Giving Back Where Needed

Over the centuries, The Banyan tree has taken on significance as a symbol of fertility, life and resurrection. It is a fitting symbol for ‘DesiStoriesAshaUSA’ which presents the stories of South Asians who have wandered far and wide from their ancestral homes, traversing new frontiers and setting down roots and networks in the US. Our goal is to connect and establish closer ties within the diasporas of the South Asian community and facilitate a dialogue with our readers, one story at a time. We will showcase stories of achievement and success and also resiliency and hope.

Our story today features Zarina Baber and her devoted contributions to underserved communities, human rights and politics. The 65 year old is a Minnesota resident, with 30+ years of experience in causes dear to her heart.

In 2017, AARP Minnesota and Pollen Midwest celebrated Zarina as one of 50 Minnesotans over the age of 50, who live life on their own terms and improve the lives of others at the same time. Zarina was recognized in the ‘Disruptors’ category. The link to the Pollen Award story:

Zarina was born in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh, a city on the eastern banks of the Godavari River, to a mother from Chennai and a Surgeon father who served in the Army during World War Two, and after leaving the military joined the Andhra Pradesh Government. Her father’s job required moving every 2 years, and Zarina led a peripatetic existence till she was 15, when her father retired and settled his family in Hyderabad.

Pioneer Cricketeer

At the age of 17, she broke the glass ceiling in her hometown of Hyderabad, when she became one of the pioneers of the first Women’s Cricket team in Andhra Pradesh.

Zarina played ‘left handed batsman’, and within the short span of a year, helped put the Andhra Pradesh Women’s team on the map. They played numerous matches including the Shankerji Memorial Trophy and hosted the New Zealand Women’s Cricket Team in 1976. Zarina was also chosen from Andhra Pradesh to play for the South Zone in the Inter Zonal Championships for the Rani Jhansi trophy.

Zarina’s pioneering efforts in the early 1970’s have continued to reap rewards for Andhra Pradesh and Indian Women’s Cricket. In 2017, India’s team captain was a woman from Hyderabad, competing globally and second only to England at the 2017 Cricket World Cup.

Champions at their first Inter-Collegiate Match: Zarina is bottom row 3rd from right

Hosting the New Zealand Women’s Cricket Team: Zarina is middle row 5th from right

Early Years

Zarina got married at the young age of 18 and immediately moved to the US to join her husband.

Zarina and Zaheer in Chicago in 1978

At the time of her nuptials, Zarina was still in her second year of college in Hyderabad, and the move to the US resulted in not finishing her education in India. This did not deter her from pursuing a degree. She enrolled at the University of Iowa, after having to retake her GED’s, her studies in India not being recognized.

Zarina went on to complete her BS in Business from the Carlson School of Management, University of MN, after her husband’s job necessitated a move from Iowa. Later she obtained an MS of Technology Management from the University of St. Thomas, and a Master Certificate from Cornell University in Healthcare Leadership focused on Organizational Change. Zarina is also certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Certified Scrum Master (CSM).

It’s poignant that she got her Undergrad degree the same year as Zameer her older son graduated from elementary school, and obtained her Master’s degree the same year as Zameer did!

Zarina with her family at her Bachelor’s graduation from University of Minnesota in 1991

Career Path

It was inevitable that Zarina’s path would lead her to work in the political arena, with 30+ years in Information Technology and Project Management across multiple industries including Healthcare, Retail, Financial Services and ‘Government’.

Currently she is the Assistant Commissioner and Chief Transformation Officer in the MN State Office of Transformation and Strategy Delivery, as well as the Chief Business Technology Officer for the Office of Minnesota Governor Walz.

Zarina and Zaheer Baber at the 2020 inauguration of Governor Walz


In addition to her trailblazing career, Zarina is equally well known for her community and human rights advocacy to underserved populations. She estimated that she would spend 30 to 40 hours a month on volunteer activities, particularly when she founded the Al-Shifa clinic. “It’s not like I’m giving a lot. I feel like I’m getting a lot in return. I need a sense of balance in life and this place provides me and my family with that. I get an opportunity to interact with talented people and I learn so much from that.”

She is a former Board Member of the East Metro Board of the American Cancer Society and Advocates of Human Rights – an international human rights organization representing immigrants and refugees who are victims of human rights abuses, working through education and advocacy to engage the public and policymakers.

Zarina served as spokesperson of a multi-organization coalition advocating for US intervention in Bosnia based on human rights violations. She and her family were also actively involved with the resettlement of Bosnian and Somali refugees in the mid ‘90s.
In addition, she participated in research with Advocates for Human Rights, that resulted in a report called “Voices From Silence”, that focused on long term impact of post 9/11 on American Muslims.

Zarina has served as the former DFL Anoka County Vice Chair, and is a founding member and current Chair of the national Muslim Caucus of America, which organized the first National Presidential Candidate Forum in Washington D.C.

Zarina was also asked to speak at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) convention’s Muslim Forum.

Al-Shifa Clinic

Zarina was the founder, Volunteer Director and a motivating force behind the Al-Shifa Clinic, providing free health care to Minnesotans of all religions and backgrounds since 1995. Al-Shifa, which means ‘to heal’ in Arabic, is a volunteer based, part time clinic located at the Islamic Center in Fridley. The clinic serves a clientele of refugee and immigrant populations and all Americans in need.

Physicians in specialties such as Family Practice, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Endocrinology, Neurology, Psychology, and Urology were recruited and the clinic partnered with HCMC clinics, North Memorial Medical Center and Allina amongst many other affiliations.
Three other clinics opened in Minnesota based on the Al-Shifa Clinic model, a first of its kind.

When the concept was brought to me, it fit what I understood growing up in India. My father was a surgeon and he spent his entire life serving the needy. I grew up with those principles and those values.”

“It looks like any typical small medical clinic, but it’s totally volunteer based: Every piece of equipment, medication, is donated by the community members, particularly the physicians.” Though they had opportunities to seek grants for the clinic, they did not choose that route since it would have, “taken away from the giving aspect.”

Zarina was chosen a winner in the HCMC 2000 Employee Recognition Program, in the ‘Exceptional Recognition to the Community Category for her commitment to the Al-Shifa Clinic.

Future Doctor’s Organization

Zarina developed a partnership with Minnesota’s Future Doctors organization, (as part of her work with Al-Shifa Clinic), to provide support and create internship opportunities for under-served students. This partnership gave students interested in health care, opportunities to network with community physicians and gain valuable experience to enhance their medical school applications. One volunteer was admitted to Mayo Medical School and another as an Emergency Physician in Chicago.

As a result of this initiative, Zarina was a recipient of the Annual Asian Pacific Leadership Award in 2001 and recognized by Senator Mark Dayton in the US Senate the same year. In addition she also received a congratulatory letter from (the late) Senator Paul Wellstone.

Political Candidacy

In 2018, DFL Gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Otto, MN State Auditor, chose Zarina as her running mate for Lieutenant Governor.

Rebecca Otto said at her announcement at the time “The Minnesota I know and love celebrates the strength that comes from diversity of thought and background. That’s why I’m thrilled to welcome Zarina to this ticket, and I’m excited to work with her to build a better Minnesota”.

Zarina’s response was “The person that drew me into politics and into my lifelong work in health care and human rights was (the late U.S Senator) Paul Wellstone. I see in Rebecca the same compassion and character I saw in Paul.”

Though their ticket lost to Governor Walz and Peggy Flanagan, it vaulted Zarina into the statewide public eye, making her the ‘only’ person and woman of South Asian origin, and ‘only’ Muslim woman, to have run for Statewide office in the United States at the time.

Zarina speaking at DFL State Convention 2018

Family Life

Zarina moved to the US in 1976, living first in Chicago, then Iowa and for the past 35 years in Minnesota. She is married to Zaheer Baber who retired from Land O’ Lakes as the Regional Director Asia, Middle East, Latin America and Eastern Europe. During his tenure, he worked on projects with the Marines in Iraq as well. They are the proud parents of two sons Zameer and Zafeer Baber.

Zaheer in Iraq with the Marines

Zameer, the older son is the Head of Digital Strategy and Tech Modernization at Point B in Chicago. With a Masters from Oxford University, he is currently pursuing his PHD at IE Business School in Madrid. He is married and has blessed Zarina and her husband with their granddaughter.

The Family at Zameer’s Wedding

Zafeer is an Anesthesiologist and Pain Medicine Physician at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Boston. He also hosts a show on SiriusXM on Saturdays called ‘Medicine in the News’. And, was recently named in Boston Magazine’s Top Doctor’s issue. He has a little son, giving Zarina and Zaheer another grandchild.

There is no stopping Zarina Baber. She continues to live her life balancing her career and her voluntary activities, and by the lifelong motto that has driven her since her early days!

I truly believe that if each one of us selected a cause and worked at it, we would be able to help a lot more people.”

DISCUSSION : Our goal is to start a dialogue through the stories we present here. Please send us your thoughts and comments, either by posting a comment at the bottom of this blog, and/or sending an email to ’’. We will collate all the feedback we receive and share back with you. (And let us know if you wish to remain anonymous).

AshaUSA’s mission is to provide culturally specific programs to the South Asian community to foster health and harmony in their lives. Please visit our website ‘’ for more information on our programs, volunteer opportunities and resources.

4 thoughts on “Giving Back Where Needed

Add yours

  1. Zarina….It was a very motivating and informative/ interesting to walk with you through your journey of life
    Women cricket team those days….kudos to you
    Getting married in an early age without completing your education and yet reach this height
    Nothing stopped you from getting where you are
    Motivational mother ….God bless your sons
    Political life….helping the needy….
    I really don’t have the words that will do your journey of life justice
    I have met you personally and found you so humble and grounded
    Stay blessed
    God bless you Zaheer and your family
    Looking forward to meet up again

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had an honor working with Zarina Baber on few fundraising projects. She has been an outstanding community leader and i am very proud of her service and achievemts. May the future be bright in her vision to help community and serve so many underpriveleged. My best wishes to you Zarina Baber.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are an inspiration Zarina !
    I feel I know u even though I have never met you because our roots are from Home derabad!
    So proud that you have achieved so much and inspire south Asian women to come forward !
    Hopefully we all esp our younger youth learn and volunteer for under privileged and human rights!
    Thank you Ruby for bringing such amazing inspiring stories you are so creative , a true artist and story teller!


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