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Refugee Advisory Councils (RAC) Initiative

The RAC initiative aims to harness the contributions and lift the voices of refugees to better provide services to refugees nationwide.

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

The number of displaced individuals worldwide is at an all-time high at around 70 million. It is on the news almost daily – refugees and immigrants fleeing persecution. However, less than .25% of all refugees get the opportunity to be resettled in another country. Following these often-traumatic migration experiences and upon resettlement they face challenges such as low socioeconomic status, discrimination, and difficulty adjusting to their new lives. They arrive full of hopes and aspirations for the future – but shortly after they face the weight of managing new responsibilities in an unfamiliar setting, hindering integration and negatively impacting social and emotional well-being. While these populations need holistic, long-term support, resettlement agencies are largely constrained by limited funding, funder restrictions, and finite insights from pre-existing practices when designing policy, protocols, and programs. Refugee voices and direct feedback from clients are often absent from planning discussions, limiting the potential efficacy of future programming and causing discrepancies between the services refugees need versus receive. To address this issue and ensure services fully meet client needs, the U.S. Committee for Refugee and Immigrants (USCRI) seeks to launch the Refugee Advisory Councils (RAC) initiative. RACs will form a nation-wide network of current and former USCRI clients in partnership with 34 local resettlement sites in USCRI’s network. As self-governing bodies, RACs will convene regularly to transform insights into actionable recommendations locally, ultimately advising USCRI’s programming nationally. Recommendations will catalyze change that can be incorporated into policy, protocols, and programming nationwide to ultimately better serve clients and their families. Finally, RACs will elevate refugee voices by incorporating them into the system created to serve them, creating a platform through which refugees can advocate for themselves.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

RACs will target 34 communities in 22 US states, based on network sites. RACs will include refugees, asylees, trafficking survivors, Iraqi employed by US military, and other immigrants served by USCRI. They will include a diverse array by age, gender, and national origin. This will ensure a diverse set of people are able to offer insights on improving services, elevate the voices of their communities and gain leadership skills, including women, seniors, LGBT and others not otherwise heard.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

The RAC initiative functions as a cycle of empowerment, building bridges among refugees and immigrants of different backgrounds, as well as between resettlement and receiving communities. Resettlement is often a one-directional relationship, with no opportunity for refugees to give back or invest in their new community. RACs will create a formal and equitable relationship between clients and service providers, so that each shares a role in the economic and social viability of their surroundings.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

USCRI network sites work hard to provide for the basic needs of clients by ensuring adequate housing, access to health and social services, job opportunities, and overall case management for the foreign-born. The RAC initiative supplements these efforts by providing for less tangible human needs: to know that your voice matters, that the wisdom gained from lived experience is of value to the community, and that one can be empowered to affect change in the systems that serve us. As vehicles of empowerment, RACs will function as independent, self-governing bodies, responsible for directing their activities and defining the scope of their relationships. The RAC initiative provides members with networking opportunities, community outreach events, the potential to support local agency activities, and ultimately a national voice. Through directly affecting change, refugees are able to feel a greater sense of purpose and are empowered as individuals and within their communities.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

RACs offer refugees and other displaced individuals the opportunity to translate their experiences into transformative resources for resettlement policy and practice, fostering individual and collective agency. RACs provide a structured, collective body through which the resettled can advocate for themselves and build bridges with receiving communities by hosting events, sharing cultural traditions, and community activities. This will enhance the capabilities of resettlement service providers and strengthen receiving communities. RACs will constitute stable avenues for current and former clients to remain connected with USCRI and engaged with the broader community. Positive changes will continue emerging as RAC recommendations feed into programs and policy, creating the best possible resettlement experience for newly arrived refugees. Lastly, RACs will help receiving communities recognize the potential of refugees, contributing to the shift toward a more open and welcoming society.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

The inspiration for this initiative comes directly from USCRI’s clients. For over 100 years, USCRI has had the privilege to learn from the clients it serves. However, resources to get client-feedback, or implement changes based on client insights have traditionally been limited. Last year, USCRI implemented its first national beneficiary feedback survey. USCRI surveyed about 430 individuals who arrived in 2017 to assess their integration within their new city, and the quality of USCRI services. Results highlighted a need for a greater role of client feedback. While clients have been largely satisfied, there is a desire from them to be able to become valued neighbors and active participants in the resettlement experience. This feedback was the catalyst for the RAC initiative; to assure clients have a greater voice in the resettlement process and that their feedback is not limited to an annual point in time measure for headquarters.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

USCRI is there: at the airport, helping furnish new homes, enrolling children in school, and finding work. However, clients are required to be self-sufficient within 3-6 months. So, refugees commonly work long hours in entry level positions, with little time to engage with their neighbors. The pressures to learn English, adapt to a new culture, and process often-traumatic experiences require all-in support from receiving communities, leaving refugees feeling like a burden. And, as global conflicts evolve, the demographics of resettled refugees change, as do their needs. This constant evolution leads to a rich diversity of individuals within a small geographic area. Immigrants build strong community ties with refugees of a similar background, but often have no connection to prior waves of immigrants, or the overall receiving community. The RAC initiative helps these diverse communities find a common voice to empower themselves, while striving for improvements in the greater safety-net.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

USCRI and its network sites have a longstanding history of serving refugee and immigrant populations, maintaining deep ties and serving as hubs for community engagement and activity. Former clients often drop in for hellos, sharing news of weddings, babies, and jobs. Many current and former clients are already active members of their communities, and the RACs will provide a consistent platform for continued engagement and diverse voices, brought together by a shared experience of resettlement and a desire to support newcomers, service providers, and the community at large. Targeting a population facing the myriad challenges that come with migration and integration, the RAC initiative situates community wisdom at the center of its mission, celebrating the resilience of these groups and recognizing their expertise on the resettlement experience. This initiative, by using this insight, targets change in the system as a whole, positively impacting refugee lives for generations to come.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

USCRI will implement this initiative alongside its 34 network sites. The initial project structure is being led by USCRI headquarters in consultation with local sites and clients. The initial roll-out will occur in 6 agency sites in Chicago, IL; Buffalo, NY; Colchester, VT; Erie, PA; Providence, RI; and Twin Falls, ID. These sites have been selected to include a balance of rural and urban areas, welcoming and more neutral receiving communities, and resettlement agencies with a strong, historical footprint in the larger safety-net as well as smaller organizations serving only refugees. Following the first year, RACs will be rolled out in the remaining 28 communities across Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Iowa, New York, Kentucky, Connecticut, California, New Jersey, Texas, Missouri, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Florida, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Minnesota.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

U.S Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Since 1911, USCRI has worked to protect the rights and address the needs of migrating people worldwide. USCRI provides resources for self-sufficiency to refugee and immigrant populations throughout its nationwide network of field offices and partner sites. Annually, thousands rely on the support and community cooperation provided to adjust to life in the U.S., learn new skills, and give back to their communities. Currently, USCRI provides resettlement services and an array of support programs for refugee families. Its staff are trained to provide linguistically and culturally appropriate services, and many network sites engage with former clients by hiring or enlisting them as staff, volunteers, mentors, etc. The RAC initiative advances USCRI’s mission to meet the needs and support the integration of refugees and immigrants by building its operational and programming strategies upon an informed foundation of respect for the knowledge and experience of the individuals it serves.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States of America

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Arlington, VA


Join the conversation:

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Is your organization willing to collaborate with other social organizations using new technology in order to make the most positive impact possible around the world with our combined innovations?

Photo of Loren Schmidt

USCRI is always eager to form new partnerships, however has already started to secure partnerships for this initiative.

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