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WeWork Reinforces Refugee Community's Economic Impact

Set against the backdrop of troubling national news, World Refugee Day is June 20


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​WeWork – a global coworking space and community-building platform with two office operations in Denver and a third on the way – hosted a panel and pop-up market Monday, June 18 at its Union Station location to kick off World Refugee Week. The programming followed a series of commitments the company has made to increase the diversity and inclusiveness of its workforce, specifically WeWork's Refugee Initiative, which led to the recent hiring of three refugees in Denver. 

The event featured Senator Steve Fenberg, refugee entrepreneurs, Special Immigrant Visa recipients and others, covering challenges and opportunities experienced by refugees on the road to reestablishing their lives in America, as well as the positive contributions of refugees on the business community and beyond. The program also acknowledged the 10-year anniversary of the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program, as more than 1,100 Afghans have made their way to Colorado over the last decade.

"WeWork's Refugee Initiative really resonates with me," says Tanya Nygaard, WeWork community director in Colorado. "Having grown up in the Middle East and Africa ... I know from experience just how hard it is to live in a place where you don't know the local language or culture. What helped me were strong, local connections that enabled me to learn and adapt."

A study released this May by the Colorado Department of Human Services, titled The Economic and Fiscal Impact of Refugees in Colorado, revealed that refugees bring more benefit to the economy than they receive. Highlights from the data include: 

  • For every $1 invested in refugee resettlement, $1.68 goes back into local and state tax revenue.
  • For every $1 a refugee earns, more than $$25 is generated.
  • Local and state governments earn $1.23 in tax revenue from refugees for every $1 the state spends on resettlement and support.

Colorado "can be pro-refugee and pro-local jobs," wrote Jerene Petersen, deputy executive director of community partnerships for CDHS, accompanying the report. The state "can provide assistance to refugee families and still desire to see a positive return on investment."

Despite the documented successes and benefits surrounding refugee resettlement programming, the number of refugees moving to the U.S. is on the decline, and that is reflected in Colorado, as well.

"Midway through the 2018 fiscal year, which ends in September, just 10,584 refugees were resettled to the United States," says Jennifer Wilson, director of the International Rescue Committee Denver. "By contrast 39,098 refugees were welcomed to the U.S. in the first half of the 2017 fiscal year – even with the slowdown on admissions due to the Trump Administration's refugee bans. This decline in refugee admissions represents a stark 73 percent year-over-year drop. In the face of these challenges, we stand steadfast in our commitment to serving refugees – those who newly arrived as well as those who have been in our community for sometime."

WeWork, which has a presence in 73 cities around the world, has pledged to hire, mentor and train 1,500 refugees in the next five years. The pilot program got off the ground in early 2017 in New York City when employees connected with a local office of the International Rescue Committee

Thus far, 150 jobs have been offered to men and women from more than 25 countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Tibet.

WeWork has also asked its network of 50,000-member brands to participate in its effort through direct hiring, resources and introductions.

In Denver, three new hires have emerged from WeWork's Refugee Initiative, including Masika KaKule, who settled in Denver nine months ago from her war-torn home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Upon arrival in the U.S., she could speak no English, but was able to communicate with Nygaard in French. 

"Each of our locations is home to anywhere from 800 to 1,500 members from small startups to Fortune 500 companies,"  Nygaard says "What ties them all together, however, is a shared choice to prioritize 'We' over 'Me' by electing to grow their businesses and passions within WeWork. This creates a strong community, and one that time and again has welcomed with open arms those like Masika ... [who] joined WeWork through our Refugee Initiative. So, there is a job, and a paycheck, yes. But there is also a new family and a chance to make a strange land a new home."

The company is testing programs to support advancement, as well, collaborating with a New York-based nonprofit, called Inclusion to offer coding classes.

A two-hour celebration will take place at the Colorado State Capitol Wednesday, June 20 at 10 a.m. for World Refugee Day.

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ColoradoBiz staff

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