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Quiet Donors of MED’s Largest-Ever Gift Step Forward

$10.5M for the Dahod Breast Cancer Research Center

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Dahod_Approved_h.jpg

Karen Antman (left), MED dean and Medical Campus provost, and President Robert A. Brown (right) with University Overseer Shamim Dahod (CGS’76, CAS’78, MED’87) and her husband, Ashraf, who have pledged $10.5 million to the School of Medicine — the largest gift in its history. Photo by Linda Haas

In August 2008, a Boston University School of Medicine alumna pledged $10.5 million to her school — the largest gift in its history. But she chose to remain anonymous.

Now, more than a year and a half later, University Overseer Shamim Dahod (CGS’76, CAS’78, MED’87) and her husband, Ashraf, are putting a face — or more accurately, two faces — on their contribution, which will establish the Shamim and Ashraf Dahod Breast Cancer Research Center at the School of Medicine. The gift will also endow assistant professor and international scholar positions at the center and support MED’s new residence hall.

When they made the pledge, announcing their names “didn’t seem appropriate,” Shamim says. The global economy was in a tailspin, and Ashraf’s mobile wireless infrastructure company, Starent Networks, had been publicly held only for about a year. It was later acquired by Cisco Systems for $2.9 billion, in December 2009. But this spring, with encouragement from the School of Medicine, the Dahods decided the time was right.

“The Dahods are modest and generous individuals who haven’t sought the spotlight,” says Karen Antman, dean of MED and provost of the Medical Campus. “But having their names tied to this important work lends both prestige and momentum to our breast cancer initiative. We at the School of Medicine are grateful that they have agreed to step forward and be associated with the Dahod Breast Cancer Research Center.”

High school sweethearts and practicing Muslims from Mumbai, India, the Dahods moved to the United States in the early 1970s to pursue married life and their educations. They are closely connected with Boston University: Shamim, now a primary care physician in Chelmsford, Mass., earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the College of Arts & Sciences in 1978, worked as researcher in a MED lab for five years, and graduated with a BU medical degree in 1987. Ashraf, a computer engineer turned entrepreneur, whose initial start-up, Applitek, developed the first cable modem, holds degrees from the University of Mumbai, the University of Michigan, Stanford University, Northeastern, and Harvard Business School, and he has several relatives who attended BU.

So, although Shamim, a two-time cancer survivor, had been treated for breast and thyroid cancers at another local institution, when they decided to support breast cancer research, she says, BU was “the logical place.”

“Our connection with BU was factor number one,” Ashraf confirms. “And number two is the patients that are served at Boston Medical Center. If you look at Boston, you find that care and treatment can be very different depending on your social status. We could have made this gift elsewhere, but no other place in this city serves the same population that BMC does.”

“I got the best of treatment. But everybody’s not that fortunate,” Shamim says. As a medical trainee at Boston City Hospital, now Boston Medical Center, New England’s largest safety-net hospital, she saw the plight of underserved patients firsthand — lack of knowledge, lack of facilities, lack of insurance. “There was no prevention for them, just emergency or catastrophic care. They were really sick, and they came, and they got sicker, and that was it. So when I went through breast cancer, I said, ‘I would like to do something to take care of that population.’”

The $10.5 million pledge is not the first contribution the Dahods have made to help overcome health disparities. As members of the Dawoodi Bohra, an international Muslim community based in Mumbai, they are charged to “uplift” the needy — in their case, by improving health and education in Yemen, parts of India, and Myanmar.

They were involved, for example, in the construction of Saifee Hospital, a 280-bed general hospital in Mumbai that offers paid care — in rooms like posh hotel suites, for luxury-minded patients — as well as discounted and free care subsidized by a philanthropic trust. They also helped open a medical clinic in Yemen, where U.S. physicians provide pro bono specialty services on a two-week rotating basis. The whole Dahod family is involved in their philanthropy: their older daughter, Tasneem, went to Myanmar in 2006 to explore potential new projects there, and their younger daughter, Nisreen, made a volunteer trip to Yemen alone at age 14.

“As you can imagine, I was biting my nails off,” Shamim says. “But I wanted her to be exposed to what other people don’t have, so she could better appreciate what she has. It put a lot of things in perspective for her.”

Although serving the underserved was the original inspiration behind the Dahod Breast Cancer Research Center, Shamim says her fight against the disease is more personal today. “My brother was recently diagnosed with breast cancer,” she explains. “He’s in the midst of getting his treatment. I also have a niece who was treated for breast cancer. Now I feel compelled to do something about breast cancer, because it’s going to affect my children.”

She hopes that the assistant professorship included in their pledge will help up-and-coming breast cancer researchers keep that from happening. “Professors with tenure already have ample opportunities,” she says. “This is an opportunity for the young ones — those who are on the bottom rung and trying to climb. This gives them a chance to show their capacity, and bring out an idea that nobody has thought of about how to take care of this disease.”

The Dahods have also helped fund the construction of two mosques — one in Billerica, Mass., and another in New Jersey. They have encountered no hostility as active Muslim philanthropists in post-9/11 America. In fact, Ashraf says, the opposite is true: “When we built our mosque here in Billerica, our first hearing in the town was September 12, 2001, the day after the terrorist attacks. From that first hearing forward, the Town of Billerica has been fabulous. The truth is, it was easier for us to build a mosque in the United States than it would have been in many Muslim countries.”

Asked what an entrepreneur and a primary care physician discuss over the dinner table, they respond after a moment’s thought. “My work,” says Shamim. “I have no business experience, so we discuss the business aspects of my work. He’s very analytical, and I go by my intuition. So the two of us meet in the middle.”

“I don’t make a single key business decision without getting her opinion,” Ashraf says. “I seldom hire an executive reporting to me whom she has not met, and given me her opinion about the person. And obviously, we talk about our grandkids.”

With grandchildren already on the scene, do they think about retirement? “No,” says Ashraf. “Actually, the spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohras doesn’t let anybody retire. He’s 99, and he’s still working.”

“We’re still a way from 99,” adds Shamim, “so we have some years ahead of us!”

20 Comments

20 Comments on Quiet Donors of MED’s Largest-Ever Gift Step Forward

  • Anonymous on 05.14.2010 at 6:55 am

    The gift will be sincerely appreciated by many at Boston and all around the world. My mom and a few others I know survived breast cancer–I believe that this money will produce many dividends for Shamim and Ashraf.

  • Anonymous on 05.14.2010 at 10:49 am

    That is truly amazing!!

  • Dr. Shakir Husain on 05.15.2010 at 9:32 pm

    Bravo

    It is a great gesture from Shamim and Ashraf, to contribute their valuable wealth for the advancement of knowledge in breast cancer prevention and care of patients suffering from this disease.
    In present world we need philanthropy of this kind to help fight pain and sufferings of humans from diseases.
    Congratulations Shamim and Ashraf.
    Continue to innovate and act freely.
    best regards
    Dr. Shakir HUSAIN MD, DM(Neurology), FINR(Switzerland)
    Chairman, Stroke & Neurointervention Foundation (SNIF)
    Director & Senior Consultant
    Department of Interventional Neurology & Stroke
    Max Institute of Neurosciences
    MAX Superspeciality Hospital
    Saket New Delhi – 110017 INDIA
    Mobile : +91-98-101-20942
    email: drshakir@gmail.com

  • Idris Diwan on 05.16.2010 at 11:31 pm

    It is wonderful that people like the Dohads are true philanthropists and work towards the progress and betterment of all of mankind. Kudos to them for showing through their actions the true teachings of Islam and the teachings of the spiritual leader of their sect, the Dawoodi Bohras.

  • Khambati on 05.17.2010 at 1:32 am

    Alf Mabrook

    You have made All of us proud.
    Jazakallah Khair.

  • Hussain on 05.18.2010 at 2:04 am

    Great Job !

  • Anonymous on 05.20.2010 at 11:28 am

    Simply amazing, very down to earth guys. Have heard a lot about them and their philanthropic work. Very few guys out there like them. All the best and keep up the good work. May we by the kind blessing of His Holiness Dr. Saydna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS) see a cure to this killer disease soon, amen.

  • ZEN BHATIA (DAHODWALA) on 05.21.2010 at 2:46 pm

    WHAT ABOUT POOR OF DAHOD?

    Brother Ashraf and Bahen Shamim have done many good things for Bohras and others and some what Dahod wala too, but based on Dahod’s cultural, educational, social and economical condition, Dr. Ashraf and Dr. shamim have to do much more for poor people of Dahod. Dahod is located on the border of Gujarat and Madhya Pardesh. It is basically a backward majority area. More than 50% Dahod walas lives below poverty line and need all kinds of help, medical, educational and social welfare. Hope, Br. Asharaf and Shamim will do some thing on grand scale for poor people of Dahod.

  • Anonymous on 05.22.2010 at 11:06 am

    MUBARAK ON YOUR CONTRIBUTION, MAY ALLAH SUBAHANALLAH GRANT YOU BOTH MANY MORE SUCH ACTS. ZAZAKALLAH KHAIR

  • Anonymous on 05.22.2010 at 11:49 am

    i am so touched to read this..and i am truly proud to be a a follower of AQA MAULA TUS.. i got tears of happiness and am overwhelmed by this enormous task this couple has taken up and am inspired too…
    i can do my small bit…as i stay very close to burhanpur,the next time i visit DARGAH E HAKIMI my first ziarat (after aqa maula)will be for this amazing family..

    jazak allah

  • Nathani Sf on 05.23.2010 at 12:12 am

    This is great and amazing too. الخلق كلهم عيال الله فأحبهم إلى الله أنفعهم لعياله “The creation, all of them, are dependents of Allah, and the most beloved to Allah are those who benefit most His dependents.”

  • Anonymous on 05.28.2010 at 11:16 am

    Dr. Shamim/Dr. Ashraf's Philanthrophy

    Alhamdolillah, we have people like sister Shamim and bro Ashraf who from their own adversity in early life and God given wealth and good fortune are contributing towards making this world a better place to live in as every Muslim should endeavor.

    They are building hospitals in USA, India, Yemen, Mayanmar as their 2 daughters Tasneem and Nasreen are following their parents footsteps.

    This is a Sadqa-e-Jariyah. It will continue growing for ever in Charity in this world and hereafter.

    My hats are off to both of them.

  • Anonymous on 06.14.2010 at 11:09 am

    MAY ALLAH BLESS U AND KEEP U UNDER THY SHADOW AND BESTOW U WITH BARAAKAAT OF AKAA MOULA S DUA.

  • Anonymous on 06.21.2010 at 10:42 am

    congrate Dr.shamim and brother ashraf, please do something for dahod’s medical facility, as two of the hospital of dawoodi bohra closed long ago, due to financial problem.

  • Batool Shaikh Abbas Sharjah on 06.08.2012 at 11:23 pm

    Drs Ashraf & Shamim behen you are blessed truly to be Philantrophist as such.INNALLAHA LA YOZIO AJRAL MOHSENEEN
    Sh Abbas&Batool

  • Razia Darukhanawala on 10.23.2012 at 7:56 am

    happy to know that in Dawoodi Bohra community we have philantrophist of such magnitude. May ALLAH bless both of you with all the happiness in life, Aameen.

  • Fatema Habibulla on 10.24.2012 at 10:52 am

    There are many millioners and billioners in this world;but very few may be having hearts of GOLD!Congratulations-May God bless you!

  • dr mustafa hakimji on 12.22.2012 at 2:18 pm

    MUBARAK. God bless you and may you continue your good work under the Benedictions and Doa of AQA MAULA.

  • asma shah on 02.24.2013 at 9:34 pm

    Mubarak. May you always live in abundance and distribute it in right causes. Its good to see your daughters following the parents footsteps. God bless your family.

  • Jay Patel on 04.16.2014 at 9:58 pm

    This is a great amazing that Dahod family made such gift. Gold bless them for their good work.They are very exceptional. I am touched to read this. I know Ash is greatest executive I ever met.
    Jay Patel, Oxford, MA

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