Our 2021 Funding Priorities

Thursday March 11, 2021

The WES Mariam Assefa Fund’s principle of “learning by doing” as a funder is a constant. Every day, we learn from our 35-plus grantee and investee partners about which solutions hold promise, where we can do more, and what it takes to create lasting change to build a more equitable future for immigrants and refugees. The Fund’s 2021 priorities are directly informed by our current partners and reflect the changing needs of the communities they serve. 

We are excited to share our 2021 funding priorities and our commitment to award at least US$7 million to leaders and organizations working to drive economic inclusion and mobility for immigrants and refugees in the United States and Canada.

Key priorities for the year include:

Driving equitable, worker-centered practices among employers 

  • Several of the Fund’s first 2019 grants focused on shifting employer practices to invest in immigrant and refugee workers and job seekers. Building on what we learned early on, we will explore aiding efforts that facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing among employers who are earlier in their journey of instituting more inclusive practices. We will also support organizations working with employers who are seeking to design programs centered on the perspectives of immigrant and refugee workers. As our partner JFF recently shared, there is much that corporate leaders can learn from their employees.
  • In Canada, where our grantmaking began in late 2020, we will consider how employers can improve working conditions for people in low-wage jobs, among other areas. We also plan to provide assistance to ideas around demand-led employment, where workforce development organizations partner with employers to help close labor shortages.

Investing in financing models that create viable career pathways for immigrants and refugees and ensure that these workers have the supports they need to succeed 

  • Following our work with the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, which culminated in a recently released report that offers recommendations for funders and investors seeking to address worker mobility, we will examine social finance models, such as income sharing agreements, that help immigrant and refugee workers develop in-demand skills and bridge into high-growth, high-paying sectors and jobs.
  • The Fund will expand its impact investing to provide mission-driven organizations with flexible funding to innovate and increase efforts that support immigrant and refugee workers. To do so, we plan to make our first impact investment in Canada in 2021.

Deepening the bench of immigrant and refugee leaders

  • Lived experience in leadership makes for better ideas and deeper impact. We will consistently seek out organizations staffed and led by individuals from the communities the organizations represent, and we will periodically report externally on our progress backing proximate leaders.
  • In 2021, we’ll build on the leadership work of our current partners—including Mission Driven Finance in the U.S. and RADIUS in Canada—and fund initiatives that support immigrant and refugee leaders in key underrepresented sectors.

Innovating and building capacity in the immigrant and refugee settlement sectors 

  • In the U.S., we will turn our focus to the refugee and asylee settlement systems. We are excited to complement the current administration’s commitment to increasing the number of refugees and boosting the resettlement program and will aid efforts to create a more durable system that ensures the economic inclusion and mobility of refugees.
  • In Canada, our work with the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) will inform where our funding can support capacity, infrastructure, and new ideas in the immigrant settlement sector.

Creating more inclusive communities for immigrants and refugees

  • Amid deepening polarization in the U.S., we plan to invest resources into breaking down barriers and prejudices at the community level that inhibit immigrants, refugees, and many others from truly thriving.
  • In Canada, we will pilot our first participatory grantmaking initiative in Ontario, where local immigrant communities will identify needs and select the most impactful projects.

Gathering data to “build back better” for all workers

  • History shows that the people most impacted by crisis are the ones who face the highest hurdles in times of recovery. Immigrant and refugee communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, especially considering intersectional impacts on race and gender. Collecting more disaggregated data on how different workers responded to the crisis and on who is being left behind can inform policies that promote a more equitable economic recovery.

Across all areas, we are excited to work with other funders to drive more resources into immigrant and refugee communities. We are actively seeking partners who will support our existing grantees and investees, collaborate with us on the priorities above, and co-create new initiatives.

Lastly, this spring we’ll launch an application portal on the Fund’s site to openly source ideas related to some of these priorities. Our goal is become more accessible and equitable in how we identify potential grantee and investee partners. Part of this work is honing our approach toward trust-based philanthropy practices; we will share reflections on our journey as we adopt these practices over the coming months.

In the year ahead we look forward to sharing what we learn, our partners’ impact, and perspectives of immigrant and refugee leaders. In  the meantime, stay in touch, and please reach out with any ideas or questions: [email protected].

Stay in Touch

Thank you for your interest in the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. We’ll share updates on the Fund’s efforts, what we’re learning, and opportunities through our email list.