Announcing Fund’s First Grants to Support Immigrant and Refugee Employment Initiatives

Wednesday September 4, 2019

The WES Mariam Assefa Fund today announced the award of USD$1.2 million in grants toward its goal of catalyzing economic opportunities and advancement for immigrants and refugees in the U.S. and Canada. The grants have been awarded to five organizations in the U.S.: the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation, Jobs for the Future (JFF), Mission Driven Finance, Upwardly Global, and the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians. 

“These partners bring a wealth of experience and innovative thinking to this effort,” said Monica Munn, senior director of the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. “The insights and evidence that their work will generate is something that will be shared far and wide to radically move the field of immigrant-focused workforce development forward.” 

The challenges that the fund and its grantees seek to address are significant not just for individual immigrants, but also for employers and the U.S. economy as a whole. By 2024, the U.S. is projected to face an estimated shortfall of 1.9 million workers (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Meanwhile, under- and unemployment among the over 21 million immigrants in the U.S. workforce is rampant, and many individuals employed in low- and mid-skill occupations face significant wage gaps. Some 2 million who have college degrees (Migration Policy Institute), for instance, are either out of work or employed in jobs that require little to no advanced education. Immigrant workers employed in mid-skill occupations earn 25% less than their native-born peers (Urban Institute).  

“The newly awarded grants,” said Munn, “will work to address these and other challenges, and inspire us all by demonstrating the impact a more diverse and inclusive economy can have.” Three of the five grants are intended to surface and test employer practices that increase access to meaningful employment, training, and economic mobility for immigrant job seekers and workers: 

Jobs for the Future (JFF), a Boston-based non-profit that drives change in the American workforce and education systems to promote economic advancement for all, will assess and expand existing career pathways and workforce support programs for immigrant employees at Tyson Foods. The project will focus on identifying and codifying practices that improve participants’ job outcomes, so that they can be easily replicated by human resources and corporate social responsibility professionals in other companies and sectors. 

Upwardly Global, a non-profit that helps integrate college-educated immigrants, refugees, and asylees into the U.S. workforce, will partner with leaders of Fortune 500, small, and medium-sized businesses to develop and pilot new ways of identifying and hiring qualified and talented immigrants and refugees, and of better supporting them once they’re on the job. 

Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians will evaluate and expand the impact of its existing Immigrant Fellowship Program, which enables immigrant job seekers to gain valuable U.S. work experience. The Welcoming Center, which seeks to promote inclusive economic growth by helping immigrants integrate successfully into the workforce, will collaborate with local employers to identify recommendations that should be incorporated into a citywide immigrant workforce strategy. 

A fourth grant focuses on the development of entrepreneurial leaders within immigrant and refugee communities. Mission Driven Finance (MDF) will use fund dollars to establish fellowships for budding investors from immigrant communities. Over the course of the year, MDF will provide training and mentoring to fellows as they evaluate and invest in promising businesses in their communities. 

The last grant will go to the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University. As part of the Center’s Fair Finance portfolio, the funding will be used to research and identify innovative financing models for expanding job-readiness and workforce-development programs for immigrants and refugees. 

“We are excited about the range of outcomes our inaugural grantee partners will catalyze,” said Esther Benjamin, CEO and Executive Director of World Education Services (WES). “We look forward to the impact in the daily lives of immigrant and refugee workers; for individual organizations seeking to better serve promising immigrant employees and job seekers; and among funders, policy makers, businesses, non-profits, and others seeking evidence-based tools and strategies that enable immigrants and refugees to contribute their skills and talents to the economy.” 

Cat Ward, Managing Director, JFFLabs at JFF, said, “When companies invest in their employees, it benefits their people, their business, and the communities where they operate. Tyson’s work with JFF exemplifies that investment. Codifying and sharing Tyson’s success story more widely will allow us to encourage broader adoption of positive immigrant and refugee talent practices.” 

“Upwardly Global is proud to be partnering with WES,” said Jina Krause-Vilmar, CEO of Upwardly Global. “Support from the Mariam Assefa Fund will allow us to connect with employers across industry and geography to co-create solutions that will lead to equitable hiring practices and ultimately a diverse, innovative, and future-ready workforce.” 

Nicole Pumphrey, Deputy Director of Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, noted that “Welcoming Center is thrilled to deepen our collaboration on immigrant integration with WES.” She added, “This investment will not only support our work but will have broad implications as Philadelphia develops a comprehensive, employer-informed immigrant workforce strategy.” 

“We’re excited to find in the WES Mariam Assefa Fund a partner that is aligned in our goals of creating economic opportunity for and with immigrants and refugees,” said David Lynn, Co-Founder and CEO of Mission Driven Finance. “With this support, we will reach more communities—particularly New Americans—where the flow of capital is especially inhibited.” 

Nate Wong, Beeck Center Interim Executive Director, stated, “We are excited to partner with WES Mariam Assefa Fund to surface social finance solutions to drive more capital to workforce training for immigrants and refugees. In this polarized environment, it’s important that we play an active role in helping the over 44 million immigrants and refugees in the U.S. integrate into the overall economy.” 

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