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by Matti Navellou | May 24, 2021

Larsen Lam ICONIQ Impact Award Funds Four Finalist Organizations Creating a Better Future for Refugees

Meet the inspiring individuals leading these four impactful organizations

Talent Beyond Boundaries: Team members from Talent Beyond Boundaries, Refugee Talent, and Harvey Beef welcome Ali, Laurine, and Acinat to Australia. Ali is a skilled butcher. After spending many years in Lebanon living as a refugee, Ali connected with Talent Beyond Boundaries. Through TBB, Ali was able to compete for a job at Harvey Beef, who sponsored his relocation to Australia.

Earlier this month, we had the honor of introducing the leaders of the Resourcing Refugee Leadership Initiative (RRLI), the $10 million awardee of the Larsen Lam ICONIQ Impact Award. This week, we’re excited to showcase the leaders of the four remaining finalist organizations, each of which received funding thanks to the generous support of philanthropists in the ICONIQ network.

Through peer-to-peer engagement, ICONIQ Impact and the award’s sponsors mobilized an additional $12.25 million for these four organizations, setting them one step closer to bringing their bold solutions to life:

During the final round of the awardee selection process, we had the privilege of meeting each of these inspiring leaders and learning about the impact their organizations have on the lives of refugees across the world. From helping them secure long-term, fair-wage employment in their chosen fields to providing them with an accredited university degree and employment support, these organizations have been, and continue to be, dedicated to ensuring refugees everywhere have a secure and durable future.

 

Village Enterprise and Mercy Corps, DREAMS for Refugees:

Liz Corbishley is the Chief Scaling Officer at Village Enterprise. In her role, Liz develops and oversees Village Enterprise’s growth strategy, which aims to lift 20 million people out of extreme poverty by 2030. She builds partnerships, secures funding, and manages a technical assistance team. At the foundation of Liz’s career is a passionate belief that the luck of birth should not be what determines potential, happiness, or how one provides for one’s family.

How does your organization work to build a more durable future for refugees?

Roughly 70% of humanitarian aid funds short-term assistance, which is problematic considering refugees have been displaced for 17 years on average. The sector lacks evidence around self-reliance initiatives that work in refugee settlements, and donors are therefore reluctant to change their historic funding modalities. Village Enterprise’s expertise in supporting individuals living in extreme poverty to establish microenterprises, thereby increasing their household income, has been proven by rigorous evaluations. We now seek to build on our pilot work with refugees, layer our program with Mercy Corps’ market systems development approach, and generate evidence that together. DREAMS (Delivering Resilient Enterprises and Market Systems) supports refugees and gives them access to a durable future.

For your organization, what is the most challenging aspect of working in the refugee space? What is needed to overcome this?

From Village Enterprise’s perspective, the biggest challenges of working in the refugee space are the interlocking problems of short-term funding cycles and poor evidence as to what longer-term funding can achieve. DREAMS is critical because it’s providing us with the funding necessary to implement and evaluate a new approach (based on two tried and tested models) and to generate the evidence base needed to help implementing agencies and donors adopt more durable solutions going forward.

Are there any specific projects or initiatives in the works that the award will contribute to?

The award will fund our first iteration of DREAMS. We will initially work in Uganda and then plan to scale to Ethiopia. DREAMS will layer two evidence-based approaches: Village Enterprise’s poverty graduation model and Mercy Corps’ market systems development model. Graduation works with people living in extreme poverty to set up small scale microenterprises. Market systems development works with market actors to increase the opportunities refugees have to buy and sell. Our hypothesis is that through layering the two approaches, we can achieve an outsized impact which we will test through rigorous evaluation.

 

Mercy Corps, DREAMS for Refugees

Allison Huggins is the Deputy Regional Director for Mercy Corps in Africa. She has spent the last 15 years living and working in countries across Africa to drive innovative solutions to the toughest development challenges. She is passionate about enabling women and young people across Africa to access opportunities and drive peace within their communities. What she loves most about her role is helping to connect passionate changemakers with the resources to change their communities for the better.  

How does your organization work to build a more durable future for refugees?

Mercy Corps recognizes that refugees bring their skills, dreams, and ambitions with them when they flee their homes; however, the system is not designed to enable them to put these talents to use. Our work focuses on changing these systems so that markets are inclusive of refugees and allow them to earn a living; enabling young refugees to access market-driven training and employment so that they can put their skills to use; and building social cohesion between refugees and their host communities so that refugee voices are heard and valued and conflict is reduced.

For your organization, what is the most challenging aspect of working in the refugee space? What is needed to overcome this?

The humanitarian system is designed to treat displacement as a short-term problem. Direct distribution of food and other assistance over years and years traps refugees in limbo where they are dependent on external assistance and unable to earn a living to provide for their families. Building evidence of what works to drive self-reliance is critical to convincing donors and other partners to invest in these solutions. A second challenge is competition between organizations for resources. What I have found so refreshing about partnering with Village Enterprise is the opportunity to truly partner with another organization to bring lasting change for millions of people.

Are there any specific projects or initiatives in the works that the award will contribute to?

We are thrilled to have secured this award to officially launch DREAMS in Uganda and Ethiopia. Looking forward, we are already planning to bring DREAMS to other countries where refugees face economic hardship and are in need of long-term solutions, such as Kenya. We equally believe that DREAMS will work with internally displaced populations and are looking to bring the model to places like Nigeria and Somalia to support displaced populations living in extreme need. We hope that this is the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership between our two organizations which will positively impact the lives of millions of people.

 

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), New American Cities

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah is the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS). She is the only female head of a US resettlement agency. Prior to joining LIRS, she served in the Obama White House as Policy Director for First Lady Michelle Obama. Krish was nine months old when her family escaped Sri Lanka as it was entering civil war. Understanding how differently life could have turned out, she has dedicated her career to public service.

 How does your organization work to build a more durable future for refugees?

From welcoming families at the airport to getting children enrolled in school, LIRS mobilizes our vast network of partner organizations and community groups to provide refugees safety, support, and their share in the American dream. Having been forced to uproot their lives, refugees need a solid foundation upon which they can thrive. LIRS exists to lay that foundation. We ensure refugees have the immediate basics—culturally familiar food and a furnished home—while also helping families sign up for key health, financial, and language services. Above all, we connect refugees with their local communities where they encounter new friends and neighbors.

For your organization, what is the most challenging aspect of working in the refugee space? What is needed to overcome this?

Refugee resettlement has long received bipartisan support for its life-saving potential. Yet, under the previous administration, we experienced a decimation of resettlement infrastructure – with the lowest number of refugees resettled in recent U.S. history. We also saw anti-refugee and immigrant rhetoric glorified on the national stage. Federal policy-change that protects the refugee program through legislation is paramount, and equally important is grassroots education that sheds light on refugees’ contributions to local communities and economies. While the journey is far from over, our 82-year legacy reminds us of all that’s possible when we speak boldly in support of welcoming the stranger.

Are there any specific projects or initiatives in the works that the award will contribute to?

This award will support our New American Cities initiative, which aims to transform the current U.S. resettlement model—city-by-city—through a scalable, highly-individualized workforce development and career navigation program. The initial services we provide to refugees are designed to help them acclimate to a new country and culture, and often, a new language. This is an essential start; however, we recognize that ongoing support, particularly in career-building, can more sufficiently equip refugees to navigate difficulties related to long-term economic and social inclusion. Through New American Cities, refugees receive training and education, as well as access to upgraded jobs and increased wages.

 

Southern New Hampshire University, Global Education Movement

Salomon Beza is part of the Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) Global Education Movement (GEM) team where he serves as the GEM Hub Manager, helping a team of reviewers, academic tutors, and IT help desk staff based in Rwanda and South Africa ensure high-quality student support. Prior to this role, Salomon worked as an IT Manager for Kepler, one of SNHU GEM’s in-country partners. A member of the founding GEM class, Salomon holds a master’s degree in computer science and a bachelor’s degree from SNHU. Salomon is passionate about computer programming and using technology to enhance the learner experience.

How does your organization work to build a more durable future for refugees?

SNHU GEM provides refugees with an opportunity to earn a high-quality and low-cost bachelor’s degree from an accredited and internationally recognized U.S. university. This is a very special opportunity because most refugees and displaced learners are not able to afford higher education locally in their countries. In addition to higher education, SNHU GEM offers learners career services like employment-readiness training and access to internships and employment pathways. As a GEM graduate myself, I have experienced firsthand how SNHU GEM helps build hope and equips graduates with skills that allow them to grow their strengths and transform their lives for the better.

For your organization, what is the most challenging aspect of working in the refugee space? What is needed to overcome this?

The first challenge our students face is the skill gap between high school and university education. Refugee learners do not get a chance to attend the best high schools, making the transition challenging. Second, refugees face extremely limited access to jobs. In some of the countries where GEM operates, refugees do not have the right to work. In others, refugees are considered less skilled than other graduates. Finally, COVID-19 posed new challenges to our students and staff, including limited access to internet and electricity. For all of these challenges, additional funding as well as advocacy and policy changes are crucial.

Are there any specific projects or initiatives in the works that the award will contribute to?

In the next year, with funding from Lever for Change and ICONIQ Impact, the GEM Hub will help grow the pipeline of refugee learners and create pathways for employment by continuing to provide high-quality services for students, including academic assessments, tech support, and tutoring. One specific way that GEM Hub will increase learner support is by identifying areas in which students face academic challenges and offering workshops to equip students with the skills they need. Our goal this year is to create a more robust structure for these workshops and to better integrate learner feedback based on previous sessions.

 

Talent Beyond Boundaries, Unlocking Skilled Migration Solutions for Refugees

Madeline Holland is TBB’s co-CEO. She has been working to expand access to skilled migration for refugees for the last five years. Madeline joined TBB after spending several years helping refugees and immigrants break into the US labor market and seeing how often people’s skills and experiences were overlooked. She leads TBB’s global team alongside Melbourne-based Steph Cousins.

How does your organization work to build a more durable future for refugees?

Refugees have the skills to secure international jobs, and employers are in need of what they have to offer. TBB’s role is to work with employers and governments to systematically remove the barriers that prevent refugees from competing for international jobs. Millions of people who’ve been displaced from home could move to stability, rebuild their lives, and secure a route to citizenship if they were included in existing systems that enable people to move for work. We’re working to make that possibility a reality.

For your organization, what is the most challenging aspect of working in the refugee space? What is needed to overcome this?

There’s a false narrative that says “refugees” are defined only by their vulnerabilities. At present, immigration policies in countries around the world have erected a series of barriers that make it uniquely challenging for refugees to move for work on the basis of their qualifications. The private sector can be a major partner in recognizing the value refugees bring to their workforces and communities. Companies can step up to recruit talented people who are still living in displacement and communicate to governments the positive impact it makes.

Are there any specific projects or initiatives in the works that the award will contribute to?

This award will unlock thousands of opportunities for refugees to migrate to new lives in Australia, Canada, and the UK, and lets us lay the groundwork for millions more behind them. The award will allow us to run a pilot program in the United States to finally open doors for refugees to relocate here for work. We’ll also use this award to expand this solution through partnerships to refugees outside of Jordan and Lebanon, in places like Latin America. With bold investment, the sky is the limit for this innovative new solution for refugees.