WES Mariam Assefa Fund Awards First Grants in Canada, Committing C$1.9M to Create More Equitable Systems for Immigrant and Refugee Workers

TORONTO, Nov. 23, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The WES Mariam Assefa Fund, the philanthropic arm of World Education Services (WES), today announced its first grants in Canada. The Fund is awarding C$1.9 million to six organizations that are building stronger career pathways for immigrants and refugees, supporting workers affected by COVID-19, investing in immigrant leaders, and nurturing the development of innovative solutions and greater capacity in the immigrant-serving sector.  

The six grant recipients, located across Canada, are Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS); Calgary-based ActionDignity; Ontario Employment Education & Research Centre (OEERC); RADIUS - Refugee Livelihood Lab in British Columbia; Toronto Community Benefits Network; and the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) in Quebec.  

“We’re proud to partner with and learn from these six organizations,” said Monica Munn, Senior Director of the WES Mariam Assefa Fund. “Each has a deep knowledge of the needs of immigrant and refugee communities. We are excited to provide them with the funding to innovate and implement new, scalable solutions to serve their communities and to identify strategies, tools, and approaches that will help to ensure a more inclusive Canadian economy as the nation moves toward recovery from the impacts of COVID-19.” 

The Fund launched its efforts in Canada recognizing that immigrants and refugees are crucial to Canada’s labour market and long-term economic competitiveness: Immigrants currently make up 25% of the Canadian workforce and are expected to account for 100% of labour force growth in future years, according to the Conference Board of Canada. However, they experience high rates of unemployment and underemployment. In 2019, WES surveyed 26,395 immigrants and refugees who had applied to WES for credential evaluations as part of their journey to Canada. Only 39% of respondents reported that their employment in Canada was commensurate with their work pre-migration. Women and visible minorities found even fewer opportunities to enter the evolving labour market or to advance within it.

The WES Mariam Assefa Fund selected grantee organizations that are tackling these issues in three ways:

  • By ensuring that immigrants have access to employment in key high-need sectors:
    • Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) will devise and test a new bridging program for internationally trained early childhood educators in Nova Scotia.  
    • Toronto Community Benefits Network will support the creation of career pathways into the fast-growing construction industry for immigrants whose livelihoods were affected by COVID-19.  

  • By supporting worker-led initiatives and the development of immigrant leaders:  

    • ActionDignity will partner with four ethnocultural communities in Calgary to build leadership capacity and organize racialized meatpacking sector workers in Cargill and JBS plants.  
    • Ontario Employment Education & Research Centre (OEERC) and three of its partners—Workers’ Action Centre, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, and Caregivers Action Centre—will use a two-pronged approach to help address workplace issues related to precarious employment among migrant workers in the Greater Toronto Area. The approach will include leadership development and organizing efforts. 

  • By determining the most effective ways of strengthening the immigrant-serving sector, and by incubating effective, scalable, and new innovative business models that are deeply rooted in immigrant and refugee communities:

    • The Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) will conduct nationwide research to identify key barriers to immigrant success, and discover how to strengthen the immigrant-serving sector so that it is more responsive, collaborative, innovative, and sustainable. 

    • RADIUS - Refugee Livelihood Lab will use its funding to support an immigrant-led innovation program and a venture incubation program that helps immigrant leaders design, test, and establish scalable solutions to the problems their communities face.

These grants represent the latest step in 20 years of WES’ efforts to advance the integration and economic inclusion of international students, immigrants, and refugees in Canada. 

“WES is known as a leading advocate for immigrant integration into the Canadian economy,” said Shamira Madhany, Deputy Executive Director, WES, and Managing Director, Canada. “Philanthropy introduces a new set of financial tools—including grantmaking and impact investing—to complement the funding that already supports so much of the powerful work in the immigrant integration sector.”

“The WES Mariam Assefa Fund is the only philanthropic initiative focused exclusively on the economic inclusion and mobility of immigrants and refugees in North America,” said Esther Benjamin, CEO and Executive Director of WES. “The Fund has stretched WES to focus on new communities, and it is teaching us and others how to use powerful new tools to accelerate change. We are pleased to have this opportunity to learn from frontline experts across Canada, and eager to apply new insights that will help us and others to reduce the barriers that often impede newcomers from moving forward with their lives in new communities.”

About WES and the WES Mariam Assefa Fund
Founded in 1974, World Education Services Inc. (WES) is a 501(c)3 non-profit social enterprise dedicated to helping international students, immigrants, and refugees achieve their educational and workplace goals in the United States and Canada. Over more than 45 years, WES has provided credential evaluations to nearly three million individuals from around the globe. Launched in 2019, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund supports catalytic efforts to build more inclusive economies for immigrant and refugee workers in the U.S. and Canada and ensure that they have the skills, knowledge, and supports to succeed.

Contact Info
Silan Akgul, sakgul@wes.org
(631) 565-5244