About Us

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$7.5 million in the U.S. and Canada since launching in 2019, and partnered with more than 40 organizations across both countries.

About the Fund

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:

Catalyze Solutions that Advance Economic Mobility

We support organizations and initiatives that create strong career pathways, shift employer practices, generate skill-building opportunities, and provide holistic supports so that immigrants and refugees can thrive and advance.

Accelerate Worker-Centered Innovations

Our funding seeks to spur the creation and spread of more equitable practices that put workers at the center among employers, policymakers, funders, and practitioners.

Back Immigrant Leaders

We seek to deepen the bench of leaders who bring lived experience from immigrant and refugee communities and communities of color, particularly in the workforce, education, and social innovation sectors.

Grow the Movement

The Fund is focused on expanding the ecosystem of stakeholders committed to fostering welcoming and inclusive workplaces and communities.

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.

Our Vision

By 2025, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund aims to invest over $50 million into immigrant and refugee leaders and communities in the U.S. and Canada.

Our History

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.

June 2019
Fund launches with USD$30 million commitment from WES
September 2019
Inaugural grants awarded in the U.S.
May 2020
Launched efforts in Canada in response to the COVID-19 pandemic
November 2020
First grants awarded in Canada
December 2020
Fund makes first impact investments
January 2021
Team grew to 9 full-time staff

The Opportunity

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.

Our Impact

Since the Fund launched in 2019, we’ve already begun to see the impact of our efforts.

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$7.5

MILLION

U.S. dollars deployed in the
U.S. and Canada.

40+

ORGANIZATIONS

Funded in the
U.S. and Canada

Commitment to Equity & Inclusion

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.

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Our Team

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.