Equity, diversity, inclusion, and racial justice are inextricably linked to WES and the Mariam Assefa Fund’s vision of a future when immigrants and refugees can thrive. The Fund is deeply committed to dismantling racism, discrimination, and biases to improve economic mobility and inclusion for all.
Invest in leaders from immigrant and refugee communities and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities
Prioritize funding strategies that address the structural barriers people experience because of their race, ethnicity, gender, culture, religion, citizenship, and other identities
Shift power to our partners and communities and provide flexible funding and support
Build a team whose diverse lived and learned experiences foster an inclusive culture
Work with external consultants and vendors whose staff and leadership reflect BIPOC, immigrant, and refugee communities
It is critical to center equity in whom we fund, how we fund, and who we are, and in the specific actions we are taking in 2022.
These actions are our start, not our end. As a young philanthropic funder launched in 2019, we are still creating our processes and practices and seeking to continually improve. We first developed and shared these priorities externally in 2021. Here, we reflect on some of our specific learnings and progress from 2021.
We firmly believe that there is always room for us to do better. We will work to hold ourselves accountable to transparently sharing our progress in equity, diversity, and inclusion with our partners, and we encourage you to reach out with feedback.Email Us
The most vibrant economy is one in which everyone can contribute. Supporting the success of immigrants, refugees, and underrepresented talent creates more diverse, innovative, and productive workplaces and communities.
To build more inclusive economies and communities, we must center equity, diversity, inclusion, and racial justice in our work, both internally and externally. This means that we must first acknowledge the historical roots of racism and discrimination that our systems and societies were built on. Today, in the very workforce, education, and immigration systems that our funding focuses on, structural racism and inequity persist, preventing many immigrants, refugees, and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities from accessing opportunities.
Immigrants and refugees often face bigotry and xenophobia, which can exacerbate the structural barriers they may experience because of their race, ethnicity, gender, culture, religion, citizenship, and other identities. Our work must have an intersectional lens, as multiple identities interconnect and can compound the effects of inequity and bias.
A core goal of the Fund is to support proximate leaders—leaders who come from the communities they serve and have direct experience or knowledge of the issues they seek to address—and organizations led and staffed by people with lived experience from the immigrant, refugee, and BIPOC communities they serve.
In 2021, we started collecting baseline demographic data related to race, ethnicity, gender, and immigrant identity from applicants and partners. This year, we are leveraging this data to see which communities are underrepresented in our applicant pool and are looking more deeply at different racial and ethnic communities and intersectional identities. We continue to focus on improving economic mobility for immigrants and refugees with an intentional integration of justice and equity considerations in the solutions we fund, as well as focus on backing proximate leaders with lived and learned experience. In 2022, we aim to ensure that 65 percent of the Fund’s total dollars awarded go to immigrant-led, women-led, and/or BIPOC-led organizations.
For an overview on how we collect demographic information and insights on applicants’ approaches to equity, please see here.
We seek to shift power to proximate leaders, organizations, and communities and ensure that they have the flexible resources and support they need to succeed. In 2021, as we worked to address the power imbalances inherent in philanthropy, we piloted a participatory grantmaking initiative to shift decision-making power directly to communities. In 2022, we continue to explore participatory models, including participatory impact investing.
In 2022, we will build on our efforts to increase flexibility in our funding by providing general operating support and unrestricted project grants. 23 percent of the Fund’s grants in 2021 were general operating support; our goal in 2022 is for 40 percent of all grants approved to be general operating support.
To shift power and decision-making, our 2022 goal is to award 60 percent of total dollars to organizations by using participatory practices. We have defined this as: using external reviewers with representative lived experiences, delegated decision-making to communities themselves, or pooled funds that operate with participatory or democratic governance. We continue to ensure that our application process and information requested does not create barriers for grassroots and community-led organizations. The Fund also expands support beyond funding dollars to provide technical assistance, convenings, and storytelling that centers on the voices of immigrants and refugees.
We are committed to ensuring our team includes diverse voices and lived experience. In 2021, 50 percent of our team identified as women of color, and more than 70 percent have lived experience as either a first- or second-generation immigrant in the United States or Canada. As the Fund has grown, we have expanded the lived and learned experience represented on our team and will continue to do so, working closely with WES’ director of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, who was hired in 2022, and is leading efforts to capture this data across WES. Further, we seek to foster an inclusive culture and invest in our people’s learning, development, and advancement. This year, the Fund brought on an external partner to both support our own equity, diversity, and inclusion journey, and help us design programs that help our partners work toward their own aspirations.
We also prioritize working with external consultants and vendors whose leadership and staff reflect BIPOC, immigrant, refugee, and other communities that have known underinvestment. In 2021, we began to collect demographic data of these partners and set targets around working with diverse vendors. In 2022, we’ll continue to collect this data, and our target is for 50 percent of the dollars we spend on contractors and vendors to go to immigrant-led, women-led, and/or BIPOC-led vendors.
The WES Mariam Assefa Fund’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Statement was developed with input from our grantee and investee partners, who represent organizations across the immigrant integration, education technology, and workforce development sectors, as well as internal WES staff and leadership. We are deeply grateful for their input, guidance, and support on this journey. This Statement was created in 2021 and is a living commitment that we will update annually to ensure it evolves to respond to emerging needs and priorities.