Announcing the 12 Awardees of the Opportunity Challenge

Thursday September 24, 2020

In response to COVID-19, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund and Tarsadia Foundation have doubled their financial commitment to the Opportunity Challenge, a grantmaking initiative to support the success of immigrant and refugee workers in the U.S.

NEW YORK – September 24, 2020 – The World Education Services (WES) Mariam Assefa Fund and the Tarsadia Foundation today announced 12 awardees of the Opportunity Challenge, a new grantmaking initiative to support the success of immigrants and refugees and the community-led organizations that serve them. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the caliber of ideas submitted, and the demonstration of need from applicants led the funders to double the planned award of $1 million to a final total of $2 million. The awardees were selected from a pool of 470 applicants from 42 states and over 200 communities nationwide.

“We are proud that the Opportunity Challenge has risen to the challenge of this unprecedented moment by doubling down on our commitment to immigrant and refugee workers and the promise of community-driven change,” said Monica Munn, Senior Director of the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. “The nearly 500 applications we received through the challenge revealed an amazing amount of innovation and leadership in immigrant communities across the country, as well as deep commitment to building more inclusive, equitable economies for all. The work of each of the 12 awardees will benefit individual immigrants and refugees, the communities where they live and work, and ultimately the broader economy as it recovers from the impact of COVID-19.”

Immigrants and refugees have been disproportionately affected by the economic, health, and societal impacts of the pandemic. According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), six million immigrants work in industries hardest hit by the economic effects of coronavirus and an additional six million serve in frontline occupations. Immigrant communities, particularly those of Asian descent, have also experienced a rise in xenophobia, discrimination, and racism since the onset of the pandemic as highlighted by Human Rights Watch. This rising xenophobia converges with heightened awareness of the need to dismantle systemic inequities in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. The volume of applications speaks to the impact of these converging issues on immigrant communities, and underscores the fact that philanthropic funders can do more to support them. Indeed, research by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) conducted prior to the pandemic showed that less than 1 percent of philanthropic funding goes to support immigrant communities.

“Through the Opportunity Challenge, our hope is to give immigrant and refugee communities the power and resources to build their own narratives and be the architects of their own futures,” said Priya Bery, CEO of Tarsadia Foundation. “In the face of one of the greatest health and economic crises of our time, we saw both the vulnerability and the resolve of immigrant and refugee communities around the country as they continued to work to foster community led-change. The overwhelming response we received was a beautiful reminder to celebrate and honor the histories and journeys of so many that make our communities vibrant and strong today. This has been an incredible journey discovering new models to uplift immigrant and refugee workers.”

The grants will provide general operating support to organizations piloting new ideas as well as expanding proven models, such as worker cooperatives, lending circles, career pathway programs for high-growth industries, training for immigrant entrepreneurs, and providing access to crucial supports, such as access to affordable childcare and reproductive health.

The 12 awardees come from 9 states and the District of Columbia. They are:

  • Center for Family Life – SCO Family of Services in Brooklyn, New York, will expand Brightly, the first worker cooperative franchise in the United States, providing a more sustainable path to scale financially successful worker cooperatives in low-income and immigrant communities.   
  • Centreville Immigration Forum in Centreville, Virginia, will regularly convene community-led meetings of low-income immigrant women to identify needs, provide mutual support, learn about community resources, and develop and advocate for opportunities, including for jobs, education, childcare, and physical and mental well-being. 
  • Code the Dream in Durham, North Carolina, will scale their proven model of improving economic mobility for immigrants and refugees seeking pathways into tech careers, helping them to make a better life for themselves and their communities and creating a more diverse tech industry.   
  • Encuentro in Albuquerque, New Mexico, will expand their Home Health Aid program, which uses education, self-employment, and leadership development to address the economic integration barriers that Latinx immigrants face in New Mexico’s home health industry. 
  • Inclusive Action for the City in Los Angeles, California, will grow their Semi’a Fund, a micro-loan program that provides low-income entrepreneurs—many of whom are street vendors in the informal economy—with access to low-interest capital and individualized coaching to help them grow their businesses.   
  • Many Languages One Voice in Washington, DC, will launch the Birth to Three (B3) campaign to improve economic mobility for single mothers and families by re-envisioning the child care system within immigrant and refugee communities.   
  • Mission Asset Fund in San Francisco, California, will expand their Lending Circles program, which uplifts the strengths and innovations of low-income and immigrant communities to design programs that transform everyday practices into credit-building opportunities. 
  • Neighborhood Development Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota, will empower entrepreneurs from low income communities to transform their neighborhood economies through comprehensive and culturally competent entrepreneur training, lending, technical assistance, and small business incubators. 
  • Oakland Bloom in Oakland, California, will launch a first of its kind cooperatively run commissary kitchen, marketplace, and community gathering space that showcases and builds economic opportunities for entrepreneurs from refugee, immigrant, and low-income communities to develop food businesses. 
  • Pioneer Valley Workers Center in Northampton, Massachusetts, will launch Vida Cooperativa, which unites, trains, and supports their members from immigrant and low-wage communities in launching and leading interdependent worker-owned cooperative businesses, anchored by its 4.5-acre member-led cooperative farm. 
  • Sueños Sin Fronteras de Tejas in San Antonio, Texas, will create community-based pathways toward liberation and empowerment for immigrant women and families through health advocacy in South Texas and across the country.  
  • Suma in Portland, Oregon will create equitable platforms for digital organizing, enterprise, and justice building an inclusive technology economy with and for immigrants, refugees, and communities of color. 

Each of the awardees will receive up to $200,000 over a two-year period. The additional funds will be awarded as prize donations to eight semi-finalists in recognition of their impactful work and investment in the challenge process.  The full list of awardees, including summaries of their proposals, may be found here. An external selection committee of 14 experts and community leaders from philanthropy, social innovation, advocacy, and workforce development helped the funders identify the top ideas. More details on the selection committee and review process are available here.

“We’re grateful to all the organizations that participated in the Opportunity Challenge,” said Esther Benjamin, CEO of World Education Services. “We can’t wait to see how the awardees will put the funds to work to build more inclusive local economies for the immigrants they serve. We’re also excited to have had the chance to work with the Tarsadia Foundation to establish a powerful model for philanthropic partnership and investment in immigrant communities.”

For more information, contact Silan Akgul, WES Mariam Assefa Fund Communications Manager, World Education Services. T: 631-565-5244 E: [email protected]


About the Opportunity Challenge

Launched in March 2020, the Opportunity Challenge, a joint initiative of the WES Mariam Assefa Fund and the Tarsadia Foundation, seeks to foster the development of more inclusive, equitable economies and communities, and support community-led organizations in their efforts to ensure access to higher quality jobs for immigrants and refugees. For more details on the Challenge, how awardees selected, and more, please visit our website here.

About WES and the WES Mariam Assefa Fund

Founded in 1974, World Education Services Inc. (WES) is a 501(c)3 non-profit social enterprise dedicated to helping international students, immigrants, and refugees achieve their educational and workplace goals in the United States and Canada. Over more than 45 years, WES has provided credential evaluations to nearly three million individuals from around the globe. Launched in 2019, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund supports catalytic efforts to build more inclusive economies for immigrant and refugee workers in the U.S. and Canada and ensure that they have the skills, knowledge, and supports to succeed.

About the Tarsadia Foundation 

Tarsadia Foundation is a global family foundation that has been active in service and philanthropic giving over the past 10 years. Tarsadia Foundation is on a mission to unleash human potential and is committed to building a world where economic inclusion and boundless opportunity exists for all, in harmony with the planet. Through their grants and investments, they are fueling Inclusive Mobility, tackling Current Crises and Future Threats, and inspiring Human Transformation across the globe.

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