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by Matti Navellou | May 4, 2021

Resourcing Refugee Leadership Initiative selected by sponsors Chris Larsen and Lyna Lam as the $10 million recipient of the Larsen Lam ICONIQ Impact Award

Meet the leaders of the Resourcing Refugee Leadership Initiative and discover how they will use the award to provide impactful programs for refugees.

Across the globe, refugee leaders are at the forefront of humanitarian response efforts. Refugee-led organizations (RLOs) operate in environments and situations deemed too dangerous or remote for traditional aid workers and international NGOs, providing urgent support and essential services for the world’s most vulnerable refugee communities.

Despite this, RLOs remain chronically underfunded due to bureaucratic hurdles and restrictions on workers’ legal statuses. Of the nearly $30 billion that cycles through the humanitarian system each year, only 0.05% is directed toward these organizations.

That is why we are honored to share that, today, the Resourcing Refugee Leadership Initiative (RRLI) has been selected by namesake sponsors Chris Larsen and Lyna Lam as the $10 million recipient of the Larsen Lam ICONIQ Impact Award. The award will help RRLI establish a first-of-its-kind RLO-to-RLO fund, allowing donors to pool capital and fund various RLOs across the world.

RRLI is a global, six-organization-strong coalition driven by the importance of transferring ownership and resources to RLOs. The coalition, convened by Asylum Access—an international nonprofit based in Oakland, California whose mission is to make refugee rights a reality—brings together five RLOs: Basmeh & Zeitooneh (B&Z) in Lebanon, St. Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS) in Egypt, Refugees & Asylum seekers Information Centre (RAIC) in Indonesia, Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID) in Uganda, and RefugiadosUnidos in Colombia.

We’re thrilled to introduce you to the five inspiring leaders who lead these organizations and work tirelessly to support and empower refugees. As refugees themselves, these leaders have a firsthand understanding of the problems that face these communities and the proximate knowledge necessary to develop sustainable solutions. We are proud to stand behind them as they use this funding to put power and resources in the hands of refugees across the world.

Basmeh & Zeitooneh

daria jamilDaria Jamil has nine years of experience working in humanitarian and development fields in local RLOs in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey. She holds two master’s degrees in managing industrial and environmental risks. After having to leave Syria in 2013, she joined Basmeh & Zeitooneh (B&Z) as a volunteer teacher in the B&Z learning program for refugee children. Currently Daria is the chief development officer at B&Z.

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

Since 2012, B&Z has embraced a grassroots approach. We create a community center in the heart of marginalized communities. From there, we design and implement our responses, interventions, and programs. The community inspires and dictates our approach, where we work on the inclusion of local community members and refugees. We advocate for refugees’ rights and support those who support refugees and vulnerable host communities. We hear from them, and simply, we implement!

We avoid interventions that treat refugees as passive recipients of aid. We focus on programs that allow people to build their skills, increase their knowledge, open a business, and continue their education. We focus on services that allow refugees to own their lives.

What specific projects or initiatives will this award contribute to?

B&Z will support refugee-led initiatives in the communities we serve. Those initiatives will represent the solutions refugees see for their communities. B&Z throughout the years has always been eager to explore new ways to support the refugee and local communities. Apart from direct service provision, this award will allow us to build and expand our approach by supporting the community (refugee and local) to create and lead their own solutions.

What is the most exciting or rewarding part of belonging to this coalition?

The most exciting part of belonging to this coalition (aside from the fact that all coalition members are amazing people with real genuine experiences, where working with them for one year was rewarding by itself) is knowing that there is a hope to change the humanitarian funding system to be more inclusive, and that B&Z can be part of this journey.

StARS

Mohamed Ahmed is from Sudan and has been the Director of Programs at St. Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS) for over two years. Mohamed came to Egypt as a refugee in 2016 and joined StARS as a teacher in the same year. Mohamed was quickly and repeatedly promoted before taking up his current position. As the Director of Programs, he is responsible for coordinating and administering all aspects of programming at StARS, operating 37 teams across five programmatic areas.

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

StARS provides resettlement for refugees who cannot live safely in Egypt. Under an agreement with UNHCR, we refer them for resettlement. We additionally provide meaningful employment to refugees in a safe environment, helping them to lead a dignified life. StARS provides unaccompanied children and youth who come to Egypt with services that help them lead a decent life (education, healthcare, psychosocial, legal, foster care). StARS also employs those youth in different programs (youth staff make up 20% of StARS workforce). Moreover, we offer individuals professional training in collaboration with the American University in Cairo and language training in English and Arabic—enabling them to navigate through Egypt. 

What specific projects or initiatives will this award contribute to?

The Larsen Lam ICONIQ Impact award will help StARS strengthen the work already being done with smaller RLOs locally. It will also allow StARS to spread its model regionally and globally. Additionally, the award will assist StARS to continue providing an immediate and holistic response to refugees’ needs, including medical, psychosocial, legal, and educational assistance.

What is the most exciting or rewarding part of belonging to this coalition?

It is the fact that the coalition members share a common vision: to empower refugees to have control over their lives, to become less dependent on people who have little awareness of the displacement experience, and to live in dignity. I see this coalition as a great opportunity for change; I see it as a global movement.

RAIC

Mozhgan Moarefizadeh founded the Refugees and Asylum Seekers Information Center (RAIC Indonesia) in 2017 and coordinates multiple programs in support of refugee communities. Mozhgan’s advocacy work includes opinion pieces, information sessions, and speaking at events and conferences. Mozhgan is the co-host of 2020s “The Wait”; a critically acclaimed five-part documentary podcast which brings the listener into the lives of refugee communities like never before. For the last eight years, Mozhgan has been living as a refugee in Indonesia.

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

Today, RAIC is doing all we can to support refugee communities across Indonesia, and with our online programs, we reach refugees across the world. We are accessible and deeply connected to our community. Our services and support are provided with cultural sensitivity, are in the correct languages, and are trusted. We have a holistic approach—we look at all of the problems that affect the refugee community and address them with the community. For example, we provide legal aid, mental health support, facilitate resettlement through private sponsorship, and more.

What specific projects or initiatives will this award contribute to?

Our first-of-its-kind Mental Health Program will be supported by this Award. It teaches and supports coping mechanisms for refugee community members in transit through a multilingual platform and peer-to-peer therapy in a group setting. Furthermore, the award will increase our capacity to provide legal aid and increase solutions pathways (resettlement through private sponsorship). Additionally, it will contribute to our existing efforts in partnering and building advocacy agendas with other refugee-led organizations.

What is the most exciting or rewarding part of belonging to this coalition?

This coalition of refugee-led organizations is very special. We are a family of leaders who understand and have experienced displacement. Asylum Access is a wonderful organization; they brought us together, they stand with us, and they prioritize refugee communities in everything they do. This coalition is truly living by the saying “nothing about us without us.” Through this coalition, we have been able to unify our efforts to solve our problems on a big scale. It is so exciting to see the movement we have dreamt of and talked about for so long coming to life. We support each other’s work no matter where we are in the world. We serve the same communities. There is no competition, just collaboration and cooperation.

YARID

Robert Hakiza is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID). Robert’s leadership draws on his experiences from work with Oxford University’s Humanitarian Innovation Project and his role as a Steering Committee member representing Africa for the Global Refugee-Led Network. He has dedicated his life to working with urban refugees and educating others about the obstacles refugees face—an experience with which he is intimately familiar as a refugee from Congo living in Uganda since 2008. You can view Robert Hakiza’s TED talk here.

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

From its inception, YARID has been working to empower refugees and asylum seekers with life skills so that they can become self-reliant. We empower them with English language and functional adult literacy skills so they are able to communicate with nationals in their host environment and read and write in their local languages. We additionally equip refugees and asylum seekers with training skills so they can advocate for refugee rights and welfare. Lastly, we create a community space for refugees to improve their lives. We support refugees and asylum seekers with livelihood strategies in order to improve their shattered lives.

What specific projects or initiatives will this award contribute to?

Generally, this Award will contribute to expanding our activities to other areas we’ve never reached before, with more emphasis on economic empowerment and self-reliance. It will also allow us to provide funding support to refugee-led organizations.

What is the most exciting or rewarding part of belonging to this coalition?

For me, being a part of this coalition makes me feel like I am finally at the right place where I belong.

RefugiadosUnidos

Lublanc Prieto es refugiada venezolana, abogada, activista en derechos humanos y experta en materia migratoria y de refugio. Huyó de Venezuela por razones de salud y persecución política y hoy es miembro fundadora de RefugiadosUnidos. Por más de seis años ha liderado proyectos con organizaciones en Latinoamérica atendiendo comunidades de refugiados y durante COVID-19, se ha dedicado a trabajar en la atención y el fortalecimiento de los derechos de la población proveniente de Venezuela en Colombia.

Lublanc Prieto is a Venezuelan refugee, lawyer, human rights activist, and expert on migration and refugee issues. She fled Venezuela for health reasons and political persecution, and today is a founding member of RefugiadosUnidos. For more than six years, she has led projects with organizations in Latin America serving refugee communities, including during COVID-19. She has dedicated herself to work in the attention and strengthening of the rights of the Venezuelan populations in Colombia.

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

Construyendo iniciativas sostenibles que puedan ofrecer mejor calidad de vida a cada refugiado a través de procesos de reconocimiento, acompañamiento, capacitación y empoderamiento de nuestra comunidad. A través de nuestro programa de ayuda humanitaria hemos podido ofrecer asistencia legal y ha sido el primer paso para acompañarlos, conocer sus necesidades, sus capacidades y brindarles herramientas que los empoderan y fortalecen su desarrollo integral sostenible.

We build sustainable initiatives that offer a better quality of life to each refugee through processes of recognition, accompaniment, training, and empowerment of our community. Through our humanitarian aid program, we have been able to offer legal assistance, which has been the first step in understanding their needs and capabilities and providing them with the tools to empower and strengthen their sustainable development.

What specific projects or initiatives will this award contribute to?

Este premio nos permitirá expandir y fortalecer nuestros programas holísticos con una visión integral, diversa, novedosa y de empoderamiento enfocados en la Asistencia legal, humanitaria, para lograr que la diversidad de la población refugiada se integre con equidad en la Comunidad. Un área importante para RefugiadosUnidos es generar espacios de redes con otras fundaciones de sociedad civil y crear espacios para la incidencia aportando en la visibilización de los derechos humanos de la población.

This Larsen Lam ICONIQ Impact Award will allow us to expand and strengthen our holistic programs with a comprehensive, diverse, innovative, and empowering vision focused on legal and humanitarian assistance, to ensure that the diversity of the refugee population is integrated with equity in the community. An important area for RefugiadosUnidos is to generate networking spaces with other civil society foundations and create spaces for advocacy, contributing to the visibility of the human rights of the population. 

What is the most exciting or rewarding part of belonging to this coalition?

Es muy emocionante formar parte de esta coalición porque nos da la oportunidad de abrir puertas a nuestra comunidad de refugiados proveniente de venezuela. La coalición reconoce a los refugiados como constructores de sus nuevas vidas, y esto  solo es posible gracias a los esfuerzos de cada líder refugiado que asume el compromiso de alzar la voz y defender los derechos de los refugiados.

It is very exciting to be a part of this coalition because it gives us the opportunity to open doors for our refugee community from Venezuela. The coalition recognizes refugees as builders of their new lives, and this is only possible through the efforts of every refugee leader who is committed to speaking out and advocating for the rights of refugees.

Asylum Access

Asylum AccessSana Mustafa (left) is a human rights defender and inclusion activist. After fleeing war in Syria, Sana was determined to address the hardships that come with forced displacement and exclusion. Sana had co-led the establishment of global efforts around representation and inclusion of refugees. Sana is currently the Associate Director of Partnerships & Engagement at Asylum Access. Watch Sana Mustafa’s TED talk: Nothing About Us Without Us

Diana Essex-Lettieri (right) has been a refugee human rights advocate for 15 years, whose first experiences in protracted camps inspired a deep-seeded need for systemic change. Diana is currently Vice President and COO of Asylum Access.

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

Asylum Access is a family of organizations working around the world to put power back in the hands of people who have been forcibly displaced from their home countries.

Our unique combination of legal empowerment, policy advocacy, and global programs and partnerships creates conditions in which refugees can live safely, move freely, work legally, and go to school. By supporting refugees as they assert their rights, we help restore their power and agency. Our work transforms the traditional approach of endless humanitarian handouts to a sustainable solution that honors refugees’ freedom, dignity and autonomy, and empowers them to make choices about their own lives. 

What specific projects or initiatives will this award contribute to?

As an organization, one of our main goals is to hold institutions of power accountable to their promises to uphold the human rights of refugees. We know this accountability can only come when those who have lived forced displacement are meaningfully and directly engaging with institutions of power. This award gives us an opportunity to co-design inclusive advocacy with refugee and host community-led civil society organizations as we engage with the World Bank, UNHCR and donor governments, among others.

What is the most exciting or rewarding part of belonging to this coalition?

We feel we are part of making a real systematic change in the world. As we designed this effort, we received tremendous support from different partners and felt a strong sense of community. This moment has created a momentum for a movement that has been pounding the pavement for decades. The ability to contribute and be part of an effort that is bottom-up, refugee-led, and community-driven is historic and deeply rewarding.