In this moment of great uncertainty, we are thinking of you, your staff, and the communities you serve. While the COVID-19 pandemic is still unfolding, one thing is certain: The current public health crisis and related economic disruptions are disproportionately impacting those who are both essential to our communities and most vulnerable in them.
Immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and their families are experiencing challenges on multiple fronts as livelihoods are disrupted, people risk their health to go to work, and communities face unexpected prejudices and unwarranted fear. In the United States, 12 million immigrants and refugees are either working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic or facing significant economic hardship as their jobs disappear.
World Education Services (WES) remains as focused as ever on mission-driven efforts that provide immigrants, refugees, and international students access to workplace and academic settings where they can fully utilize their skills, talents, and education. The WES Mariam Assefa Fund stands beside immigrant and refugee workers and the organizations supporting them during this crisis. We are committed to continuing our efforts to build an inclusive, resilient economy in which immigrants – and all workers – can thrive.
Outlined below are several guiding principles and initial actions that the WES Mariam Assefa Fund has taken to respond to the needs both surfaced and created by the ongoing pandemic.
Provide Maximum Flexibility to Our Current Grantee Partners. Our first action as the potential impact of COVID-19 on immigrant communities became clear was to turn our attention to the priority needs of our grantee partners. All have begun to pivot services and strategies to meet the pressing needs of their communities; some are experiencing financial, staffing, and operational disruptions themselves. To support these partners (both current and prospective), the WES Mariam Assefa Fund has:
- Enabled flexibility for current grantees. We have enabled our grantee partners to use project funds for general operating needs, and frozen deliverable or reporting submission deadlines. We will also work with them to revisit project scope, budget, and timelines once the immediate crisis abates
- Made rapid response operating funds available. We have invited current grantee partners and those grant applicants whose proposals we solicited to request rapid response general operating funding at any point over the next three months as needs arise
Keep the Good Work Going. Now is not the time for philanthropy to take its foot off the pedal. With ongoing input from our partners in the field, we are pushing forward with planned funding, knowledge sharing, and field-building efforts. We recognize that many of the initiatives we’ve planned, which seek to identify promising approaches to build resilient career pathways for immigrants in low-wage occupations and surface community-driven efforts that enable immigrant and refugee workers to thrive, are now more vital than ever. To ensure continued progress, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund is:
- Advancing planned funding initiatives, such as the WES Mariam Assefa Fund-Tarsadia Foundation Opportunity Challenge: $1 Million to Uplift Immigrant Communities, while refining funding priorities and application requirements to reflect the current realities of the field
- Shifting in-person convenings with our grantee partners, other funders, and the field to virtual programming to ensure that knowledge sharing, network development, and community building don’t stop
- Celebrating and amplifying our grantee partners’ ongoing accomplishments and lessons learned, which fortunately continue despite the current crisis
Support Immigrant and Refugee Workers and Shore Up the Workforce Integration Field. The economic, health, and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will unfortunately last far longer than the immediate public health crisis. We are focused in equal measure on what we can do to support the near-term needs of immigrant and refugee workers, and on what’s required for immigrant communities, the field, and the economy to recover and rebuild in an inclusive, equitable, and resilient way. To this end, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund is:
- Supporting organizations that are providing direct assistance to vulnerable immigrant and refugee workers, particularly those organizations operating in WES’ home communities of New York, Texas, and Ontario, Canada
- Bolstering immigrant-centered advocacy, data collection, and local response and translation efforts to ensure that the experiences of immigrant and refugee communities are informing equitable and inclusive relief and recovery policy, funding, and programming decisions and implementation
- Amplifying the voices of immigrant and refugee workers and the mission-driven organizations that support them in the philanthropic sector
- Encouraging other funders to commit to responsive and responsible philanthropic practices, such as those outlined in the Council on Foundations COVID-19 Pledge of Action
Through these collective efforts, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund is committing more than $650,000 to support our partners, immigrant and refugee workers, and the broader immigrant workforce integration fields in the U.S. and Canada. We look forward to sharing more over the next month about the vital response, recovery, and community-building efforts our partners are undertaking.
This is only a start. In the weeks, months, and years ahead, we will continue to listen to our partners, immigrant and refugee workers, and the broader field to determine what role philanthropy – and the WES Mariam Assefa Fund – can play in enabling immigrants and refugees to contribute their talents and in building a more resilient future. If you have ideas and suggestions on how the WES Mariam Assefa Fund can be most impactful now or in the future, please do not hesitate to contact us.
We look forward to continued partnership and collaboration.
Monica and the WES Mariam Assefa Fund Team