Mission & History

Tavaana: E-Learning Institute for Iranian Civil Society is Iran’s pioneer e-learning institute.  Tavaana – meaning ‘empowered’ and ‘capable’ in Persian – was launched on May 17, 2010 with a mission to support active citizenship and civic leadership in Iran through a multi-platform civic education and civil society capacity building program. Tavaana holds a vision for a free and open Iranian society, one in which each and every Iranian enjoys equality, justice and the full spectrum of civil and political liberties.

The Tavaana Approach 

Tavaana bridges the worlds of live, interactive e-learning with broad-based public education. Our e-courses counter the severe lack of academic freedom in Iran by providing an opening for Iranians to learn about a spectrum of subjects forbidden by the Iranian government, ranging from democracy to women’s rights, leadership, the separation of religion and state, trauma healing, digital safety, journalism and more. Tavaana especially empowers women, religious minorities and other marginalized Iranians who are denied equal access and opportunity.

In addition to conducting live e-courses, we distribute learning resources – course podcasts, video lectures, manuals, animated PSAs, video tutorials, and more – to correspondence students and also the general public via satellite television, social networks and popular Iranian web portals.

We provide our students with information about growth opportunities, ongoing mentoring and technical support.

The Institute's Offerings

Our live, instructor-led e-courses and public webinars give Iranians the opportunity to learn from the world's leading experts. In addition, the TavaanaTech service, the first of its kind, makes Iranian civil society better equipped to employ technology more safely and sustainably in the struggle for democracy and human rights.

Tavaana also features video interviews with prominent Iranian and international activists, case studies on civic movements for human rights and democracy worldwide, translations of democracy classics and texts written by Iranian civic leaders, pedagogic resources for school teachers and civic trainers, an annotated e-library of Persian and English resources, and robust outreach to various branches of Iranian civil society, not to mention international civic activists, via robust social networks.

Tavaana's Impact

Since Tavaana's founding in May 2010, the Institute has had immeasurable impact on the imaginations, lives, and work of civil society activists, human rights defenders, women's rights advocates, labor organizers, student leaders, teachers, journalists, intellectuals, artists, musicians, and countless ordinary Iranians seeking democracy and human rights. 

  • Tavaana and TavaanaTech have received 8.6 million+ site visits
  • 20,000+ Tavaana course applications have been received
  • 2,800+ participants have completed live Tavaana e-courses and webinars
  • 80% of course graduates have taken direct civic action as a result of their Tavaana experience
  • 815,000+ people have joined Tavaana and TavaanaTech's social networks
  • Tavaana's YouTube channel has over 8,800 subscribers and over 2.5 million total video plays
  • Five nights each week, over 15 million Iranians watch satellite TV broadcasts of Tavaana lectures, PSAs, interviews and more
  • Achieved social change on a variety of fronts, including support for LGBT rights, the rights of people with disabilities, and Holocaust education

 Tavaana’s History

Tavaana was founded in 2010 in response to Iranians’ need for a safe, sustainable space for civic learning. The Institute answers Iranians’ yearning to escape rote learning and ideological curricula for stimulating, creative educational methods that affirm them and their individual curiosity, free thought and questioning. Misinformation throughout the Iranian school system and a lack of teaching about important historical events such as the Holocaust, and the Iranian regime’s own political history and human rights abuses, have had serious effects: generations of Iranians are unaware of massive gaps in their knowledge of national and international developments. Iranian schools function to create disempowered pupils whose natural curiosity is crushed and who lack civic spirit and trust in others.

Nonetheless, Iranians throughout the country and from a diverse demographic have probing, exhaustive critiques of the educational system and an insatiable hunger for intellectual growth, civic values and knowledge about the architecture of democracy and democratic transitions. Tavaana provides a learning space for Iranians from all walks of life eager for an alternative conception of what they and their country can be.

Tavaana’s co-founders, Mariam Memarsadeghi and Akbar Atri, share a longstanding interest in civic education as well as personal histories of civic activism and aiding civic groups struggling against repressive regimes worldwide. Akbar spent ten years in the leadership of the Iranian student movement and was one of the original drafters of a referendum calling for a democratic constitution. He left Iran in 2005 and continues to work closely with civic activists throughout the country. Mariam left Iran during the 1979 revolution and has spent over 15 years crafting capacity building initiatives for civil societies across the globe.

Tavaana was incubated at the Center for Liberty in the Middle East before being moved to its home at the E-Collaborative for Civic Education.

Tavaana Students 

Tavaana’s inclusive, nonpartisan approach and its attention to the full spectrum of civil liberties have earned the credence of a broad spectrum of Iranian civil society actors. 

Tavaana students come from varied locales, socioeconomic status, ethnicities, religions, lifestyles and worldviews. Nearly every day, they connect securely from Iran to anonymous e-classrooms to study a range of subjects useful, either intellectually or practically, to their struggle to overcome repression. These live courses typically run over eight or more intense weeks. Tavaana students participate in weekly 1.5 hour live lectures and discussion session with the instructor and fellow classmates. They also complete assignments, quizzes, tests, asynchronous discussion and longer term projects. Students and instructors both are often surprised that they are able to dialogue more, do more work and get more out of the virtual learning experience than the traditional classroom experiences they have had.

Tavaana students include the country’s most prominent civil society activists, journalists and human rights defenders as well as clerics, physicians, mental health workers, teachers, professors, community service organizers, musicians and artists. As testament to their civic zeal
and yearning for democracy, these students routinely volunteer their time to expand Tavaana’s reach, and are eager to serve as conduits and trainers to others who, like themselves, seek civic knowledge and openings for active citizenship. Students have disseminated course materials to their networks both in person and online; had others sit in on live sessions with them; and used course materials to train countless others throughout the country.

Tavaana’s Awards, Accomplishments and Supporters

In May 2013, Blackboard Collaborate awarded Tavaana with the Catalyst Award for "exemplary innovation and creativity" in using online classroom software for education. In March 2011, Deutsche Welle selected Tavaana as one of only ten finalists in their prestigious BOBs (Best of the Blogs) award competition, in the “Human Rights” category.  Tavaana was the only Iran project to be recognized in this category. In October 2010, Tavaana was selected out of hundreds of nominees to be a ‘Top Five’ finalist in the “Most Innovative Use of Social Media” category of the CLASSY Awards in Washington, DC. In December 2010, Google Grants recognized Tavaana with $45,000/month in in-kind donations. Persianesque magazine’s readership has voted for Tavaana as the single most worthy cause deserving free advertising space by the magazine.

The Tavaana project was launched with a seed grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Tavaana has since pushed past its seed funding to secure follow-on funds from the State Department as well as funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the U.S. Agency for International Development and Google.

 Tavaana donors