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Refugee Voices Peer Network

We seek to develop and test a platform for former refugees to serve as mentors and social networks to recent arrivals in two US locations.

Photo of Jessica Kirk-Bowman
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Each year, the US government determines the number of refugees who can be permanently settled to the country and manages their admission process. After their arrival, non-profit organizations, including the International Rescue Committee (IRC), help refugees to integrate by finding housing, learning English, applying for jobs, accessing transportation, and enrolling in school. Aside from this initial assistance, social networks are critical for long-term success (e.g., in career development, educational attainment, and achieving other personal goals). However, by the very nature of being newcomers, most newly arrived refugees lack these connections. This project would identify former refugees who are willing to serve as resources to newer arrivals, either on a one-time basis for specific topics (e.g., accessing jobs in a particular field or purchasing a home) or for a sustained period of time. This interaction could take place either in-person or virtually (phone or online). In two US cities where IRC works, our staff would recruit mentors from among our former clients and the broader former refugee community. Staff would also identify those refugees who are interested in and could benefit from mentorship support and pair them with mentors. This mentorship would be mutually beneficial as mentees gain culturally-competent peer support and mentors gain experience as community leaders through sharing their experience with others and creating social bonds. In the first year, each project site would aim to make 15 pairings, including a mix of one-time and ongoing pairings. This need and desire for establishing connections between refugees at different stages of their experience emerged from conversations with former refugee staff and community participants in IRC’s Refugee Voices initiative, which is outlined below. The benefit of connecting with someone whose lived experience reflects your own as you both navigate new territory is something to which all can relate.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Abilene, Texas and Salt Lake City, Utah. These two communities already have established communities of former refugees, ongoing resettlement of refugees, and thriving receiving communities. IRC offices in both locations have mentorship program infrastructure, experience, and networks that could be adapted for the purposes of piloting this program. Piloting this program in two communities would provide learnings on program feasibility in different contexts.

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)

Social bonds and bridges are critical for newcomers. Current evidence suggests that programs using community liaisons, usually members of the refugee community who have adapted to the receiving community, may be successful at building social bridges between the receiving community and new arrivals. Additional evidence indicates that linking existing entities or networks with new arrivals may be a successful approach to building social bridges and fostering mutual understanding and inclusion.

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

Refugees who settle in the US are afforded a chance to create a new life, free from fear and persecution. These newcomers work hard to start over in their adoptive country. The opportunity to be connected with someone who has been in their shoes and can coach them through challenging transitions can foster hope for what the future can bring in their new home. Additionally, refugees arrive with rich backgrounds and experiences in their home countries and countries of transit. It takes incredible strength and resilience to create a new life in a new country, and others can learn from their valuable experiences. Being viewed as a leader in one’s own right and recognized for the contributions one makes is a dignifying experience. Having the opportunity to serve in a meaningful leadership role in one’s community and country while “paying it forward” to others and making new connections can also foster joy and a sense of personal fulfillment.

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

Communities thrive when everyone has the ability to harness their full potential. This idea harnesses the strengths and experiences of former refugees to support other refugees as they establish new lives in their new homes. In turn, the mentees become better equipped to navigate the systems and networks needed to succeed in the US. Currently, these types of peer support opportunities tend to be ad hoc and vary by program. This project would provide a structure and a platform that can be tested for national expansion across programs. IRC will track the project’s impact by conducting short pre- and post-assessments for mentorship pairings. For shorter interventions (one-time conversations about a specific issue), IRC staff will do brief (1-2 questions) follow-up outreach to assess whether and how the connection helped address the issue. IRC will also assess the difference between in-person and virtual connections, and between this peer mentorship model and other mentorship programs.

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

IRC launched Refugee Voices in 2018, a platform for former refugees to advocate, tell their story, volunteer, or take actions to support refugees and refugee programs in the US. The platform is open to all resettled refugees, Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders, asylees, parolees, and other displaced persons. As part of the launch, IRC conducted a survey of its US staff. Of the 46 respondents who self-identified as a former refugee, 91% indicated the reason they would join Refugee Voices is to “give back,” and nearly 75% indicated interest in sharing their story. Ten launch events around the country gathered further feedback from former refugees about the initiative. IRC continues to develop programming in response to this feedback, local and national engagements, and an Advisory Committee comprised of former refugees. Aside from training in effective storytelling and cultivating local leadership, a recurring theme is a desire to help other newcomers navigate their new communities.

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

In Abilene, Texas, IRC has been resettling refugees since 2004; since then, over 150 clients have purchased a home, and 11 have started their own business. In FY18, the office resettled 116 individuals, and over 100 community volunteers and interns helped to welcome refugees in 2018. IRC has been working in Salt Lake City, Utah for over 25 years, resettling 257 in just the last year. Since 1994, IRC and community partners have welcomed over 11,500 refugees and served thousands more through innovative programs designed to empower new arrivals to prosper and create stable families as they integrate into the community. In 2018, the office helped over 500 refugees become US Citizens and helped hundreds more to build assets, purchase homes, and start small businesses—all made possible with the help of over 2,000 volunteers and interns a year. Both communities have strong engagement from the host community, a thriving network of refugee leaders, and supportive environments for integration.

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

IRC Abilene has experience and an infrastructure for mentorship programs, including a family mentorship program that pairs refugees with US-born mentors and a newer youth mentorship program focused on out-of-school youth. Also, in 2018, the office launched a refugee leadership development program, LEAD, that equips former refugees with the knowledge and connections to further contribute to Abilene and serve others in the refugee community. IRC Salt Lake City also has a vibrant family mentorship program that would serve as a strong foundation for testing this innovation. Annually, the office matches 50 family mentors offering assistance and friendship to newly arrived refugees. The community has an active Ethnic Community Based Organization (ECBO) network that would be a strong asset for a peer mentorship model and a growing network of former refugees who are seeking opportunities to give back to other refugees through education, training, and mentorship.

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

The primary project implementation team will include the leadership and staff of the two site locations, the support of IRC’s national community engagement focal point, and the input of the Refugee Voices Advisory Committee. The Committee is a group that convenes monthly to exchange ideas, give feedback on the Refugee Voices initiative, and help shape its direction. The teams will also be able to collaborate with IRC colleagues who have expertise in volunteer management and evaluation. Locally, IRC will work with its pre-established relationships with local refugee leaders such as faith leaders, business leaders, ECBO leaders, and other community members to implement the project. Additionally, IRC will explore whether to create our own platform and internal system for assessing mentorship interest and making connections or to find a third-party platform to adapt for this purpose.

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

  • Prototype: We have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Group or Organization Name

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

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

Founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein, the IRC offers lifesaving care and life-changing assistance to refugees forced to flee from war or disaster. At work today in 40 countries and 24 U.S. cities, we restore safety, dignity, and hope to millions who are uprooted. In the US, the IRC is the first connection for many refugees fleeing conflict. Through case management, employment, youth, and cultural integration programming, the IRC’s local offices assist refugees to understand their new home, become self-sufficient, and connect with their new communities. All of the IRC’s U.S. offices work to build stronger host communities to integrate refugees into all aspects of society. Services offered at the IRC’s 24 local offices align with each office’s local strategic action plan with defined outcomes in mind. These plans take the needs of the local refugee population, as well as the needs of the community at large, into consideration to build stronger, more resilient communities.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States

Organization Headquarters: City / State

New York City, NY

In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

1. In measuring the impact of these mentorship and peer network pairings for mentors/mentees, comparing the in-person vs. online experience, and comparing a peer mentorship model vs. a more traditional mentorship between refugees and the receiving community; how do we achieve our evaluation goals in a realistic and light touch way while still capturing the data? 2. How can we best find or create and manage a low-cost tech platform for virtual mentorship and peer network interactions? 3. How do we create mentorship pairings that span cultures while still considering language differences?
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Attachments (2)

IRC SLC 25 Years.mp4

IRC celebrating 25 years of welcome in Salt Lake City

Evidence Summary - Social Bonds and Bridges.pdf

What works to help refugees build social bonds and bridges.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Bremley Lyngdoh

These are my last 3 sets of important questions for you and your team before the final review stage begins.

Can you please list 3 bullet points - just one line each - short and sweet of what feedback you got from your mentor on your idea?
Can you please list 3 bullet points - just one line each - short and sweet of what feedback you got from your user on your idea?
Can you please list 3 bullet points - just one line each - short and sweet of what feedback you got from your expert on your idea?

Photo of Jessica Kirk-Bowman

Hi Bremley Lyngdoh thank you for the final set of questions to answer. I do want to ask where we might expect to receive expert feedback? I know we were expecting to receive it by today and want to ensure that we're looking for our expert feedback in the correct area on the application.

Many Thanks!

Nancy Dinh Kristen Aster 

Photo of Nancy Dinh

Thank you, Bremley Lyngdoh . Now that we have received our expert feedback, we are happy to respond to your questions in full. The team also looks forward to sharing the remaining final responses on Monday!

Feedback from our mentor Pav . :
1. We can increase program awareness by utilizing our existing infrastructure (e.g., our organization's website and external communications platforms).
2. For virtual mentorship and peer network interactions, we should explore tech platforms that are as universal and accessible as possible (e.g., WhatsApp).
3. Having a mentor will greatly help newcomers celebrate small victories along their journey to create new lives in a new country, which can be daunting.

Feedback from our users:
1. Users found in-person mentorship to be more effective than online mentorship, and in-person mentorship is especially beneficial for establishing initial trust.
2. This idea will be important and necessary for social integration, acquiring basic everyday knowledge, and learning more about American culture.
3. Unrealistic expectations might be common, and we need to manage these from the start. It is important to be mindful of the needs and capacity of both mentors and mentees.

Feedback from our experts Maryan Abdinur and Itika Gupta :
1. We should think through some of the more informal feedback mechanisms like a brief check-in with participants, and we should value participants' mutual definition of success.
2. Our focus should primarily be on in-person engagement, building the relationship, and--like our mentor recommended--using everyday, accessible tech platforms for virtual mentorship interactions.
3. Pairings based on shared language may seem the most logical initially, but we should also consider ways to create opportunities for all mentors and mentees to come together if there is a cohort.

Jessica Kirk-Bowman Kristen Aster 

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