Fund Launches Initiative to Elevate Migrant Leadership and Build Inclusive Futures

Tuesday January 23, 2024

New funding opportunity seeks to support organizations elevating the voices and influence of immigrants and refugees in United States communities

The World Education Services (WES) Mariam Assefa Fund today announced a new grantmaking initiative. Elevating Migrant Leadership: Building Inclusive Futures will support U.S. organizations that are working to strengthen immigrant and refugee voices and leadership.  

Seven awardees will each receive two-year $100,000 grants. In addition to funding, each successful applicant organization will also have access to programming that supports capacity building and peer-learning and provides access to a large network of like-minded organizations and activists. The goal is to equip those with lived experience with the civic leadership skills and connections to influence programs and policies that support their success in improving the communities where they live.  

“The voices of immigrants and refugees should be loudest when it comes to decisions that affect their lives,” said Léa Tienou-Gustafson, senior director of the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. “Too often they are not. As a social enterprise that supports the economic and civic inclusion of immigrants, refugees, and international students, WES seeks to ensure that those who are closest to barriers to progress have the tools to design effective solutions and opportunities to build influence. The Elevating Migrant Leaders initiative is one way to provide those tools.”  

To design the initiative, WES partnered closely with an advisory committee of leaders with immigrant and refugee experience and deep expertise in the field. This committee co-developed the initiative’s goals, focus areas, and grantee selection criteria. To ensure that the relevant perspective stays centered throughout the selection process, the advisory committee will be involved in every step.   

The initial application process is open now through March 25, 2024, after which selected organizations will be invited to submit a full proposal. Successful proposals will focus on civic leadership and advocacy programs for immigrants and refugees from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. 

For more information and to apply for Elevating Migrant Leadership, visit this webpage. 

“When immigrant and refugee needs are being discussed and policies and programs that impact them are being developed, it is crucial that immigrants and refugees have a seat at the table and the confidence to make themselves heard,” said Karla Gregorio, senior program manager of the WES Mariam Assefa Fund.  

“It is exciting to have a funder such as the WES Mariam Assefa Fund listen to the recommendations of movement representatives, demonstrate its profound commitment to inclusion regardless of where someone is born, and prioritize impacted immigrant and refugee leaders,” said Ivy O. Suriyopas, advisory committee member and vice president of programs at Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees.  

There is a growing need for programs that engage immigrants and displaced people, including refugees, in civic discourse. In 2023, immigration drove U.S. population growth for the second year running: more than two thirds of last year’s 1.6 million new Americans arrived via international migration. With over 45 million individuals now living in the U.S. who were born in other countries, immigrant and refugee representation in leadership positions remains disproportionately low. This leaves the voices of those most impacted too often absent from organizational and political discussions of what is most needed in their own communities.  

Elevating Migrant Leadership will build up immigrant and refugee leaders to bridge these gaps through narrative building, experiential learning, and mentorship.  

The initiative will also leverage the power of networking to influence advocacy efforts, at both the individual and the organizational cohort levels. The advisory committee has identified the vital importance of network building among the grantees as a way of strengthening the overall ecosystem of immigrant and refugee leadership. Partnering with peers will provide organizations with greater insight into national implications and a broader strategic view, strengthening organizational capacity and creating a unified front to more effectively uplift migrant voices; and the immigrants and refugees participating in awardees’ programming will benefit similarly from connections to their collective networks.  

“Immigrant and refugee leadership is increasingly shaping the vision for movement building in our local communities. This initiative aims to uplift the innovative efforts of community-based, non-profit organizations with a long-term commitment to ensuring that migrants’ voices drive movements for inclusivity,” said Andrea Plaza, advisory committee member and founder of Encuentro. “Community-based organizations are best positioned to understand the opportunities and challenges of fueling migrant leadership development, and this initiative will strengthen their capacity to inform the advancement of best practices for migrant-driven civic leadership.” 

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