IMPRINT: Immigrant Professional Integration

How the WES Mariam Assefa Fund Aims to Inspire Effective Policy

Monica Munn, senior director of the WES Mariam Assefa Fund, with staff members of Mission Driven Finance in San Diego, CA.

In September the WES Mariam Assefa Fund awarded $1.2 million to promote economic opportunities and advancement for immigrants and refugees in the U.S.

The first round of grantees includes The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation; Jobs for the Future; Mission Driven Finance; Upwardly Global; and the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians. The new grantee partners are leading a range of initiatives that focus on employer practice models, promoting entrepreneurship and leadership within immigrant and refugee communities, and innovative finance models to support adult education and workforce development training for immigrants and refugees.

According to Monica Munn, senior director of the fund, a key goal of this first round of grantmaking is to create more data about the types of interventions that work and can serve as models the public sector can support. She noted that employer engagement is also an important focal point for the fund, as is support for blended social finance models leveraging both private and public funds.

Munn emphasized that the Mariam Assefa Fund will share data and key learning over the coming year from these initial grant-funded efforts. Looking ahead, the fund is exploring workforce development and adult education initiatives that support skills-building and economic mobility for immigrant and refugee workers. A second wave of awards to new initiatives is anticipated next year.

Nicole Pumphrey, deputy director of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians and fund grantee, echoed the need for more data to determine where public and private investments will be most impactful. Pumphrey noted that, increasingly, policymakers have acknowledged the need to take steps to ensure internationally trained immigrants and refugees in their communities have equitable access to workforce development training and English language instruction. The next step, according to Pumphrey, is to identify where investments should be made in order to better integrate immigrants into the workforce.

With support from the fund, the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians will continue its work with the city of Philadelphia on a fellowship program recently expanded to include immigrants and refugees with training or credentials obtained outside the U.S. The results have been impressive so far. Of the 21 participants over the past two years, all have secured professional-level employment and one third of participants are employed full-time by the city department where they completed their fellowships.

The local government in Louisville, Ky. has adopted a similar model as part of its work with Global Talent Bridge’s Skilled Immigrant Integration Program.

The fund’s heightened focus on employer engagement is especially crucial in light of the scarcity of funding to support immigrants and refugees and the range of barriers they face. In an article last month, Inside Philanthropy recognized the vital importance of the fund as a newcomer to philanthropy and pointed to the need to increase awareness among employers, funders, and the broader workforce development field of the unique needs of immigrants and refugees seeking to reenter the workforce.

Suzette Masters, immigration strategist and longtime leader in the field also welcomed a greater emphasis on increasing employer engagement and stressed the need to strengthen advocacy efforts to remove barriers to employment for immigrants and refugees with international training to expand talent pipelines, particularly at the state and local level.

WES Global Talent Bridge will share updates as information becomes available. A WES Mariam Assefa Fund mailing list has been set up for those who wish to subscribe.

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