The WES Mariam Assefa Fund and Tarsadia Foundation are thrilled to introduce the 20 semi-finalists of the Opportunity Challenge: $1 Million to Uplift Immigrant Communities. Each one of these organizations is leading crucial initiatives that support the success of immigrants and refugees in their communities and build an inclusive economy for all.
After all 470 applications were reviewed for eligibility and programmatic focus, the Selection Committee evaluated the top 100 proposals and selected the 20 semi-finalists below. The semi-finalists, representing 11 different states across the country, proposed ideas that reflect the rich diversity, resiliency, and leadership found within immigrant and refugee communities and put forth a range of solutions to empower immigrant workers. The final seven awardees will be announced in September 2020.
Center for Family Life/SCO Family of Services
Center for Family Life/SCO Family of Services is a neighborhood-based family and social services organization with deep roots in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. CFL’s Cooperative Development Program has been incubating immigrant-led worker cooperatives since 2006. For the past four years, CFL has been developing Brightly®, a franchise of worker-owned, women-run, community-led cooperatives that offer eco-friendly residential and commercial cleaning services.
Project: Expand Brightly, the first worker cooperative franchise in the United States, providing a more sustainable path to scale financially successful worker cooperatives in low-income and immigrant communities.
“We are thrilled about the opportunity to expand the Brightly cooperative model outside of New York City. It is our goal to foster worker-ownership and asset and leadership development across the country, using a proven model that uplifts immigrant communities.”
Maru Bautista, Director, Cooperative Development Program, Center for Family Life/SCO Family of Services
Centreville Immigration Forum
Centreville Immigration Forum’s mission is to implement sustainable programs that provide immigrants in need with the means to improve their lives and become more integrated into the community; improve communication and cooperation among groups serving immigrants; and build community recognition of strength in diversity.
Project: Mujeres: Triangulo Ixil is a community-led effort that regularly convenes low-income immigrant women to identify needs, provide mutual support, learn about community resources, and advocate for opportunities—including for jobs, education, child care, and physical and mental well-being.
“We have seen women—the majority of whom are from Guatemala and are Ixil Maya people— increasingly interested in taking on leadership roles, finding employment, and improving their skills through our programs. But we hear from them that the programs are not a good fit as is, because they were originally designed by and for those who seek day labor, most of whom are young men. This program will support women in developing what will meet their needs so they can thrive in the community.”
Miguel Carpizo-Ituarte, Executive Director, Centreville Immigration Forum
Code the Dream
Code the Dream offers free intensive training in software development to people from diverse low-income backgrounds. Code the Dream seeks to create a unique win-win where coders gain real experience building apps that make the world a better place, and then use that experience to launch new careers with enormous opportunities for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Project: Scale Code the Dream’s proven model of improving economic mobility for immigrants and refugees seeking to unleash their own potential and make a better life for themselves and their communities.
“As a young person with DACA who couldn’t afford college, I was stuck. But Code the Dream offered me a win-win—a chance to launch a career where I could support my family and use my talents to give back. In the last year I’ve built apps to organize free rides for seniors, provide support to migrant farmworkers, and facilitate meal deliveries to thousands of low-income children cut off from free school lunches by the COVID-19 pandemic. Imagine what we could do together if everyone had this chance!”
Andrea Hernandez, Code the Dream graduate and current mentor
Encuentro’s mission is to transform New Mexico into a thriving community for all by engaging with Latino immigrant families in educational and career development opportunities that build skills for economic and social justice.
Project: Encuentro’s Home Health Aid program uses education, self-employment, and leadership development to address the economic integration barriers that Latinx immigrants face in New Mexico’s home health industry.
“Encuentro is leading a more just vision for elder care by harnessing the power of collaborations to create a community-driven approach that offers desirable alternatives and challenges the dominant, profit-driven home health industry. Our program is worker-centered and honors the knowledge, experience, and passion of immigrant caregivers as the starting point for creating dignified work opportunities. Through partnerships at a local and national level, Encuentro is supporting immigrant caregivers to build their collective capital and lead a transformation for elders and caregivers alike.”
Andrea Plaza, Executive Director, Encuentro
Inclusive Action for the City
Inclusive Action for the City addresses the root causes of poverty by merging good urban policy with sound economic development initiatives that reduce barriers, increase opportunity, strengthen local economies, and empower low-income residents and entrepreneurs.
Project: The Semi’a Fund is a micro-loan program that provides low-income entrepreneurs—many of whom are street vendors in the informal economy—with access to low-interest capital and individualized coaching to help them grow their businesses.
“Our advocacy and economic development work focuses on changing systems that have left out low-income communities of color for generations. In Los Angeles, Black and Mexican households have about 1 percent of the net worth of their white counterparts! This inequality is a result of intentional policies but also finance systems that perpetuate this divide. Our Semi’a Fund intends to be a bold, unapologetic microfinance initiative that serves street vendors and other entrepreneurs who need capital. As we provide resources to our community’s entrepreneurs, we are also seeking to lift up our experiences to change the systems that require us to do this work to begin with. We see this work not just as a ‘program,’ but as part of a movement for economic justice that we and so many allies are working for.”
Rudy Espinoza, Executive Director, Inclusive Action for the City
Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County
Established in 1993 to assist the growing number of refugee families in Ann Arbor, Jewish Family Services provides programs and services ranging from older adult caregiving to immigrant resettlement and career services. The mission of JFS is to create solutions, promote dignity, and inspire humanity.
Project: The Micro-Enterprise Development (MED) program supports refugees and immigrants on the path to economic self-sufficiency by helping them develop, expand, and sustain microbusinesses. MED enables better understanding of the financial services industry and promotes economic empowerment and inclusion.
“Immigrants have been the backbone of small business in the United States for the past 200 years. This funding will have an impact by helping immigrants contribute their expertise to enriching and elevating us as a nation. While fostering economic empowerment, MED also provides opportunities for refugees and immigrants to build credit and capital—enhancing people’s mental health and well-being, sense of belonging, confidence, and self-esteem. As an additional benefit, the program promotes welcoming cities and counties and builds cultural connections between newcomers and host communities.”
Anya Abramzon, Executive Director, Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County
Since 1965, MAAC has been a champion for underrepresented communities throughout San Diego County and has provided a space where individuals and families in need can find the means to self-sufficiency and improve their living conditions. Its focus has remained constant through the years: to assist individuals and families in creating the lives they want and deserve.
Project: Connect 2 Success, an evidence-based and replicable youth workforce development program embedded within an alternative charter school, to address poverty among immigrant youth or youth from immigrant families in the Southern Border Region of California.
“MAAC has a long-standing history of tackling challenges faced by immigrants through advocacy and responsive programming. Our youth workforce program, Connect 2 Success, aims to bridge the inequality and wealth gaps that exist in the Southern Border Region. Our potential impact extends beyond the individuals and their families who benefit from our direct services. By collaborating with higher education, industry, other service providers, and community members to address issues, we will create systemic change. Immigrant youth and families will have unprecedented access to opportunity—in education, jobs, housing, and care—leading to a better overall quality of life and more equity across our region.”
Arnulfo Manriquez, MAAC President & CEO
Many Languages One Voice (MLOV)
The mission of Many Languages One Voice (MLOV) is to foster leadership and provide tools for greater civic participation Washington, D.C.’s of immigrant communities of color where English is not the primary language.
Project: Launch the Birth to Three (B3) campaign to improve economic mobility for single mothers and families by re-envisioning the child care system within immigrant and refugee communities.
“In response to the pandemic, we established a neighborhood childcare pod for immigrant families called the Brightwood Babies and Mamas. Utilizing a mutual aid model, we provided food, diapers, childcare advice, and emotional support to over 30 mothers and their children. This innovative solution provides opportunities for economic stability and advancement to single mothers and childcare providers during this time of crisis. As the economy recovers, we hope to establish childcare pods as the go-to childcare network for immigrant and refugee families across DC.”
Megan Macraeg, B3 Program Manager, MLOV
Mission Asset Fund
For the last 13 years, Mission Asset Fund (MAF) has revolutionized the asset building field by trailblazing responsible financial programs that help immigrant communities become visible, active, and successful in the U.S. financial marketplace.
Project: Support MAF’s Lending Circles program, which uplifts the strengths and innovations of low– income and immigrant communities—the true experts—to design programs that transform everyday practices into credit-building opportunities. In partnership with a national network of non–profits, MAF brings to bear the best of finance and technology to help immigrant communities reach their full financial potential.
“Immigrants have a strong tradition of coming together and helping each other by forming lending circles. Known as tandas in Mexico, susus in Africa, lun-hui in China, and paluwagan in the Philippines–and by many other names throughout the world–this informal borrowing practice helps people meet immediate needs. MAF’s Lending Circles transforms the time-honored global practice of people coming together to lend and borrow money into a force for good.”
José Quiñonez, Founder & CEO
Neighborhood Development Center
Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) supports entrepreneurs and small businesses at all stages of development. Through a variety of services, NDC seeks to support sustainable, long-lasting businesses.
Project: Empower immigrant entrepreneurs in the Twin Cities to transform their neighborhood economies through comprehensive and culturally competent entrepreneur training, lending, technical assistance, and small business incubators.
“When we meet an immigrant from Ethiopia, Mexico, or Laos, we don’t see the person currently pushing a broom as a janitor struggling to speak English. We see a person who can own that broom and the entire janitorial company, we see the person who can employ five or ten of their neighbors, who can be a role model of entrepreneurship to their kids. We see them as a powerful catalyst for neighborhood revitalization.”
Mihailo “Mike” Temali, Founder & CEO, NDC
New Mexico Dream Team
New Mexico Dream Team is a statewide network made up of undocumented youth and allies whose mission is to create power for multigenerational, undocumented, LGBTQ+, and mixed-status families through education and economic justice, advocacy and organizing, and personal/leadership development.
Project: Support NM Dream Team’s Licensing for All program, which gives immigrants access to professional and commercial licenses in New Mexico by promoting a positive narrative about licensure access, working with state licensing boards to ensure compliance with recent legislation, and community organizing. This progressive legislation will have a significant statewide impact on the shortage of professionals in key areas of the state, be an economic driver for rural and poor communities in New Mexico, and disrupt racism in licensing.
“As an undocumented student and DACA recipient, advocating for SB–137 changed my life. Alongside the New Mexico Dream Team and partner organizations, I was able to advocate for myself and my community. Five months ago, I was a fourth-year medical student fighting for the opportunity to realize my dream of becoming a practicing physician. Now, I’m a first-year surgical resident providing medical care for New Mexicans in the middle of a pandemic.”
Yazmín Irazoqui-Ruiz, M.D.
Oakland Bloom seeks to advance economic equity in Oakland by providing food entrepreneurship training, income-generating opportunities, and hands-on support to aspiring chef entrepreneurs from poor and working-class immigrant and refugee communities seeking to launch their own food businesses.
Project: A first of its kind cooperatively run commissary kitchen, marketplace, pop-up, and (eventual) community gathering space that showcases and builds economic opportunities for immigrants, refugees, and people of color to develop, pivot, and (re)launch their food businesses in community with one another, alongside technical assistance and additional resources to help businesses adapt to an uncertain food market during COVID-19.
“The impact of COVID-19 on the food industry has forced a fundamental shift that has been a long time coming in a notoriously exclusive and extractive industry with high barriers to entry for many poor and working-class immigrant, refugee, and PoC communities. Although we’re living in the uncertain period of COVID-19, we see this as an opportunity to dream beyond what we understand is possible, and dare to envision and build towards new economic models for food businesses—non-extractive models that uplift refugee and immigrant communities, and that are grounded in equitable ownership and decision-making, local food systems, shared buying power, collaborative market opportunities, and authentic relationships. We see our cooperative projects as a blueprint for moving the food industry beyond the status quo, in a way that puts power back into the hands of the people and our refugee, immigrant, and PoC communities.”
Seanathan Chow, Executive Director, Oakland Bloom
Pioneer Valley Workers Center
The Pioneer Valley Workers Center (PVWC) builds power with low-wage and immigrant workers throughout Western Massachusetts and beyond. PVWC’s worker members organize to build community and win real change in the lives of working people.
Project: Support Vida Cooperativa, which unites, trains, and supports PVWC’s immigrant worker members in launching and leading interdependent worker-owned cooperative businesses, anchored by its 4.5-acre member-led cooperative farm.
“Immigrant workers need cooperatives because we are often exploited at work, discriminated against, or mistreated by our bosses, and many times they steal our wages. We deserve a dignified life. Owning a cooperative business changes one’s life, it gives us equality with others in our workplace, and there is no abuse. I know that another world is possible, a world with dignity and justicia, when we own our own cooperative businesses.”
Claudia Rosales, a co-owner of Riquezas del Campo farm
PODER Emma Community Ownership
PODER Emma Community Ownership works to create a cooperative economy and prevent displacement of legacy residents in the Emma community. Our work is centered on the belief that communities have the wisdom and experience needed to create powerful collective solutions to address the structural barriers that we face, and that cooperative development is an important part of creating community power and equity.
Project: The PODER Emma Cooperative Development Project provides network coordination, capacity-building, and development support to Latinx immigrant-owned worker, housing, real estate, and early childhood education cooperatives in the Emma community of Buncombe County in North Carolina.
“PODER Emma’s work is preparing our community to sustain its own development through cooperative assets and wealth. It is also creating a legacy for our children and creating tools to dismantle the systemic oppression that our community faces.”
Mirian Porras Rosas, Cooperative Developer and Loan Officer, PODER Emma
South Dakota Voices for Peace
South Dakota Voices for Peace provides legal services, advocacy, and civic engagement programming to lift the voices and power of immigrants, refugees, and Muslims, including undocumented residents.
Project: Ensure that immigrant workers understand their rights in the workplace and empower workers to enforce their rights while creating positive pressure on employers to comply with anti-discriminatory, worker safety, and wage and labor laws.
“When I was going through all of these things at work, I didn’t know what to do or who to go to. It was really my first job and I thought ‘maybe this is just how it is.’ South Dakota Voices for Peace was there to listen, and it has been therapeutic for me.”
Employee and client who believed she was being discriminated against at her workplace, South Dakota Voices for Peace
Sueños Sin Fronteras de Tejas
Sueños Sin Fronteras de Tejas (SSFTX) is a Latinx, Black, and women of color-led collective providing health and healing support and access for refugee, asylum-seeking, immigrant, and undocumented womxn and families through direct support, resources, and referrals.
Project: Create community-based pathways toward liberation and empowerment for immigrant women and families through health advocacy in South Texas and across the country.
“We believe that serving the needs of immigrant womxn and their children is not an act of charity, but a matter of solidarity and reproductive justice. An integral component of reproductive justice is to ensure that all womxn regardless of immigration status are guaranteed access to a safe and healthy environment, especially amid the current COVID-19 pandemic.”
Suma, a new nonprofit based in Portland, OR, is building an inclusive technology economy with and for immigrants, refugees, and other frontline communities.
Project: Support Suma’s work to create platforms for digital organizing, enterprise, and justice.
“We envision a day when frontline community data is an organized resource, and when it can be used to overcome poverty and build political power.”
Alan Hipólito, Executive Director
Sustainable Economies Law Center
Sustainable Economies Law Center cultivates a new legal landscape that supports community resilience and grassroots economic empowerment. It provides essential legal tools including education, research, advice, and advocacy so communities everywhere can develop their own sustainable sources of food, housing, energy, jobs, and other vital aspects of a thriving community.
Project: Support immigrants in their efforts to launch, co-own, and run their own cooperatively structured businesses, and create a favorable policy landscape in which those cooperatives can thrive in order to build lasting wealth within immigrant communities.
“Our vision is to create and support the growth of dozens of thriving, empowered, immigrant-owned cooperatives, where immigrant workers create their own jobs, have control over their workplace, and build community-owned assets through worker-led enterprises. Part of this vision will involve influencing laws and policies to support cooperative entrepreneurship. Our end-goal is a more just and equitable economy, where worker ownership allows immigrants, refugees, and other communities otherwise marginalized by our dominant economy to build economic, political, and community power.”
Charlotte Tsui, Staff Attorney and Project Co-Lead
Tahirih Justice Center
The Tahirih Justice Center is a national non-profit organization that supports immigrant survivors of gender-based violence seeking safety and justice. Our holistic, interdisciplinary model of service combines free legal and social services with bridge-building policy advocacy, training, and education. We amplify the voices of survivors in communities, courts, and Congress to create a world where everyone can live in safety and with dignity.
Project: Help immigrant survivors of gender-based violence in their journey to access justice and economic opportunities by delivering free legal and social services through an interdisciplinary model.
“We’re excited to partner in our work to support immigrant survivors of gender-based violence seeking justice and safety in the U.S. The global pandemic has created especially difficult circumstances for immigrant women, girls, and others fleeing gender-based violence, many of whom are living with the effects of trauma or surviving ongoing abuse. Our holistic, interdisciplinary model enables immigrant survivors to resolve their legal needs and access services like medical care and shelter, paving a pathway to economic independence. This support will enable us to provide the essential services survivors of violence need during this critical time.”
Adriana López and Kursten Phelps, Co-Directors of Client Advocacy
Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network
The Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network, together with its member worker groups and allies, builds understanding of the Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) model, provides support for worker-led efforts to replicate the model, and shifts the existing paradigm to establish the model as the baseline for workers’ rights programs within global supply chains.
Project: The WSR Network’s U.S.-based members will work to expand and promote existing Worker-driven Social Responsibility programs in the agriculture and dairy industries and seek to reach new sectors, such as poultry and construction.
“In this moment, when the contradiction of essential work and disposable workers has been brought to the surface, the world is reckoning with its deep, chronic undervaluation of workers who make our lives possible. As a collaborative network led by worker organizations, we seek to expand a model that workers themselves have defined in order to shift the balance of power at work and transform the conditions in their industries, by ensuring decent wages and dignified work conditions through effective enforcement.”
Cathy Albisa, WSR Network Chair