What Inspired Our Team in 2022

Thursday December 22, 2022

As the year winds down, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund team is reflecting on the extraordinary organizations, leaders, and efforts that inspired us. 

In 2022, we funded a total of 66 organizations across the United States and Canada, including 39 brand-new partners, who are increasing access to opportunity, building wealth, shifting power, and advancing justice for immigrants and refugees. Over $10 million was awarded through grants, impact investments, and funding partnerships. We reflected on our progress and lessons learned in putting justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion at the center of our work and shared next steps to build on these efforts. We continued to develop our approach to trust-based, people-centered philanthropy, and use participatory approaches to move capital and shift power.  

Over the past year, our team also grew to comprise 14 colleagues who bring diverse voices and lived experience to our work. Several team members were promoted, advancing in their careers to take on new aspects of the work. Below, we’re excited to share personal highlights from 2022 from our team.  


Abby Frias, Senior Grants Associate
I’ve been inspired by our grantee partners Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, Workers’ Action Centre, and Immigrant Workers Centre, who have continuously organized on the front lines for fair labor policies and immigrant justice in Canada.   


Ashley Taylor, Senior Partnerships Associate
This year, I was energized by the opportunity to meet colleagues in person at the WES Economic Inclusion Forum in Washington, D.C., a gathering of U.S. partners, advocates, policymakers, and non-profit organizations focused on economic inclusion for immigrants and refugees.  


Jawad Shahabi, Program Manager, Canada
In 2022, I was excited to engage with so many organizations across Canada to learn about their work and how it aligns with the Fund’s mission of building more inclusive economies for immigrants, and to collaborate with many of these organizations as new grantee partners. 


Karla Gregorio, Senior Program Manager, U.S.
I am inspired by our efforts to support populations in often overlooked communities, such as immigrants and refugees living in rural areas, including through our partnership with Ascendium and JFF, as well as our support of innovative approaches, such as activating college and university systems to support refugee resettlement by partnering with organizations such as NASH. 


Lauren Crain, Associate Director of Programs and Strategy, U.S.
In 2022, we launched multiple rapid response grantmaking initiatives, including support for groups serving asylum seekers in New York, organizations starting new programs for new arrivals from Afghanistan, and our third round of COVID-19 supplemental grants to support the ongoing efforts of our partners to address the impacts of the pandemic on immigrant and refugee communities. 


Lei Ma, Senior Program Associate, U.S.
I’ve been inspired by our grantee partner Encuentro and its Home Health Aide Program. This worker-centered career development opportunity for immigrant home health care providers has helped to cultivate leadership among its graduates, many of whom are seeking to expand the program’s impact in New Mexico’s immigrant communities. 


Marina Nuri, Associate Director of Programs and Strategy, Canada
I was inspired to see our portfolio in Canada grow from 7 organizations at the end of 2021, to more than 30 at the end of this year, and to see the expansion of our work into Quebec, as well as into new thematic areas, such as building inclusive communities driven by the principles of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 


Monica Munn, Managing Director of Social Impact
In 2022, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund entered its fourth year of operations – one marked by tremendous growth (as you can see in the statistics above!), impact, and transition. As always, it is the work and perspectives of our partners and their teams that inspire and ground me. Closing out the year, I had the opportunity to connect withsix social innovation leaders who are taking part in the WES-Echoing Green Racial Equity and Immigrant Justice Fellowship – truly a highlight! 


Nomzana Augustin, Senior Manager, Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives
This year, I was excited to connect with colleagues in philanthropy at the GCIR National Convening, the Echoing Green Big Bold Benefit event, and ABFE’s Harambe and fellowship convenings to explore how philanthropic funds and programs can support community organizing, power sharing, reparations, and justice. 


Sifat Yusuf, Program Manager, Canada
I was excited to attend the 5th Metropolis Identities Summit and hear at a larger scale from advocates in the field of immigration, while connecting with our grantee partners across Canada to learn about the impact of their work.   


Silan Akgul, Senior Communications Manager
In 2022, I was especially inspired by our grantee partner the Pivot Fund, led by founder Tracie Powell, for its work investing in BIPOC community-led journalism in Georgia, filling gaps in news and information for immigrant communities. 


Shevani Khatri, Program Associate, U.S.
This year, I’ve been inspired by the Fund’s Opportunity Challenge grantee partners and all they’ve accomplished over the past two years to support immigrants and refugees through community-led solutions.   


Smitha Das, Impact Investing Principal
I’m continually inspired by our team’s commitment to center justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in all we do, from what we fund to how we show up as a team. This year, I’m particularly excited by our partnership with Common Future and eight funders to test new participatory investing models through a collaborative fund.   


Zenia Dacio-Mesina, Senior Grants Manager
For medical reasons, I had to take a leave for most of this year. I am so grateful and touched that I had the support of WES and the Fund team to focus on my health, and I am inspired by everyone on the team. They are the most dedicated and hardworking group I’ve ever had the pleasure and honor to work with.  

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