Our Reflections on 2021 – and What We’re Looking Forward to in 2022

Friday January 14, 2022

Happy New Year! As we kick off 2022, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund team is reflecting on the remarkable organizations, leaders, and efforts that inspired us last year amid many challenges, and looking ahead to what we’re excited about in the new year.

In 2021, our community of grantee and investee partners grew exponentially – the Fund supported a total of 69 organizations, both deepening existing relationships and reaching new partners. A total of US$7.1 million was awarded to organizations working to build more inclusive, equitable economies across the U.S. and Canada. We honed our approach to trust-based philanthropy, and explored new ways to shift power to our partners and the communities they serve.

Over the past year, our team also grew to comprise 10 colleagues who bring diverse voices and lived experience to our work. Below, our team shares personal highlights from 2021 and what has us energized for 2022.


Abby Frias, Grants Associate
“This past year, I was inspired by our partners’ efforts to ensure equitable COVID-19 vaccine access to immigrant and refugee communities.”

Lauren Crain, Associate Director, U.S. Programs and Strategy
“The leadership shown by so many of our grantee partners in 2021, including Sueños sin Fronteras de Tejas (SSFTX), which supports reproductive justice for undocumented pregnant people of color in South Texas, inspired me. SSFTX mobilized to meet the needs of the community during a challenging year—supporting 65 undocumented pregnant and birthing people and 152 children.”

Lei Ma, Program Associate, U.S.
“I was inspired by the commitment to equity and resilience of our partners at Oakland Bloom and the communities they support, as they build pathways to worker ownership in the food industry. Amid the pandemic, Oakland Bloom supported the launch of Understory, a worker-led restaurant located in Oakland’s Chinatown, to create opportunity and ownership with food workers, particularly immigrants, refugees, and chefs of color.”

Maleeha Baig, Program Associate, Canada
“In the year ahead, I am excited to witness our first participatory grantmaking pilot project, led by the Tamarack Institute, unfold in the Peel Region. As an immigrant and resident of Peel myself, this project hits very close to home. The learnings from this pilot will be significant, and I hope they will have a long-term impact and influence other Canadian funders to use participatory grantmaking models.”

Marina Nuri, Associate Director, Canada Programs and Strategy
“I am excited to welcome more than 15 new grantee partners to our cohort in Canada this year, build trust-based relationships with them, and to keep exploring ways to support our partners in their work of ensuring that immigrants and refugees thrive.”

Monica Munn, Managing Director
“In 2022, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund will celebrate its third anniversary. I am so excited to commemorate this milestone with our team and the  organizations we’ve supported and come to know since the Fund launched in 2019 – and to ensure that the wisdom and perspectives of our partners and their communities continues to inform what comes next for the Fund!”

Nomzana (Zana) Augustin, Strategic Initiatives and Partnership Manager
“This year I was inspired by Rosemarie Powell and the team at Toronto Community Benefits Network who brought together industry leaders and construction workers to celebrate diversity, equity, and inclusion at the 2021 Building Diversity Awards ceremony.”

Silan Akgul, Communications Manager
“In 2022, I am excited to continue sharing the stories of the extraordinary people leading work to support the success of immigrants and refugees and amplifying the work of our grantee and investee partners.”

Smitha Das, Impact Investing Principal
“As the Afghan humanitarian crisis unfolded this past year, I was inspired by our investee partner, IRC’s Center for Economic Opportunity, which swiftly responded by launching the SAFE initiative to help the 55,000+ Afghan humanitarian parolees begin to lay a financial foundation in their new hometowns.”

Zenia Dacio-Mesina, Grants and Portfolio Manager
“In 2022, I’m excited to continue to learn how to center and operationalize WES values of inclusion and equity in our approach to philanthropy. How can we further shift power to our partners and collaborate with them to advance our shared mission?”

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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.