What are you working on now?
I co-founded Open Avenues Foundation in June 2018 with the mission to equip and empower immigrants to thrive in the United States and to advance society. Our programs aim to change the narrative for immigrants in the U.S. Today, many non-profits in the immigration space provide critical resources and support to immigrant populations. Open Avenues Foundation is taking a different approach. We are flipping these models on their head and providing opportunities for immigrants to lead programs that contribute to success, growth, and innovation in American society. Through this model, we collect data and stories that prove the value of immigrants and demonstrate how immigrants are adding social, economic, and civic value to our everyday lives.
We are currently working on the Next Generation Innovation Catalyst program (NGIC), which employs the expertise of foreign nationals working in STEM fields to teach the next generation of U.S. workers. Through our model, foreign nationals at leading STEM companies mentor and lead students at community colleges and state universities in experiential learning projects that provide them with real-world work experience and hands-on skills training. Through this program we help companies keep their foreign talent through a unique H-1B visa solution while building the workforce of tomorrow to fill growing talent gaps in STEM fields.
What led you to the work you’re doing now?
Immigrants have always been a part of my family and my personal community. My father and co-founder of Open Avenues Foundation, Jeff Goldman, has practiced immigration law in the Boston area for more than 25 years. Growing up, many of my father’s clients became our close family friends. These individuals had incredible stories of hardship and resilience. Many were doing great things in their home countries, but were forced to come to the US because of circumstances that forced them to flee. At age 10 I became a godmother to a young girl names Aisha whose family came from Haiti to seek asylum in the United States. Aisha’s strength, creativity, and intelligence exemplifies why the United States benefits from immigrants.
I learned that immigrants—no matter how much education, work expertise, or financial stability they had in their home countries—offer benefits to the US in a variety of ways. We started Open Avenues Foundation because we believe that we must build the personal connections between immigrants and U.S. citizens. It is through personal interaction that we can change the way individuals view immigrants. Statistics and data may change minds, but personal connections change hearts.
If you could go back and give yourself pieces of advice when you started your organization, what would that advice be?
1) Don’t underestimate the value of fresh thinking in an industry. As I transitioned from the health sector to the immigration field, it took time to realize that new ideas and fresh energy were appreciated and welcomed. In our first few months, I was hesitant to meet with stakeholders who had been in the immigration field for a long time. There was no need for that. Introducing Open Avenues Foundation as a new entity and asking questions to experts in the space helped us build key relationships with players who have become our champions.
2) Find champions early on— even if they are not formal partnerships yet!
I viewed partnerships as formalized relationships between organizations who work on a specific initiative. However, I learned through the journey that finding champions early on and building informal alliances with them was just as valuable. When organizations believe in the same mission and decide to move forward in tandem where they can back each other’s initiatives along the journey, that’s not a formalized partnership, but just as valuable as you move forward and build networks. There is no need to duplicate efforts. Formal and informal partnerships helped us quickly identify where our organization added unique value and elevated our brand in the immigration space.
3) You can still pivot as an organization and also stay true to your mission!
Pushing ourselves forward as players in the immigration field especially with the way we handled migrant families who have been separated at the border as part of the emergency response initiative was the best way launching our organization as a player in the field even though that initiative was not on our organization’s agenda. Not being scared as an organization to pivot is very critical. Because we learned as we were starting that you have to go with the momentum in your field and at the same time know when is the time to veer and go a different way because of what you believe in and how to also stick to your mission.
4) You don’t have to be an expert in everything
Finding mentors and support networks to help make decisions in areas where I had no experience (like finance!) would have saved a lot of time going back to fix operations/processes later. I quickly learned how critical it was to invest time and resources in making sure the organization was set up for success.