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A Movement for Refugee Leadership

Philanthropy can invigorate our democracy by investing in this practice

As tens of thousands of Afghans have been forced to flee their country over the last few months, I’ve been listening to Afghans in the United States, worrying both for their families in Afghanistan and for new arrivals now facing an uncertain future. Their stories are often similar to my own, when—due to my husband’s work as an interpreter for the U.S. military—I fled Iraq in 2010, in the middle of the night with my husband and 1-year-old daughter. Thankfully, there has been an outpouring of support for resettling Afghan refugees, from faith-based communities and veteran groups to companies like Airbnb and others. Because the previous administration worked to dismantle the U.S. refugee resettlement system—admitting fewer than 12,000 refugees in 2020, compared to nearly 85,000 in 2016—local programs that provide medical care, trauma support, housing, and other services to refugees who settle here must be rebuilt. But we also must look long-term.

During my time being resettled in the U.S., and in the years since—as national campaign manager for We Are All America, and as a refugee advocate—I’ve learned that becoming civically engaged in the communities refugees will live in is key to their long-term success. When we provide opportunities for refugees to become civically engaged and realize their potential as leaders, it not only cultivates a sense of belonging and agency over their lives, but it contributes to positive changes that benefit all of us. For those who are committed to creating a more just and vibrant society, we need to engage refugees and invest in their leadership and civic engagement.

A Growing Movement to Support Refugee Leadership

Our new campaign at We Are All America, “Opportunity for All,” will provide a year-long leadership development training program for a cohort of refugee leaders, including former refugees from Afghanistan. We Are All America is one of a growing number of organizations that have developed similar programs to help refugees gain a sense of belonging, to naturalize and vote and to become active participants and community change-makers. While programs in leadership and civic participation vary widely in their scale and approaches, they all share core components: storytelling, civic engagement, racial justice and advocacy. By engaging with the U.S. system of government, refugee leaders not only learn how they can influence local and national policymaking, but they become advocates for themselves, and for each other.

Please select this link to read the complete article from SSIR.

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