All communities experience immigration. No question whether it will occur, just when and how much. Some of us arrived as immigrants ourselves to a new nation; the rest of us descended from ancestors who came from somewhere else, to settle in a land still pristine or already inhabited.
Political events, economics, wars, environmental changes, and other events cause people to move, voluntarily and involuntarily. Worldwide trends suggest that immigration will continue on a major scale, with implications for nations and for their constituent regions and communities. Since 1990, the immigrant population in the United States has doubled; in Minnesota during that same period, the immigrant population quadrupled.
Speaking for Ourselves study
Using newly gathered information from the Wilder Research “Speaking for Ourselves” study, in combination with data from Minnesota Compass, Nicole MartinRogers, Ryan Evans, and I contributed an article to The FoundationReview to offer foundations around the world a bit of insight in deciding how best to partner with immigrant-led and immigrant-serving organizations. We sought to identify some of the benefits and the challenges that immigration brings to communities.
This research can help support foundations and their grantees to understand how to improve a community’s quality of life for immigrants and refugees – to the benefit of all residents. By understanding demographic trends and cultural nuances, organizations can increase awareness, access, and trust among immigrants and refugees, and can influence public policy.
“Speaking for Ourselves” is a community-based effort that looked at the experiences of Hmong, Karen, Latino, Liberian, and Somali immigrants and refugees living in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region of Minnesota. We collaborated with an advisory group for the study, comprised of individuals from these five cultural communities as well as professionals in organizations of many types that serve immigrants and refugees.
The results of the research suggest focal points for foundation grantmaking, for example: support for secondary refugees; early childhood education; postsecondary education and employment training; long-term care planning; and capacity building.
Tips for foundations working with immigrant populations
But perhaps more importantly, the research suggests attributes of an effective style for foundations to work with immigrant populations. We made three recommendations in this regard.
First, foundations, along with any other organizations intending to provide resources to immigrant communities, should take a balanced approach. They should consider needs as well as strengths. Funders should determine whether an immigrant community itself considers something a need, and if so, they should explore together whether that community’s cultural assets and other resilience factors might constitute part of an optimal solution in the eyes of both the funders and the community.
Second, funders should work with immigrant communities in an authentically collaborative manner – ensuring that the presumed beneficiaries of an initiative actually participate in defining the benefits. We encourage a judicious start to any new initiative within a cultural community, with full appreciation of the time and resources necessary to cultivate community engagement and collaboration. Flexibility, willingness to revise plans and start over, and openness to working jointly constitute characteristics of successful efforts.
Third, funders should beware of providing funding to organizations unless those organizations have made a special effort to understand and respond to the specific needs and preferences of the cultural communities they seek to serve. Funders should insist that potential grantees enlist the participation of cultural communities in the design of proposed programs, including collaboration in the adaptation of existing program models to fit a new context. Attempts to adapt an existing program to fit different cultural communities should consider language (oral, written, both formal and casual), values, customs, and the suitability of the program’s goals and methods, along with other features that affect the transferability of the program from one culture to another.
Some insights useful for all of us who want to strengthen our communities, regardless of whether or not we do grantmaking.