Amplifying University-Community Voices: Collective Impact and Migration

By: Lisa Martinez, Professor, Department of Sociology and Criminology; Arianna Nowakowski, Assistant Professor, University College, Co-Leads of the DU Grand Challenges Collective Impact Migration Cohort

For over two years, the DU Grand Challenges Migration Cohort has been working towards their mission of improving the daily lives of migrants and refugees in the Denver metro area. The Cohort has worked toward this mission by focusing on advancing economic and educational opportunities for migrants and refugees in partnership with the World Trade Center (WTC) as well as social inclusion via collaborations with the Colorado Refugee Speakers Bureau (CRSB) and DU DialogUes.

A collaborative team comprised of DU faculty, staff, students, and partners at the World Trade Center Denver has sought to empower migrants and refugees to thrive in Denver metro communities by equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to operate their own small business, which frequently involves importing goods from their home country to sell in local markets. Drawing on the talents of experts in areas such as sales, marketing, finance, and law, the team designed a series of non-credit business development courses, offered through DU’s Center for Professional Development at University College, that lead students through the process of developing a business plan, handling finances, navigating legal pathways, and developing their brand. This initiative was “born from DU’s commitment to the public good coupled with WTC’s goal to bring prosperity to our local communities.” It aims to welcome migrants and refugees into Denver communities while also celebrating and expanding our global connections.

The other focal area, social inclusion, involves a team of DU faculty and staff with members of the Colorado Refugee Speakers Bureau, a local initiative that endeavors to “create connection and understanding between refugees and the receiving community in order to build a more inclusive, vibrant, and cohesive Colorado.” Given its emphasis on speaking and storytelling engagements, the collaboration between CRSB and DU DialogUes, an Inclusion and Equity Education program dedicated to “building skills and providing opportunities for positive interaction across difference”, seemed like a natural fit. As part of this collaboration, Cohort members will design a dialogue series slated for Spring 2021 that will bring together CRSB members and DU students. Not only will this series give participants an opportunity to dialogue across difference but it will also allow them to build relationships, increase understanding among people with intersectional identities, and allow them to reflect on their experiences individually and collectively while learning about identity, privilege, and oppression.

Ultimately, the goal of both collaborative efforts is to create educational and occupational opportunities, combat xenophobia, foster understanding across individuals with multiple identities, and work toward the social inclusion and sense of belonging among Denver’s migrant and refugee communities. In these ways, the Migration Cohort is working towards its mission of improving migrants’ and refugees’ daily lives.

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