This project seeks to establish a baseline of information concerning the current activities and capacity of refugee mutual aid associations (MAAs) in Maine as well as best practices among MAAs nationwide. This baseline information will be used by Tufts/FIC and project partners the Maine Association for Nonprofits (MANP) and the State of Maine Office of Multicultural Affairs (MOMA) to create and deliver a series of comprehensive training programs for refugees designed to build peer networks, connect refugee participants to statewide funding, mentoring, and advocacy resources, and to build leadership and organizational capacity within the refugee communities.
Tufts/FIC has been conducting research with Somali and Sudanese refugee groups in Maine since 1998 in order to better understand the relationship between this diaspora and their home country communities.
While MAAs are well equipped to recognize the needs of their communities, they lack the organizational knowledge and skills necessary to work effectively within the structure of their new environment. As a result, many MAAs struggle to build their organizational capacity, develop sustainable programs, and launch community-based initiatives that will enhance the livelihoods of their constituents. This is due to the fluctuating nature of refugee communities (people are on the move, leadership changes, and organizations collapse) as well as their limited extra-community networks.
This project is designed to gather information about the refugee communities, livelihood strategies, and MAA structure in Maine and to use this information to create capacity-building trainings or Learning Institutes. The project will generate organizational profiles from the interviews that will provide the basis for MANP’s Learning Institute curriculum as well as provide feedback to the CBOs.
The Learning Institutes are based on a weekend residential, cohort model, designed to build peer networks, connect participants to statewide funding, mentoring, advocacy resources, and to build leadership and organizational capacity through an experiential program that involves community leaders in identifying and overcoming organizational and professional challenges. The project will also evaluate the Learning Institutes and debrief participants so that lessons learned are incorporated into the curriculum on an ongoing basis.
The sponsor for this three-year project is the Department of State’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) as part of their ethnic community self-help priority area.
Key stakeholders and interested groups will be consulted throughout the study. These groups include Maine-based MAAs and key community members, the funding community in Maine, and other MAAs across the United States. A final report on the project’s findings will be prepared for distribution, as well as an article for a peer-reviewed scholarly publication.
This project will provide comprehensive training and direct support to refugee MAAs in Maine in order to develop and sustain their capacity. In addition, it is clear that mainstream service providers, funders, and state and federal government agencies are eager to learn more about these MAAs and how to support them. Therefore, the information that emerges from interviews, organizational profiles, and training evaluations is valuable for a range of practical purposes as well as for advancing our understanding of how refugee MAAs struggle to serve their communities and create bridges to the mainstream population.