How Our Partners Inspired Us in 2020

Tuesday December 22, 2020

As we wind down the final weeks of the year, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund team is reflecting on all that we’ve learned and holding on to the inspiration and hope that will carry us into the new year. The year 2020 has been unlike any other. Through it all, we have been inspired by our community of 33 grantee and investee partners in the United States and Canada who share our commitment to building inclusive, equitable economies in which all immigrants and refugees can thrive. Our partners are champions of their communities and leaders in the fields of workforce development, adult education, immigrant and refugee integration, innovation and social finance, worker organizing, financial inclusion and community wealth-building, policy advocacy, and so much more.

Our grantee and investee partners, their staff, and their communities give us hope that it is possible to create stronger, more equitable, and more welcoming workplaces, communities, and economies.

Though there are countless examples of the inspiring ways our partners responded to the challenges of 2020, we wanted to share just a few highlights and also touch on the impact they’ll continue to have in the new year.

The pandemic’s health, economic, and social impacts were disproportionately felt in immigrant communities, and we were blown away by the responsiveness of our grantee and investee partners. Organizations pivoted and adjusted to meet the needs of immigrants and refugees and to ensure that they were not left behind.

In the face of extraordinary difficulties, our partners also met the moment with innovation, developing new strategies for keeping workers safe amid the pandemic, while also helping them access the skills and training they need to advance their careers in the future.

  • Building Skills Partnership created an Infectious Disease Certification Program to protect frontline property service workers and communities in California, adapting cleaning and maintenance practices in response to rapidly evolving health and safety guidelines. The program has since been adopted at numerous workplaces, including by workers at Los Angeles International Airport.
  • Cell-Ed expanded offerings on its mobile learning platform as the world shifted to a virtual environment and the need for remote skills training grew. Cell-Ed is partnering with the California Department of Social Services to develop courses that bridge gaps in digital literacy.
  • The EdTech Center @ World Education is partnering with immigrant-serving organizations to develop an open-source, online content-sharing platform that is mobile-optimized. The new platform will ensure that immigrant and refugee workers can access quality mobile learning opportunities, career navigation, and other supports.

This past year also brought a reckoning around racial justice and renewed commitments to equity. Many of our grantee partners are leading the way in dismantling individual and systemic barriers that immigrants, refugees, and people of color face, and investing in the talent and potential of proximate leaders to drive change.

  • To diversify talent in the finance industry and inject capital into communities that have known years of disinvestment, Mission Driven Finance launched its inaugural Community Finance Fellowship. The five fellows have brought invaluable perspectives to Mission Driven Finance’s impact investment work and helped to direct more than $2 million to underfunded small businesses and non-profits.
  • The Refugee Livelihood Lab at RADIUS in Vancouver is expanding its immigrant-led innovation and venture incubation programs to help immigrant leaders pilot solutions to the problems their communities face.

As policymakers, practitioners, and organizers began to consider what an equitable economic recovery should look like, our grantee partners were already modeling how to center workers in the design, leadership, and ownership of the new normal in the workforce.

  • ActionDignity started supporting and organizing meatpacking plant workers in Calgary as soon as COVID-19 outbreaks began to worsen the conditions of their already precarious jobs. Through worker-led initiatives, storytelling, and advocacy, ActionDignity is addressing the health, safety, and other concerns of racialized meatpacking workers and striving to effect longer-term change in their working conditions.
  • The worker cooperatives led by Brightly, Pioneer Valley Workers’ Center, and Oakland Bloom expanded efforts to support the individual asset-building of workers, to foster democratic economic development, and to promote resilience in communities that have been disinvested in by traditional economic systems.

No one person or organization can effect lasting change. The challenges and societal divisions that surfaced this year underscore that we are stronger together and that partnerships are needed more than ever to accelerate social impact.

  • We’re grateful to the Tarsadia Foundation for its partnership with us in the Opportunity Challenge, the Fund’s first joint, open grantmaking initiative. With the Tarsadia Foundation’s support, we doubled our initial $1 million commitment to provide $2 million in funding to 12 awardees and 8 semi-finalist organizations.
  • Our partners at the Toronto Workforce Funder Collaborative launched a call for proposals to support organizations in the Greater Toronto Area as they test and implement innovative ideas in workforce development. Its goal is the creation of initiatives that can lead to high-quality jobs which offer upward mobility to individuals facing barriers in the workforce.

These are just some highlights of our partners’ resilience in action, of the countless stories and examples of our grantee and investee partners’ support of immigrants and refugees amid the challenges of 2020.

We look forward to hitting the ground running in 2021, to expanding our community of collaborators, and to continue working to establish inclusive economies in the U.S. and Canada. We’ll follow up in the new year with more details on the Fund’s 2021 priorities and provide ways that you can get involved. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you! Please email us to share your ideas about how we can best support immigrant and refugee workers and communities.

Until then, wishing you and your loved ones a safe, healthy, and restful holiday season!

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