The WES Mariam Assefa Fund seeks to catalyze economic inclusion, opportunities, and mobility in support of immigrants and refugees in the U.S. and Canada. Through grantmaking, impact investing, partnerships, and field-building, the Fund supports efforts to bring about inclusive economies and to ensure that all immigrants and refugees can achieve their goals and thrive. The Fund has distributed more than US$14.7 million in the U.S. and Canada since launching in 2019, and partnered with more than 90 organizations across both countries.
The WES Mariam Assefa Fund supports leaders and organizations working to build inclusive economies and to ensure that all immigrants and refugees can achieve their goals and thrive. Our four main goals are to:
The most vibrant economy is one in which immigrants and refugees can access quality jobs and contribute their skills and talents in inclusive and equitable environments.
Since 1974, WES has helped nearly three million individuals achieve their academic and career goals. But 45 years later, systemic barriers to immigrant success and economic inclusion remained stubbornly in place.
In 2019, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund launched with an initial US$30 million commitment from WES to seed its philanthropic arm. The Fund is named after the organization’s former CEO, Mariam Assefa, who led WES for 38 years, making it into the leading social enterprise it is today. Through our funding, we expand the ways that WES helps people learn, work, and thrive in new places and helps society recognize the value of people’s education and experience.
As workforce and education systems are changing rapidly, philanthropy can help ensure immigrants and refugees thrive amidst these changes and create the careers and lives they desire.
Aging workforces in the U.S. and Canada are increasing demand for the talents and skills of immigrants. According to Pew Research, immigrants and refugees are projected to add about 18 million working-age people to the U.S. workforce over the next 15 years. They will help fill the growing number of jobs in high-demand industries and offset the decline in available workers as more baby boomers retire. According to the Conference Board of Canada, immigration is expected to account for 100 percent of Canadian labour force growth by 2040, yet the country forgoes an estimated $50 billion in GDP annually because of the immigrant wage gap and underemployment.
Historically, few funders have focused on supporting the economic integration and mobility of immigrants and refugees. Currently, less than 2 percent of foundation funding in the U.S. goes to pro-immigrant groups; and only 0.6 percent goes to women of color, according to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Only 2 percent of venture capital goes to Black and Brown founders in the U.S., according to research supported by the Knight Foundation.
Looking ahead, as philanthropy evolves, there will be more opportunities to drive resources to immigrant and refugee communities. In Canada, the government currently funds 85 percent of the immigrant-serving sector, but philanthropy can step in to provide flexible, innovative funding and take risks on new approaches.
Equity, inclusion, diversity, and racial justice are inextricably linked to WES and the Fund’s vision of a future where immigrants and refugees can thrive and build the careers they desire. Read how we’re centering these principles in our work.Learn More
Monica Munn is the Managing Director of Philanthropy at World Education Services. Monica oversees WES’ philanthropic initiatives, including the WES Mariam Assefa Fund, funding partnerships, and corporate philanthropy.
Monica joined WES in 2019, bringing over a decade of experience leading social impact, economic development, and sustainability initiatives in the philanthropic, social enterprise, and private sectors. Previously, Monica held several positions at the Rockefeller Foundation and worked at Next Street, a social enterprise that drives equitable economic and community development. She began her career as an analyst at Citigroup. Monica currently serves on the steering committee of the Workforce Matters Funders Network. Monica holds a B.Sc. in International Politics from Georgetown University and a M.Sc. in Sustainability Management from Columbia University.
Monica is deeply committed to building an economy that works for all people and for our planet. Given her family members’ experiences immigrating to the U.S., the mission and work of WES and our partners is very close to Monica’s heart. When she’s not in a Zoom meeting, you can find Monica running or cycling across Brooklyn, exploring national parks, or testing out new recipes.
Lauren Crain is the Associate Director for U.S. Strategy and Programs at the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. Lauren develops grantmaking strategies that support economic mobility and integration for immigrants and refugees. She works closely with the Fund’s 20+ U.S. grantee and investee partners to make connections across the workforce development, adult education, and immigrant integration ecosystems to champion and amplify their work.
Lauren has over 10 years of experience working in international human rights, higher education, and migration, including at the Aspen Institute and Scholars at Risk. She earned a BA in politics from New York University and an MA in Middle Eastern studies from Columbia University.
Lauren is passionate about addressing systemic and intersectional barriers that limit opportunity for individuals, and looks to build bridges that will create more just, democratic, and resilient institutions and communities.
Smitha Das is the Principal of Impact Investing at the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. She leads the Fund’s impact investing initiatives in the U.S. and Canada. As a daughter of immigrants and refugees, Smitha is deeply committed to WES’s mission and centering equity and justice within impact investing.
Previously, Smitha was an impact investor at Social Finance, where she developed and executed the firm’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative, impact management practice, and field building strategy. Before Social Finance, Smitha worked in venture philanthropy, renewable energy private equity, and the U.S. House of Representatives. Her passion to scale impact formed at a young age when she founded a water nonprofit at age 12.
Smitha has an MBA from Harvard Business School and AB with Honors in Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, where she co-founded the HBS Impact Investing Club and Harvard Social Innovation Collaborative. She serves as a steering committee member for the HBS Impact Investing Alumni Group, chapter leader of Women Investing for a Sustainable Economy (WISE), and member of the Leadership Now Project. Beyond impact investing, Smitha is deeply passionate about creating quality connection and community and shares her thoughts monthly on the Seen & Heard podcast.
Marina Nuri is the Associate Director for Canada Strategy and Programs at the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. She leads the Fund’s grantmaking in Canada.
Prior to joining the Fund, Marina spent several years designing and managing international development programs across Africa. Before that, she spent eight years in management consulting with Accenture, advising both private sector and social impact organizations on strategy and operations. Marina has an MBA from the University of Oxford, Said Business School.
Having worked across the world and seen the value that diversity and economic opportunity brings to workplaces and communities, Marina is passionate about driving racial equity and justice and advancing opportunities for all.
Silan Akgul is Senior Manager of Communications at the WES Mariam Assefa Fund, leading communications and influence strategy to further the Fund’s impact in both the U.S. and Canada. In this role, she supports communications for the Fund’s grantee and investee partners.
Prior to joining the Fund, Silan helped build internal and external communications at the Helmsley Charitable Trust, a philanthropy focused on improving health outcomes for all. She played a key role in advancing the foundation’s leadership in its early years. She began her career at Just Food, a nonprofit that develops community-driven solutions to inequities within the New York regional food system. She holds a BA from Baruch College and is currently completing her Master’s in Public Administration.
Silan is personally driven by the Fund’s mission as her father is an immigrant and her mother an immigration lawyer. Based in New York City, she loves Citi Bike, the Union Square Greenmarket, and exploring the city’s diverse food options.
Nomzana Augustin is the Senior Manager of Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships at the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. She drives the Fund’s external partnerships, strategy, and initiatives with funders and other external and internal stakeholders.
Previously, Zana led and supported economic development and equity-focused initiatives and programs at Save the Children, FHI360, and Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT).
As a first-generation immigrant, Zana brings a profound understanding of the needs and solutions required to integrate and support immigrants and refugees, especially for those living with intersectional identities.
Karla Gregorio is Senior Program Manager for the Fund’s grantmaking and strategy in the U.S. She serves as the day-to-day lead for several grantmaking initiatives in the U.S. with project management, strategy, planning, and thought leadership responsibilities.
Karla has over a decade of combined experience in program management, learning and evaluation, and policy development while working within organizations engaged in immigrant and refugee integration, economic development, and sustainability.
Prior to joining the Fund, she designed and managed capacity building programs for Listen4Good, an initiative of the Fund for Shared Insight. She also worked in the standards and policies department at Fair Trade USA, where she was responsible for maintaining and improving requirements for fair, ethical, and sustainable business practices. Karla began her career in the non-profit sector with Upwardly Global, an organization that focuses on immigrant and refugee workforce development. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from U.C. Berkeley, and an M.P.A. in International Development from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Karla has an ingrained passion for supporting economic and social integration of immigrants and refugees. She centers her work on equity and inclusion, ensuring that the self-expressed needs of those we serve are at the forefront of decision-making. Outside of work, you will find her spending quality time with her partner and daughter, and discovering new spots for scuba diving.
Zenia Dacio-Mesina is the Senior Grants Manager at the WES Mariam Assefa Fund, leading the pre- and post-award administration of the Fund’s grants and impact investments in the U.S. and Canada.
Zenia has over 10 years of experience in grantmaking operations in public charities and previously worked in non–profits and NGOs focused on environmental issues and international development in the U.S. and the Philippines. Zenia holds a BA in environmental science from Otterbein College (now University) in Ohio and she holds a master’s degree in International Development and Social Change from Clark University in Massachusetts.
Zenia views philanthropy as a partnership between funder and grantee and is passionate about improving the Fund’s grantmaking processes so that they are respectful and responsive to the needs of Fund applicants and partners. Please feel free to contact Zenia if you have any feedback!
Jawad Shahabi is Program Manager for the Fund’s grantmaking and strategy in Canada.
Jawad brings a decade of experience in program management and humanitarian operations from Afghanistan, one of the most complex working environments in the world. Prior to joining the Fund, Jawad worked for the United Nations World Food Programme, working to ensure that affected communities were not harmed in humanitarian operations and their voices were heard in the design and implementation of assistance programs. Jawad also worked with The Asia Foundation in its Afghanistan Country Office where he led the implementation of Afghanistan’s broadest and longest running barometer of public perceptions, Survey of the Afghan People. The survey reflected public perceptions of almost 12,000 Afghans annually and was considered a credible source of public perception longitudinal data.
Jawad has a Bachelor of Law from Kabul University and a Masters in International Economic Law from University of Toulouse, France.
Jawad is excited about supporting communities and economies in Canada to become more inclusive for all. A foodie by nature, Jawad loves cooking and learning new dishes. He is also a certified open water diver.
Sifat Shahana Yusuf is Canada Program Manager at the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. Sifat is responsible for supporting the Fund’s grantee partner community in Canada, and contributes to communications, strategic planning, and new grantmaking.
Originally from Bangladesh, Sifat has nearly a decade of experience working in health systems, non-profits, social development, and project management. Before joining the Fund, Sifat worked as program manager for healthcare connections at ACCES Employment, where she spearheaded initiatives and training aimed at supporting internationally educated healthcare professionals find meaningful alternative healthcare careers within Ontario. Before moving to Canada, Sifat worked for different non-profit organizations including the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease & Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b), World Vision, and Girl Effect.
Sifat earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science from Queen Mary, University of London, and a Master’s in Public Health from James P. Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University.
Sifat is excited to help the WES Mariam Assefa Fund support meaningful and bold initiatives that support newcomers and immigrants starting their lives in new places. She currently resides in Toronto. During her free time, she enjoys hiking, food festivals, reading and spending time with family and friends.
Lei Ma is the U.S. Senior Program Associate at the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. Lei supports and manages a range of programmatic and funding initiatives, data management, and special projects that advance the Fund’s U.S. goals and grantee partner community.
Lei’s passion lies in social innovation and environmental sustainability. She most recently worked as a program officer at the Earth Institute, Columbia University, where she developed and led China-related research projects aimed to foster economic development that integrates environmental and social factors. Lei also supported the immigrant small business owners community at Kiva, a non-profit micro-lending platform for the underserved.
Lei is excited to support efforts to build an inclusive economy for immigrants and refugees and believes that a core part of the U.S.’ identity is being home to more immigrants than any other country in the world. Lei’s experience – and that of her loved ones – as an immigrant helps her realize the importance of the Fund’s work to improve social welfare and livelihood, one of the key aspects of sustainable development.
Abby Frias is Grants Associate at the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. In this role, she provides funding administrative, data management, and special project support through all stages of the Fund’s grantmaking operations in the U.S. and Canada. Abby also supports the Fund team in adopting trust-based philanthropy practices and centering equity in how we fund.
Abby most recently worked on the WES Mariam Assefa Fund team in summer 2021 as an intern focused on grants management and communications. She also interned at the City of Worcester’s Executive Office on Diversity and Inclusion. She is from Worcester, Massachusetts and received her Bachelor of Arts in Government with double minors in Justice and Peace Studies and African American Studies from Georgetown University. Following graduation, Abby worked in community development through AmeriCorps. She loves working with non-profit organizations, grassroots organizations, and local government at the intersection of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and immigrant justice. Her favorite part of being on the Fund team is learning and seeing the real impact of grantmaking, impact investing, and partnerships in immigrant communities.
The Fund Committee is a subset of the WES Board of Trustees. It provides oversight, strategic guidance, and support to the WES Mariam Assefa Fund.
Dewayne Matthews is a Fellow at the Lumina Foundation, an independent, private foundation committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. In his prior role as Vice President for Strategy, he led the development of the Foundation’s goal to increase postsecondary attainment in the U.S. to 60% by 2025 and its first three strategic plans. Dewayne has served as Executive Director of the New Mexico Commission on Higher Education and Vice President of the Education Commission of the States. He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Highlands University, and Arizona State University.
Esther T. Benjamin has been a global executive in the public, private, and civil society sectors for more than 25 years. Before joining WES as CEO and executive director, Esther worked with Laureate Education, Inc., a leading global higher education organization. Esther served as the Associate Director for Global Operations of the U.S. Peace Corps, and held senior management roles with the International Youth Foundation and the International Partnership for Microbicides.
Ann Buller is widely recognized for her groundbreaking work in global citizenship education. A visionary leader who recently retired from her position as president and CEO of Centennial College, Ann has spearheaded many award-winning mentoring and outreach programs to help underrepresented individuals succeed in post-secondary education. She has earned several prestigious awards recognizing her excellence as a leader and mentor, most recently the 2016 World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics Leadership Award, the Top 100 Most Powerful Women Award (2016, 2010) and the 2015 CBIE President’s Award for Distinguished Leadership for International Education. Ann is a graduate of Humber College, York University and Central Michigan University.
Misha Esipov is the Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Nova Credit, the world’s first cross-border consumer reporting agency. Nova has built a global network of credit bureaus to empower consumers to transport their financial identity wherever they move. Esipov oversees the overall strategic direction of the firm and leads Nova’s mission to “enable immigrants to access credit to realize their potential.” Before Nova, Misha was a private equity investor at Apollo Global Management. He started his career at Goldman Sachs where he was involved in corporate financing, mergers, and acquisitions. Misha was born in Russia and immigrated to the United States in the 1990s. He is a graduate of New York University and the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Sidney Hargro is the executive director of the Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia. He is the former Executive Director of the Community Foundation of South Jersey, a startup community foundation, and has also served as the Senior Officer of Strategy and Organizational Learning at The Columbus Foundation, the nation’s 7th largest community foundation. He is the author of “Lessons Learned,” a chapter in the Foundation Center’s fundraising guide After the Grant: A Nonprofit’s Guide to Good Stewardship. Sidney serves on the Board of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations. He has served on boards of regional and national organizations including Wells Fargo Regional Foundation and CDC, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, New Jersey Council for the Humanities, and the advisory committee of the New Jersey Nature Conservancy. He is a graduate of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Ohio State University, and the United Theological Seminary.
Joanna Harries is the Senior Vice President of Expansion at Endeavor Global, the world’s leading organization working with high-impact entrepreneurs in more than 30 countries. Endeavor identifies, mentors, and co-invests in entrepreneurs that build world-class businesses and grow entrepreneurial ecosystems. The organization has tripled its footprint over the last decade. Joanna has launched Endeavor offices across the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America. Prior to Endeavor, Joanna was an Acumen Fellow working in Mumbai and a brand manager at Unilever. Joanna is a graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University’s School of Business and Economics. She has been recognized as a Kauffman Fellow and serves on the advisory board for the Lazaridis Institute
An Egyptian-American, Maryana Iskander immigrated to the United States when she was young. She is currently CEO of Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, which based in South Africa. She has a track record of scaling organizations through partnership models, data-driven delivery, talent management, and technology innovation. Prior to joining Harambe in 2012, she was Chief Operating Officer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a US $1 billion organization that is the nation’s largest provider of women’s reproductive healthcare. Maryana has been an associate at global business consulting firm McKinsey & Company, a strategy consultant for W.L. Gore & Associates, and a law clerk at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York, and Vinson & Elkins in Houston. She received her bachelor’s degree from Rice University and earned a Master of Science from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. She also holds a Juris Doctorate from Yale University.