Early Insights and Ideas from the Opportunity Challenge

Thursday June 25, 2020

At the end of May, the application portal closed for the Opportunity Challenge: $1 Million to Uplift Immigrant Communities. This was the first open grant challenge for both the WES Mariam Assefa Fund and the Tarsadia Foundation. The Opportunity Challenge was jointly launched in response to the resounding need to surface and expand impactful community-led solutions that work holistically to enable immigrants and refugees in low-wage jobs to succeed.

We were thrilled to receive ideas from 470 organizations in 42 states across the U.S., a majority of them grassroots and community-led organizations whose budgets totaled less than $5 million.

During our initial review, we were deeply impressed by the thoughtfulness, leadership, ingenuity, and creativity demonstrated by the organizations that applied to the Opportunity Challenge. Applicants shared their aspirations for their communities, reflected on how the current pandemic has affected their work, and even offered us a glimpse into their homes and offices through short, 60-second videos.

Economic mobility is not solely a function of a person’s education, skills, or networks. Immigrants and refugees encounter significant roadblocks outside the workplace: lack of access to health care, transportation, and housing, among others. The breadth and diversity of ideas submitted in the applications to the Opportunity Challenge reinforced this point. Despite applications from nearly 200 communities across the U.S., organizations working with and within immigrant communities shared several common perspectives on the solutions needed to enable immigrants and refugees to thrive. These solutions include:

  • Entrepreneurial training programs for immigrants and refugees across a variety of sectors
  • Collective ownership models and worker organizing efforts that build worker power and wealth
  • Advocacy efforts to advance policies that protect immigrant rights and dismantle oppressive systems
  • Programs supporting interventions for immigrants at varying points in their journey, ranging from support for recently arrived newcomers to career training programs for long-term residents
  • Community-focused programs that take a holistic approach to supporting the needs of immigrants and refugees, including several initiatives that focus on social and mental health for individuals and their families
  • High-road partnerships which bring together multiple stakeholders to pilot innovative solutions that benefit workers and employers
  • Hybrid training models that pair skill-building with English language learning
  • Innovative uses of digital platforms to increase program engagement and access
  • Career pathways programs that meet immigrants where they are in their journey
  • Initiatives that focus on the unique needs of immigrant women, including centers and initiatives which create a safe and welcoming space for women

As funders, we are delighted to receive so many innovative proposals. However, we realize this outpouring of interest underscores that the demand for philanthropic resources far outstrips the current supply available to support the immigrant workforce field. This need is magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has taken a devastating toll on immigrant and refugee communities and the organizations that serve them.

To help address this gap, and to leverage additional support for these initiatives, the Opportunity Challenge team will make available to interested funders information about all the applications we received. If you’re a funder interested in learning more about any of the programs listed above, please email us at [email protected].

Applications are now being evaluated on their potential to create impact, vision, implementation, replicability, partnership orientation, and innovation. We’re excited to dig into the applications in greater detail over the next month, to continue learning about solutions that enable immigrant workers to thrive, and to partner with the Selection Committee to identify semi-finalists.

We look forward to announcing the Opportunity Challenge semi-finalists in late July!

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Thank you for your interest in the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. We’ll share updates on the Fund’s efforts, what we’re learning, and opportunities through our email list.