City Lifestyle

Want to start a publication?

Learn More

Featured Article

Frank Islam and Debbie Driesman

They Achieved the American Dream and Are Working So Others Can Too

Article by Marie Robey Wood

Photography by Tony Powell

Originally published in Potomac Lifestyle

Frank Islam arrived in the United States from India when he was only 15 and through hard work and the encouragement of others he has achieved more in his lifetime than most people can barely even dream of. An entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist, civic leader and writer, he and his wife Debbie Driesman, devote their time and considerable wealth to supporting worthy causes not only in this country, but around the world.

Mr. Islam answered a few questions regarding how he and his wife Debbie go about choosing the many endeavors they support: 

1.)  When did you start giving back to your community?

We have always given back in our personal and professional lives. 

The sale of Frank's firm the QSS Group to Perot Systems in 2007 allowed us to establish a private foundation to support educational, artistic, cultural and civic causes. It started a new and intensified phase of sharing and giving back for us that in many ways has been the most rewarding of our lives.

2.)  What is your philosophy when it comes to philanthropy? 

We engage in what we call “purposeful philanthropy," making investments directed at creating a difference in pivot point areas that matter to the future of society or a community. The returns on those investments are changes to problematic conditions and/or the creation of individuals who will become change agents to address those conditions. 

3.)  How do you choose which non-profits your foundation will donate to?

We look for programs and projects that fit with our priority areas of educational, artistic, cultural and civic causes. We request proposals and then work with the selected organizations to develop projects that align with our philanthropic philosophy. 

4.)  Which local (meaning DC or Montgomery County) causes have you supported and are you particularly interested in?

Through the years, we have supported numerous organizations located in the Montgomery County and greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. They include but are not limited to: Halcyon Incubator; National Symphony Orchestra; Washington Performing Arts; Folger Shakespeare Library; Strathmore Center for the Arts; Marymount University; John Hopkins Carey Business School; George Mason University Business School; American University School of International Service;  Ford’s Theater; US Institute of Peace; Woodrow Wilson Center; Meridian Center for Cultural Diplomacy; Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Frank Islam Athenian Symposia at Montgomery College; Maryland Public Television Foundation; and Trust Leadership Council for the National Mall.

5.)  How do you find time to keep track and participate in all the boards and committees you support? 

We have a very full calendar, but we do go to all the meetings of the boards and committees on which we serve. Due to the pandemic, we attended many meetings remotely on Zoom. We feel our responsibility is not just to provide financial support but to furnish guidance and generate ideas that will help those organizations to be as successful as possible. 

6.)  You often speak of achieving the American Dream. Do you think it’s still possible for immigrants to achieve the American Dream today?

Absolutely. John F. Kennedy wrote a book titled A Nation of Immigrants. He observed in his book:

Immigrants infused the nation with a commitment to far horizons and new frontiers, and thereby keeping the pioneer of spirit of American life, the spirit of equality and of hope, always alive and well. 

In November 2017, I had the opportunity to give the keynote address at the naturalization ceremony for 200 new citizens at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. I quoted from President Kennedy’s book and told those immigrants that when I looked at them I saw America’s future. In spite of the polarization of the past few years, I believe immigrants can and will achieve the American dream.

7.)  What more would you like to accomplish in the next few years in terms of philanthropy? 

A major concern that we have currently is the decline of democracies and the rise of autocracies around the globe.  

The Frank Islam Institute for 21st Century Citizenship was created in 2018 to address this issue and the increasing civic engagement deficit in the U.S. and other countries by enhancing the concept of citizenship. For democracies to survive and to thrive, it is essential for all of us to become citizens who are issue-oriented, informed, independent and involved. 

  • Frank and Debbie with Nancy Pelosi
  • Frank and Hillary Clinton
  • Frank and Debbie with the Obamas
  • Frank and Debbie with Bill Clinton
  • Frank and Debbie with Barack Obama
  • Potomac's Man Of The Year
  • Frank and Debbie