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Intersectional Identities and Immigrant Justice with Nomzana Augustin

Nomzana Augustin, pictured second from the left, at Echoing Green's 2022 Big Bold Benefit.

Nomzana Augustin is the Senior Manager, Partnerships & Strategic Initiatives at World Education Services Mariam Assefa Fund. A lifelong advocate for access, equity, and opportunity in communities worldwide, Nomzana is the strategic lead for the Fund’s efforts to catalyze economic inclusion, opportunities, and mobility for immigrants and refugees in the United States and Canada. As part of her role, Nomzana works closely with the Echoing Green team to shepherd the two organizations’ partnership, the Racial Equity and Immigrant Justice Initiative.

We chatted with Nomzana about her experiences in the social impact sector as a racial equity and intersectional justice leader. Check out our conversation below!

Can you tell us about the mission and work of the World Education Services Mariam Assefa Fund?

World Education Services is a 50-year-old social enterprise dedicated to helping international students, immigrants, and refugees achieve their educational and career goals in the United States and Canada. The Mariam Assefa Fund is WES’s philanthropic arm whose north star is to advance economic and social inclusion so that immigrants and refugees can achieve their aspirations and thrive.

Last year, we joined forces to launch our Racial Equity and Immigrant Justice Initiative. How does being a leader in the social innovation ecosystem help achieve the goals of the Fund?

The Fund aims to practice trust-based philanthropy and use participatory approaches, which has enabled us to build a community of partners where over 50% of the organizations are BIPOC-, immigrant-, and/or women-led. Joining the Echoing Green and social innovation ecosystem not only embodies one of WES’ core strategies, which is to lead as a social enterprise, but it also gives WES the chance to continue our trust-based approach by meeting and engaging with social innovators who best represent and know what their communities’ needs are. Echoing Green has selected proven social innovators throughout its history so partnering with the organization through the Racial Equity Philanthropic Fund meant bringing us closer to issues and solutions operating at the intersection of immigration and race.

You recently served as a judge during Finalist Interviews for the Echoing Green Fellowship. What is it like being in those rooms and meeting global change-makers?

I was immediately impressed with the caliber of selected global change-makers and instantly felt that it would be a hard job to make final decisions. Each change-maker demonstrated leadership and expertise, brought lived experience, and knew what they were talking about. Whether they ended up as a finalist or not, I trust that they will continue being movers and shakers—wherever they go.

Through our partnership, we’re tackling systemic injustice at the intersection of race and immigration. Can you share some insights into why intersections and nuance matter when it comes to closing opportunity gaps? What can funders do to elevate the experiences of those with intersections of identity?

Solutions that address intersectional identities increase the chances of solving the problems faced by those most marginalized. In this instance, we are looking at the intersection of race and immigration, where people of color are disenfranchised due to systemic racism while immigrants experience xenophobia—especially xenophobia that is systemic and hinders them from thriving in their new communities and economies. Through this partnership with Echoing Green, WES aims to support solutions that close the opportunity gap for intersectional immigrants of color who might find it harder to achieve opportunity, wealth, power, and/or justice – WES’s four funding pillars.

Some of the solutions we’ll be supporting will address these pillars and include wealth building, language access, legal support, and other solutions that are critical to tackling issues at the intersection of race and immigration. However, funding is not enough. Funders should also make it a responsibility to tell the stories of those with intersectional identities. This storytelling can ultimately bring about a narrative change and influence the funding landscape. This can allow other funders to become more aware of and comfortable with those nuances, as opposed to treating them as strange anomalies that they likely will not fund because it goes against their traditional philanthropic ways and pattern matching.

According to a recent analysis of Candid data, only 1.3% of foundation funding for immigrants and refugees goes to Black migrant communities—even though Black immigrants are the fastest-growing segment of the immigrant population in the U.S. How can philanthropy address the historic underinvestment in Black migrant communities?

It is appalling that only 1.3% of funding goes to Black migrant communities and yet this community experiences higher effects of anti-Blackness, systemic racism, xenophobia, disenfranchisement, and more. These experiences do not only occur in the U.S. but sometimes in the countries where Black migrants originate from. Therefore, beyond increasing the percentage of funding that goes into Black migrant communities, philanthropy can do two things: 1) Hire and retain Black migrants with lived experience into roles in philanthropy because they best understand the problems these communities face and can connect with and fund the most pressing solutions, and 2) Connect with and support Black migrant community organizers and leaders who are doing the work, where support might look like trust-based philanthropy, participatory grantmaking, policy changes, in-kind support, mental health training and care, and other ways. Black people, including Black migrants, are not a monolith, so the solutions being applied must take an intersectional approach. Until Black migrants, and Black people in general, are made a priority, then even those who are non-Black and still face systemic exclusion will not see justice, as the systems are not changing to affect those most marginalized. Investments in Black migrant communities improve the systems they engage with, which can benefit other migrants of color too.

Can you share some highlights from the partnership so far?

In just a year, the WES and Echoing Green teams have already shared many joyful experiences and milestones through the partnership. Most recently, in early December, WES staff met and greeted the first batch of selected Fellows and some alumni, including the founders of Aliento and Tarjimly, who WES have previously engaged outside the partnership. The session not only highlighted the solutions being supported, but WES staff got to connect one-on-one with the change-makers, learning about their personal and professional experiences. Earlier in the year, the partnership also opened up volunteer opportunities for WES staff to sign up and review Fellowship applications. Lastly, it was such a pleasure to host Cheryl in March 2022 at the WES Speaker Series, where she inspired many WES colleagues with her personal and professional journey. It was also an honor to join my fellow WES colleagues and invite some of our other partners to this year’s Big Bold Benefit, reminding us of Echoing Green’s global impact.

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