Support for Refugee and Immigrant Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley

Immigrants are nearly twice as likely to become entrepreneurs as native-born U.S. citizens[1]. A community initiative in Silicon Valley is now engaging the immigrant and refugee entrepreneurial spirit through a program focused on supporting potential new business founders.

The Pars Equality Center created the Pars Entrepreneurship Program as a response to a forum that it held; where newly-arrived refugees were invited to hear the stories of successful Iranian-Americans. Participants began asking for more tools, mentors, and practical advice on starting businesses.

Just a couple of years after it started, the Pars Entrepreneurship Program has already become wildly popular, shared Ellie Derakhshesh-Clelland, the Senior Director of Social Services at the Pars Equality Center. Shortly after creating an Entrepreneurship Program page on Facebook, the page had more than 3,000 followers. “That by itself is an indication of what a huge need there is for a program like this,” said Ellie.

“We sat down and brainstormed with aspiring entrepreneurs for about three months to find out what their needs were,” said Ellie.

The outcome is that Pars Equality Center now hosts bi-weekly meetings featuring experts and business founders who lead roundtable discussions about particular entrepreneurship topics. Topics range from how to incorporate a company to sales planning and fundraising. The group is currently at capacity, with some 50 refugees and immigrants who have been in the U.S. for 3 – 7 years in regular attendance. In addition, a group of mentors is available for individual questions outside of the larger group meetings. Pars Equality Center staff have been successful in finding subject experts and mentors through their personal networks and LinkedIn searches.

Although the group is diverse in age and professional background, one commonality is that “they all have an entrepreneurial mindset,” said Ellie. “They came to Silicon Valley with the hope of starting their own company.”

Twelve entrepreneurial initiatives, all tech-based, have blossomed since the program began. Participants practiced describing their business concepts at a recent Pitch Day event, where investors and advisors were invited to provide feedback. From there, eight participants were selected to take part in a meeting with a capital venture firm and three vendors. Ellie said that although investors expected young refugees and immigrants would need a lot of guidance, they were “in awe of their talent” and also learned new ideas from the entrepreneurs.

The Pars Equality Center is a community-based social and legal organization that focuses on integration of Iranian-Americans, immigrants and refugees.

Written by Carrie Thiele.

[1] https://hbr.org/2016/10/why-are-immigrants-more-entrepreneurial

Volunteer Engagement

8 Ways Volunteers Can Support Refugee Employment 

hs-245-laura-1Guest post by Laura Griffin, Program Coordinator for Volunteerism at LIRS 

We all know the feeling of not having enough hours in the day. One way to stretch your ability to serve refugee clients is to make volunteer support a core part of your employment program. 

A few weeks ago, I sat down with dozens of people from refugee employment programs around the country to ask: How do volunteers and interns support your work?

Here are 8 Ways to Leverage Volunteer Support for Refugee Employment:

1. One-on-One Job Readiness Support 

Volunteers can sit down with individual clients to practice for interviews, edit resumes, fill out job applications, and/or practice skills like how to use the computer to search for jobs.

2. Guest Speakers and Experts

Bring in volunteers as guest speakers from relevant fields (like IT) to talk with clients about the skills employers in their industry look for in job applicants.

3. Support for Highly Skilled Clients

Volunteers can provide individualized job readiness and placement assistance to highly skilled refugee clients.

4. Mentoringmentoring

Mentoring can focus on advanced job readiness training or industry-specific mentoring. If you are interested in designing a mentoring program to assist refugees with long-term career planning, see the free LIRS Guide for Employment Mentoring.

5. Assist with Job Development

Volunteers can help establish employer leads through community outreach, targeted calling and online searching. One participant shared that they have volunteers research job opportunities and send initial emails to potential employers to start the conversation.

6. Increase Access to Service

Volunteers can help enable clients to access employment services by providing rides or offering child care during job readiness classes.

7. Career Fairs 

Have volunteers take clients to career fairs and help them follow up with potential job leads

8. Case Support and Service Plans 

While it can seem a bit daunting, many participants shared success stories of having interns and star volunteers manage cases and design service plans.

How do you leverage volunteers and interns?  Leave a comment below or contact us if you use volunteers and interns to support your refugee employment programs.

Related: Additional Employment Volunteer Resources, New Collection of Employment Volunteer Resources

Study Confirms Mentoring Works

Mentoring Study HighlightAcross the country, mentoring programs are an increasingly common strategy to boost employment outcome and client success.  Some programs target new arrivals.  Others focus on clients ready for job upgrades or professional recertification.

A 2013 Canadian study of a mentoring initiative targeting newly arrived immigrant professionals offers evidence to support what we already believe.  Mentoring really works.  In the 12 months of the study, participants working in their professional fields went from 17% to 71%.  Incomes, employment and full-time employment also rose significantly.   Download the full report on our website.

ALLIES (Assisting Local Leaders with Immigrant Employment Strategies) is a project jointly funded by Maytree and The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation. ALLIES supports local efforts in Canadian cities to successfully adapt and implement programs that further the suitable employment of skilled immigrants

Higher will continue to follow the progress of a very successful employment mentoring pilot project at Lutheran Refugee Services of Lancaster, PA, which will be replicated in a few more sites over the next year.  The current issue of Higher’s newsletter, just released yesterday, highlights another great example from USCCB Affiliate Catholic Charities Maine in Portland.  If you missed it, click here for a link to the article.

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving on Eastern Avenue

Thanks to Christina Caspersen and Helen DeKorne from IRC Baltimore, MD for the pictures and write-up.

On Saturday, November 16th, the Baltimore Orientation Center was busy.  Seven long tables were set up inside, each covered in brightly colored African cloth and countless drawings of turkeys.  Over a hundred people sat together at these tables to eat a meal of ham, sweet potatoes, 36 pounds of turkey, and fried noodles made in the Burmese style.

Recipes originated from Darfur, New Jersey, Nigeria, Bhutan and Pennsylvania Dutch country.  It was an early Thanksgiving celebration for all of the families and individuals who participate in the mentoring programs at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Baltimore City Community College’s Refugee Youth Project.  There are currently 73 Family, Employment and Youth mentors, volunteers from the Baltimore community who are paired with refugees arriving from all over the world to restart their lives in America.

Some of the refugee families at the dinner on Saturday were living in camps in Rwanda and Uganda less than two months ago.  Other families have been in Baltimore for a year or two already. For many, Saturday was their first taste of Thanksgiving.  There were mixed feelings about the stuffing.

Before the meal started, people shared what they were thankful for.  “Family,” “neighbors,” “friends and food” different individuals called out. “Life” shouted an excited eight year old, and the teenage girl sitting across from him nodded her head and said, “Yes, to be alive every day.”

When the room got too warm, groups of people spilled out onto the sidewalk along Eastern Avenue, adding their conversation to the sounds of traffic and Baltimore on a Saturday night. Two determined Congolese toddlers made their way through a sea of legs to find the pumpkin pie, whipped cream, and giant platter of Greek cake called halva at the end of the meal.

It feels great when I get a response to a posted request! And, I’ll join this great employment mentoring program tomorrow with my first clients (from Bhutan). Stay tuned for updates about another successful mentoring program connecting our clients to community through employment.

Update: Lancaster, PA’s Employment Mentoring Pilot Project

A lot has been happening in the Lancaster, PA employment mentoring pilot program we’ve highlighted in previous posts.  Eight months into an initial one year pilot, the third group of 12 more refugee-mentor pairs is being finalized to reach a total of 30 teams.  Here are a few stories and valuable lessons learned through our ongoing partnership with Lutheran Refugee Services (LRS) of Lancaster, PA and LIRS.  The project seeks to deepen refugee social integration through employment-focused mentoring.Mentoring snip one

Job shadowing, community college orientations and informational interviews are just a few of the opportunities being generated through the program.

One mentee has been preapproved for a home loan and is going through the learning experience of buying a home with the help of his mentor.

All of the refugees participMentoring Khem and Alating in the program are gaining community ties, opportunities to practice English and confidence in their ability to engage and interact with their new communities.

For example, Khem and Pramila Subedi and Khem’s mentor Al Duncan, CEO of Thomas E. Strauss, Inc. attended a recent LIRS Board Meeting to talk about their mentoring experience.  (See their photo at left.)  Khem says that through his participation in the mentor program, “I am getting wider every day.”  Al feels that mentoring is a common and valuable experience in our country and it’s not so different to involve refugees.

It’s hard to capture in writing the energy and motivation present in the room whenever the teams get together, as they did this past Saturday to discuss an important lesson learmentor snip twoned so far.

The initial thinking was that each pair would follow a very unique path based on the opportunities available to work towards achieving specific career goals.  Computer skills, advanced ESL and the ability to access additional education and training suggest the need for some common resources and steps to achieving any individual career goals.

At Saturday’s meeting, mentor outreach consultant Ellen Willenbecher provided all of the mentors with a packet listing resources already available in the community.  That helps create space to leverage more

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of the unique skills mentors can offer.  For example, mentor Angela Harnish, an ESL instructor at the University of Delaware, offered a workshop on easy strategies for working on accent reduction.  The room was packed with refugee mentees and their friends and families (See photo at left.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second Group of Mentors and Refugees Starts to Work in Lancaster, PA

Lancaster Mentoring Collage resize

Higher is partnering with Lutheran Refugee Service in Lancaster, PA in an exciting pilot project that will  help a growing number of refugees pursue their career goals, find a job upgrade and expand their community networks.  These pictures are from last week’s second cohort kick-off and orientation that started an additional seven partnerships off to a great start.  Read more about this innovative partnership in a recent Lancaster Online article, which motivated all seven of the mentors in the second group to get involved.

Khem Subedi, a Bhutanese refugee who was featured in the article, is now joined by his wife Pramila (in the beautiful green sari in the collage).  Follow the progress of Khem, Pramila, their mentors and the rest of the group by subscribing to Higher’s blog.   We’ll also be sharing what we learn so that others can help refugees deepen their community connections and professional success through mentoring.