Today, we are proud to announce the launch of the World Education Services (WES) Mariam Assefa Fund in Canada. The Fund is WES’ philanthropic arm; it began its work in the United States in 2019 to complement and extend the social impact of WES’ longstanding programs and services for international students, immigrants, and refugees. The Fund’s expansion into Canada introduces a new set of financial tools— including grantmaking and impact investing—which WES can deploy to identify and scale catalytic solutions that help to ensure that all immigrants and refugees in Canada have the opportunity to achieve economic mobility.
Launching the Fund’s work in Canada was always a priority for 2020; however, we have accelerated our timeline to respond to the needs of this moment. COVID-19 is exacerbating vulnerabilities of certain immigrant communities, as well as placing financial strain on immigrant-serving organizations that face an increased demand for services.
We thus begin our efforts in Canada with rapid response funding to address COVID-19-related challenges. We are first supporting the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI). A longtime WES partner, OCASI will use the funding in two ways:
- To provide member organizations with resources that will support their efforts to offer direct assistance to immigrants and refugees who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis (in particular, those who are ineligible to receive government benefits)
- To provide frontline organizations with the operating capital they need to address increased demands at a time of financial distress, and to sustain operations when shifting into post-COVID-19 recovery mode
“While we applaud all three levels of government for their quick and ongoing responses to the pandemic and its health and economic impacts, too many in our communities are left out of the various income support programs. The funds provided by the WES Mariam Assefa Fund will assist some of the most marginalized individuals and families during this health crisis,” said Debbie Douglas, OCASI’s executive director.
Over the longer term, the Fund will use its philanthropic capital to identify and expand innovative solutions that address the multiple challenges which many immigrants in Canada face when they seek to enter the labour market. At the broadest level, the Fund will:
- Leverage social finance tools and pilot new solutions that increase the financial sustainability and resilience of the immigrant-serving sector
- Encourage collaboration as we surface and test promising solutions, and identify and scale best practices that improve economic mobility among refugee and immigrant workers
The Fund’s work in Canada builds on WES’ two decades of contributions to positive outcomes among immigrants and refugees across the country, as well as the cross-sector relationships we have developed along the way. WES has long provided international students, immigrants, and refugees with credential evaluation reports that stand as recognizable proof of their academic achievements at higher education institutions. The reports help our clients to obtain admission to academic institutions, to move forward in regulated careers, and to obtain skilled employment. Since 2013, WES has also provided millions of pre-arrival immigrants with the credential evaluation reports they need to be invited to apply to join Canada’s skilled workforce.
The Fund is grateful to be in a position to support OCASI in its critical work of supporting its member organizations. We expect to share more about our funding priorities this summer and will announce our first round of grants in the fall of 2020.