Protea Conversations: Saja Raoof
Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high-quality outsourced accounting at an affordable price. Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were previously overlooked. Protea strives to represent people from all backgrounds and provide an environment for them to grow and succeed in a setting that provides the flexibility and acceptance of who they are as people.
We selected the name Protea because is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.
Protea Conversations in 2022 will focus on positive transformation and representation from all backgrounds. We are broadening our Conversations with the hope that these conversations will continue to create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges leaders face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.
In August 2022 we spend time with Saja Raoof.
Saja is the proud daughter of an “Alien of Extraordinary Ability,” a visa classification which recognized her dad Dr. Ameed Raoof’s distinguished career in Medical Education. Her family background is part of the reason she chose to devote her career to serving talented foreign nationals interested in pursuing the American dream through employment-based visas.
As a Business Immigration Attorney, Saja helps companies and foreign-born nationals navigate the increasingly complex field of Immigration Law. Having focused on business immigration since 2006, Saja’s clients have included engineering companies, architecture firms, startups, overseas companies and nonprofits and their talented foreign-born employees.
Her immigration career started with an internship at the National Immigration Project in Boston during first year of law school. She also advocated for immigrants’ civil rights during my internship at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.
Saja’s family is from Iraq, home to the first code of law in history. Before moving to the US she grew up in Scotland and Saudi Arabia. When not working you’ll find Saja kayaking, embroidering, or traveling internationally.
Tell us a little more about your decision to start a career in immigration law and your journey to running your own practice?
As the eldest of four children my dad tasked me with helping him put our immigration application together when I was about 14 years old. My involvement in that process at a young age made a strong impression on me. I’d gone with law school with the goal of defending human rights. Immigration was a natural venue to fulfill that dream. I set up my own practice in 2012 and it’s been a terrific experience over the past decade. Having been through the immigration journey I can put myself in my clients’ shoes and share a personal understanding of what’s at stake.
What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?
The limited venues for immigrants and the sometimes heavy-handed application and interpretation of immigration law. It’s frustrating to see politics decide whether companies can grow and foreign-born nationals can pursue their dreams. For example, only 65,000 H-1B visas are granted each year plus 20,000 reserved for foreign-born nationals who have a U.S. Master’s. The number filed every year competing for those visas is sometimes three times the number of visas available, so U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services runs a lottery. Companies should be able to file an H-1B based on need, not luck.
What are your short-term goals of your career and yourself?
I’m working with Mike Doherty (Understanding eCommerce) on updating my marketing. I’m also working on becoming an engaging public speaker.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success?
It’s hard to narrow it down to a single piece of advice. The first advice that comes to mind is my business coach Alay Yajnik’s “time is life and life is time.” That line is just a starting point. Alay’s time management system is gold.
What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out?
Delegate. Because we want everything to be perfect, we sometimes prefer to do a given task ourselves rather than explain and entrust it to somebody else. But learning how to effectively delegate and free up one’s time for other things, is priceless.
What advice you give to others to help them be better leaders?
Since early in my career I’ve kept record of notes from my conversations with the lawyers and professionals I’ve admired the most. Out of every 10 people you ask for guidance, maybe only one will respond. But that person’s advice could do wonders for your career. It’s not always comfortable approaching leaders to seek advice but it’s worth it.
Can you share something interesting about yourself that will provide insight into who you are outside of the professional space?
When my husband and I moved from Michigan to California in 2014 we didn’t know many people here, so I needed a new hobby. My choices came down to either pottery or embroidery. As an introvert I went with the hobby that doesn’t require going to a studio and talking to people. I started out embroidering flowers and birds. And I later realized it could be a meaningful way to connect to people. I embroider personalized gifts for friends and colleagues on their special occasions (weddings, religious occasions, death of loved ones). An embroidered piece makes for a memorable gift and it feels good to create long-lasting beauty.
As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will donate to Positive Images (https://www.posimages.org/). Positive Images is a grassroots nonprofit organization serving Sonoma County since 1990. Their LGBTQIA+ Community Center hosts multiple weekly support groups, a youth leadership development program, mentorship opportunities, an LGBTQIA+ Library, resource and referral station, and a Transformation Station. They proudly offer a warm, welcoming, and affirming environment for young people to explore their individual identities, develop leadership skills, and contribute to our collective community. Positive Images staff lead LGBTQIA+ Cultural Competency Trainings and presentations that educate the greater community focusing on human connection, compassion, and inclusion. Their goal is a community where all LGBTQIA+ people are valued, compassionate community members, creating a just society.
Protea Conversations Let You Expand Your Network
Learn about professionals you may not otherwise come across by reading through our Protea Conversations. We have the privilege of talking with some fantastic individuals, and appreciate the time they take discussing their lives with us!