Fund Announces First Impact Investments to Support the Success of Immigrant and Refugee Workers

Tuesday December 15, 2020

NEW YORK — (Dec. 15, 2020) — The WES Mariam Assefa Fund today announced impact investments of $750,000 to ensure that immigrants and refugees in the United States have access to the tools and capital they need to acquire digital and other job-related skills, establish credit, increase their earning potential, and start businesses of their own.

The first investment, of $500,000, goes to Cell-Ed, a mobile-first learning company that has created a digital platform which helps workers, especially in low-wage jobs, learn essential job and life skills. Cell-Ed offers English language learning, digital skills development, and sector-specific training. Its platform is accessible through a mobile device anytime, anywhere, even for individuals who cannot afford a data plan, making it especially attractive to workers in low-wage jobs. Ninety percent of Cell-Ed’s current users are Black or Latinx, and the vast majority are also first- or second-generation immigrants. The Fund’s investment will help Cell-Ed expand the reach of its existing products and launch new products in high-growth sectors, such as health care.

The second investment, of $250,000, supports the RIN-CEO Social Impact Fund. Operated by Refugee Investment Network (RIN) and the International Rescue Committee’s Center for Economic Opportunity (IRC-CEO), the Social Impact Fund provides loans to immigrants, refugees, and others who lack access to traditional forms of financing. The WES Mariam Assefa Fund invested alongside five other impact-oriented investors to enable the RIN-CEO Social Impact Fund to expand its flexible, community-centered financing model in communities across the U.S. Eighty percent of RIN-CEO Social Impact Fund borrowers are expected to be newcomers; the remaining 20 percent will come mostly from neighboring communities.

“Cell-Ed and the RIN-CEO Social Impact Fund are exemplars of innovative, worker- and community-centered organizations that are delivering the tools and solutions immigrants and refugees need to advance their careers and invest in their futures,” said Monica Munn, Senior Director of the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. “Both organizations will leverage these investments to innovate in the face of changing workforce, financial, and educational systems, attract additional capital, and scale proven approaches to impact. Their worker-centered solutions will improve digital literacy, financial access, and career trajectories for thousands of immigrants and refugees nationwide.”

The opportunity gap now facing newcomers to the U.S. is acute: Some two million immigrants who have college degrees are either out of work or work in jobs that require little to no advanced education. Immigrant workers in middle skill occupations earn 25 percent less than their native-born peers. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on immigrants, especially lower-income workers employed in the service industry and other hard-hit areas.

The WES Mariam Assefa Fund seeks to address these gaps and foster an inclusive and equitable economy in which immigrants and refugees can thrive. Including its first impact investments to Cell-Ed and the RIN-CEO Social Impact Fund, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund has now supported a total of 43 organizations, 35 in the U.S. and 8 in Canada, awarding a total of US$7.5 million, since its 2019 launch.

“Impact investing will help the WES Mariam Assefa Fund to partner with new stakeholders and entrepreneurs and scale impact in a whole new way,” said John Duong, Founder and CEO of Kind Capital, an advisory firm that partnered with the WES Mariam Assefa Fund to develop its impact investment strategy. “I would not be surprised to see the Fund, which is the only philanthropic initiative focused exclusively on economic inclusion and mobility for immigrants and refugees in North America, quickly becoming a leading impact investor leader in this space.”

“As a social enterprise that has a decades-long history of providing impact-oriented services to international students, launching successful immigrant integration programs in the U.S. and Canada, and self-funding its own philanthropic arm, World Education Services knows how to build and grow an impact-oriented, self-sustaining enterprise,” said Esther Benjamin, CEO of World Education Services. “We are excited to add impact investing to our toolkit for driving positive social change, and to help build out a new sustainable sector dedicated to ensuring that immigrants and refugees have access to the tools and resources they need to obtain better jobs and integrate into the economy.”

About WES and the WES Mariam Assefa Fund
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. 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.

For more information contact Silan Akgul, [email protected].

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