Philanthropy Across WES: How WES’ Fund Ambassadors are Making an Impact

Tuesday December 7, 2021

In February 2021, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund kicked off its second annual Fund Ambassadors program, which is a corporate philanthropy and professional development initiative. The program engages staff from across WES to learn about philanthropy and identify mission-aligned organizations to receive donations.

Now, at the end of 2021, the Fund Ambassadors have officially awarded US$150,000 in donations to 16 staff-selected organizations across the United States and Canada. The donations align with the Fund’s mission to build more inclusive economies and communities so that immigrants and refugees can achieve their goals and thrive. To deepen internal visibility into how WES approaches philanthropy, Fund staff trained 16 WES colleagues from different departments on the fundamentals of grantmaking, how to identify and support organizations using trust-based philanthropic practices, and how to shift resources to immigrant and refugee communities. The program also served to advance three of WES’ strategic objectives: enabling individuals, investing in our people, and leading as a social enterprise.

How the program enabled WES staff

Over the eight-month program, the Fund Ambassadors attended educational sessions about philanthropy, conducted rigorous research, spoke with their communities, and diligently vetted prospective organizations. The program took a participatory, equitable, and trust-based approach, and the Fund Ambassadors designed and led the program themselves, ultimately deciding where donations should be directed. The cohort included staff who identify as people of color, LGBTQIA+, women, and immigrants and refugees.

“It was an invaluable, fun, and rewarding experience working together to learn about philanthropy and work for a greater cause. I’m thankful to have made a donation to The Neighborhood Organization, which will support them ramp up their digital infrastructure so they can deliver key services remotely to the immigrant community seamlessly in these unprecedented times.”
-Sarita Tewari, Accounts and Records Officer at WES

Trust, psychological safety, and sense of community were key to the Fund Ambassadors’ being able to authentically share the issues they’re passionate about and make donations to community organizations addressing those areas.

Investing in immigrant and refugee communities

Seventy percent of the organizations selected were led by people of color, women, and immigrants or refugees. These organizations are providing language access to immigrants and refugees, mental health services to Black youth, countering hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, supporting government leadership development, resettling Afghan refugees, supporting immigrants in low-wage jobs, and tackling other challenges immigrants and refugees often experience.

Selected organizations received US$5,000 – US$15,000, which is particularly impactful as most recipients are small organizations with limited staff capacity, yet they often support thousands of community members. This financial support from WES was especially timely given the negative economic effects of the pandemic on underserved communities.

In Canada, US$85,000 in donations were made to the following eight organizations selected by the respective Canadian WES Fund Ambassadors:

Photo courtesy: Rainbow Railroad

In the U.S., US$65,000 in donations were made to the following eight organizations selected by the respective U.S. Fund Ambassadors:

“As a Fund Ambassador, I had a unique, hands-on opportunity to learn about and practice philanthropy the WES way. I am excited that CIANA will benefit from the Fund’s donation and further their mission to support new immigrants in the United States.”
-Pavla Kochel

Photo courtesy: New American Leaders

What’s next?

Over the coming year, these funds will help the organizations revitalize programs affected by the pandemic, expand their work, build new websites and digital platforms to serve more people, onboard new staff members, and provide certifications. The Fund Ambassadors will transition into program alumni at WES with the intent of continuing to support their selected organizations while representing WES and the Fund.

At WES, philanthropy is more than just cutting checks. It’s about building trust within communities and having those who come from the communities most affected hold the decision-making power.



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.