Fund Awards First Grants in Canada; Committing $1.9M CAD to Create More Equitable Systems for Immigrant and Refugee Workers

Monday November 23, 2020

TORONTO – November 23, 2020 – The WES Mariam Assefa Fund, the philanthropic arm of World Education Services (WES), today announced its first grants in Canada. The Fund is awarding C$1.9 million to six organizations that are building stronger career pathways for immigrants and refugees, supporting workers affected by COVID-19, investing in immigrant leaders, and nurturing the development of innovative solutions and greater capacity in the immigrant-serving sector.

The six grant recipients, located across Canada, are Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS); Calgary-based ActionDignity; Ontario Employment Education & Research Centre (OEERC); RADIUS – Refugee Livelihood Lab in British Columbia; Toronto Community Benefits Network; and the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) in Quebec.

“We’re proud to partner with and learn from these six organizations,” said Monica Munn, Senior Director of the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. “Each has a deep knowledge of the needs of immigrant and refugee communities. We are excited to provide them with the funding to innovate and implement new, scalable solutions to serve their communities and to identify strategies, tools, and approaches that will help to ensure a more inclusive Canadian economy as the nation moves toward recovery from the impacts of COVID-19.”

The Fund launched its efforts in Canada recognizing that immigrants and refugees are crucial to Canada’s labour market and long-term economic competitiveness: Immigrants currently make up 25% of the Canadian workforce and are expected to account for 100% of labour force growth in future years, according to the Conference Board of Canada. However, they experience high rates of unemployment and underemployment. In 2019, WES surveyed 26,395 immigrants and refugees who had applied to WES for credential evaluations as part of their journey to Canada. Only 39% of respondents reported that their employment in Canada was commensurate with their work pre-migration. Women and visible minorities found even fewer opportunities to enter the evolving labour market or to advance within it.

The WES Mariam Assefa Fund selected grantee organizations that are tackling these issues in three ways:

  • By ensuring that immigrants have access to employment in key high-need sectors:
    • Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) will devise and test a new bridging program for internationally trained early childhood educators in Nova Scotia.
    • Toronto Community Benefits Network will support the creation of career pathways into the fast-growing construction industry for immigrants whose livelihoods were affected by COVID-19.
  • By supporting worker-led initiatives and the development of immigrant leaders: 
    • ActionDignity will partner with four ethnocultural communities in Calgary to build leadership capacity and organize racialized meatpacking sector workers in Cargill and JBS plants.
    • Ontario Employment Education & Research Centre (OEERC) and three of its partners—Workers’ Action Centre, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, and Caregivers Action Centre—will use a two-pronged approach to help address workplace issues related to precarious employment among migrant workers in the Greater Toronto Area. The approach will include leadership development and organizing efforts.
  • By determining the most effective ways of strengthening the immigrant-serving sector, and by incubating effective, scalable, and new innovative business models that are deeply rooted in immigrant and refugee communities:
    • The Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) will conduct nationwide research to identify key barriers to immigrant success, and discover how to strengthen the immigrant-serving sector so that it is more responsive, collaborative, innovative, and sustainable.
    • RADIUS – Refugee Livelihood Lab will use its funding to support an immigrant-led innovation program and a venture incubation program that helps immigrant leaders design, test, and establish scalable solutions to the problems their communities face.

These grants represent the latest step in 20 years of WES’ efforts to advance the integration and economic inclusion of international students, immigrants, and refugees in Canada.

“WES is known as a leading advocate for immigrant integration into the Canadian economy,” said Shamira Madhany, Deputy Executive Director, WES, and Managing Director, Canada. “Philanthropy introduces a new set of financial tools—including grantmaking and impact investing—to complement the funding that already supports so much of the powerful work in the immigrant integration sector.”

“The WES Mariam Assefa Fund is the only philanthropic initiative focused exclusively on the economic inclusion and mobility of immigrants and refugees in North America,” said Esther Benjamin, CEO and Executive Director of WES. “The Fund has stretched WES to focus on new communities, and it is teaching us and others how to use powerful new tools to accelerate change. We are pleased to have this opportunity to learn from frontline experts across Canada, and eager to apply new insights that will help us and others to reduce the barriers that often impede newcomers from moving forward with their lives in new communities.”

Aurelio Camilo Naraval, Programs and Policy Manager at ActionDignity, said: 
“We are looking forward to this exciting new partnership that will help us provide a platform to empower the meatpacking plant workers and amplify their lived experiences to effect systems and policy change.”

Jack Jedwab, President & CEO at ACS, said: 
“The Association for Canadian Studies is excited to work with the WES Mariam Assefa Fund to explore new avenues for collaboration in the immigrant-serving sector, especially as we collectively confront the economic and social ramifications of the global pandemic on newcomers and all Canadians.”

Julie-Ann Vincent, Director, Business, Employment, Language, and Online at ISANS, said: 
“Early childhood educators are a critical part of Canada’s workforce, providing safety, health, and well-being for children. Immigrants who want to become early childhood educators face many challenges, and this grant will help ISANS build and empower immigrants to overcome the sector’s barriers to entry and become some of Canada’s newest early childhood educators.”

Nada El Masry, Refugee Livelihood Lab Manager at RADIUS, said:  
“We are thrilled to work with a funder who shares our belief in the talent and contributions of racialized migrants. This partnership will help us address inequitable systems and structural barriers that racialized migrants face, as well as work with communities to build collective power though high-impact initiatives that center their needs and interests.” 

Rosemarie Powell, Executive Director at Toronto Community Benefits Network, said: 
“This project will offer new employment opportunities for newcomers through our work with publicly funded construction projects, in a sector that remains strong despite the pandemic and is committed to an inclusive recovery for all workers.”

Deena Ladd, Executive Director at Workers’ Action Centre, said: 
“Our new partnership with the WES Mariam Assefa Fund has come at an invaluable moment in our work with immigrants and refugees in Toronto. The communities we work with have been hit hard by COVID-19, and this project will enable us to do critical work on the ground to support immigrant workers to organize and take leadership roles in advocating for higher quality work for their communities.”

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