britain. She came second to the then chairman of the Conservative Party Cecil Parkinson.
Zerbanoo spoke at Trafalgar square with leading ANC members and the then leader of the Labour party Neil Kinnock calling for full mandatory sanctions against South Africa and the release of Nelson Mandela. She was chosen to present the Peoples Petition to 10 Downing Street with Bishop Trevor Huddleston.
Zerbanoo chaired the ‘Community Relations Panel’ in succession to Lord Avebury and went on to chair the commission ‘Looking into ethnic minority involvement in British Life’. In 1997 she was invited to become a member of a race relations advisory committee to the British Home Secretary, The Right Hon Jack Straw MP.
As a teenager Zerbanoo started as a Shelter volunteer and went on to become the London organiser for the Homeless charity. She worked in Fleet Street for Oxfam and later became Director of Anti-Slavery International, the oldest human rights organisation in the world. She was awarded the Freedom of the City of Lincoln, Nebraska, for her work combating modern racism. Her book on “Thomas Clarkson and the campaign against slavery” was instrumental in highlighting the life of the first human rights campaigner who was eventually recognised with a plaque for his pivotal role in the abolition movement at Westminster Abbey. In 1992 she co-chaired Dadabhai Naoroji centenary and wrote his biography ‘Dadabhai Naoroji, Britain's First Asian MP.’
Among her many awards for her tireless work on equality and social justice Zerbanoo received the International Splendour Award in Hollywood in 2007, for her lifetime achievements. In 2010 to celebrate the 90th Anniversary of American Suffrage she was honoured by the Sewall-Belmont Museum in Washington DC in an exhibition commemorating key women who advanced women’s rights. In 2014 she was recognised in Albania for her inspirational leadership for the young. In 2016, the Asian media also recognised her outstanding leadership. Zerbanoo was chosen as one of the 200 global visionaries and in 2010 and one of the 100 Women of Spirit.
Zerbanoo has been a women’s magazine editor and was nominated for the British Editors Award. She has written widely on historical, social and political themes, with all proceeds of her books going to nominated charities. Those include ‘The Golden Thread, Asian Experiences of Post-Raj Britain’– pioneering work drawing attention to the achievements of over one hundred British Asian women, ‘Asian Presence in Europe’ – used in schools as a book on Asians who have helped to transform our lives and ‘Confessions to a Serial Womaniser: Secrets of the World’s Inspirational Women’ – featuring interviews with 300 exceptional women from 60 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. She has been one of the contributors to BBC’s Video Nation and made two documentaries on Street Children for Channel 5. Zerbanoo has also been on Newsnight, Question Time and radio programs such as Women's Hour and Any Questions. Her biography ‘An Uncensored Life’ by Farida Master is published by Harper Collins. In the words of Bishop Desmond Tutu: ‘Zerbanoo’s vision has led to alternative ways to make a real difference in the world-- and she trod that path, regardless of the challenges’.
Zerbanoo has been involved in numerous charitable organisations as diverse as Public Concern at Work, Patron of Friends of the RSPCA, the Day care Trust to helping set up the Charities Aid Foundation in India. She has been honoured by having a College named after her at The Dean Academy in Gloucestershire which came about from the wishes of the students.
Zerbanoo’s greatest achievement is founding the ASHA Centre in the Forest of Dean which is now recognised globally as a centre that creates opportunities for young people to experience inspiration, connection and purpose. ASHA’s richly varied programme of activities are designed to meet the challenges of the times, through combining community arts, sustainable living, transformational leadership, intercultural/interfaith dialogue and active volunteering.
Zerbanoo's biography 'An Uncensored Life' by Farida Master and published by HarperCollins is available to buy on Amazon.