WES Mariam Assefa Fund Speaks with Cristina Alaniz, Student Analyst at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation 

Immigrants and refugees have been uniquely impacted by COVID-19. Both groups have disproportionately filled roles on the front lines of the pandemic and remain least likely to access benefits such as relief programs or unemployment insurance.

As a country, we need to ensure that immigrants not only return to work during our recovery, but also that they are provided with resources which will help them develop the skills they need to access high-quality jobs. This issue is crucial both to immigrants themselves and to our economic recovery as a whole. Currently, however, there are few funding options or financial incentives to develop and manage the type of workforce development programs that would address this need.

In September 2019, with support from the WES Mariam Assefa Fund, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation launched an initiative to explore ways of narrowing these gaps. The Beeck Center brought together experts on immigrant integration, workforce development, adult education, and finance. The experts identified tools across sectors and shared ideas to explore how best to create holistic, worker-centered initiatives that enable new Americans to succeed, especially in a post-pandemic world. These tools include workforce training, skill-building programs, career navigation, and a variety of other supports. The initiative’s guiding principle is simple: We will all benefit when internationals in the U.S. can contribute their talents and skills to the labor market.

Cristina Alaniz, a student analyst at the Beeck Center, has been working on this project since its launch. With a background in refugee resettlement, Cristina has seen firsthand the value of effective, worker-centered training programs that seek to ensure economic mobility for all. She’s also a graduate student at American University, where she focuses on international economic justice.

Cristina’s capstone project at Beeck involves looking specifically at the potential of pay-for-success models. Catalyzing government, private, and philanthropic funding for training programs, these models help immigrant workers develop in-demand skills and access higher quality jobs.

We sat down with Cristina to learn about her research and hear her perspective on possible financing solutions that can sustain successful workforce training.

Fund: What led you to work on this project with the Beeck Center?

Cristina: Prior to joining the Beeck Center, I worked in third-country resettlement programs for refugees and asylees both domestically and abroad. My background in international studies, direct service, and program monitoring and evaluation allowed me to identify the potential shortcomings of future funding for immigrant and refugee programs, and simultaneously understand the essential role these programs play in our economy. I enrolled at American University’s School of International Service in the fall of 2019, where I focus on international economic justice. Bridging the gap between the private sector and immigrant communities has always been of interest to me. Coincidentally, that same fall, the Beeck Center was seeking a student analyst to join the Fair Finance portfolio and work on this project supported by the WES Mariam Assefa Fund.

Fund: While working on this project with the Beeck Center, what has stood out to you? 

Cristina: Our goal was to identify financing tools that had the most potential to scale effective workforce development training for immigrants and refugees. This training furthers their economic integration. We approached our exploratory research through a collaborative lens. We convened partners across sectors—which allowed us to cross-pollinate and break down silos. Solving for fragmented funding is a challenge, but we quickly learned that there is an appetite for cross-sector collaboration as well as a growing enthusiasm for investing in immigrant communities.

Testing one of our hypotheses—that “increased funds could enable increased supply for appropriate training”—has been at the forefront of our conversations. Immigrants and refugees face challenges that deepened during the pandemic. It has been such an experience to be part of conversations where investors and philanthropic funders, among others, are thinking holistically about how to ensure quality jobs, capture and measure new outcomes, and align incentives—and how increased capital can really help solve for appropriate training.

Fund: What is your hope for the future of financing workforce training for immigrants and refugees?

Cristina: In short, I hope that the commitment of capital and partnerships increases over time. Leveraging non-government funding—from employers, philanthropic funders, or investors—can change existing employment pathway experiences for immigrants and refugees. From increasing job quality and program experience to identifying longer term outcomes—all these efforts will help shape a better future.

Fund: As you think about what’s needed to create this future, what’s one call to action or recommendation you have for funders or policy makers?

Cristina: There is a demand for this work, and the connection between equity, community development, and workforce training is there. Accelerating workforce development financing for immigrant workers through a solidarity economy framework—which puts people at the center—would be a nice way to think about the needs and challenges of this population, and help capture sustainable opportunities and outcomes.

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