Finding a Mission

July 09, 2014
Joshua Yeh

While at the International Institute of Buffalo I have been working to develop a skilled mentoring program for refugees. The IIB resettles many persons with advanced diplomas and professional trade experiences. These clients face difficulties utilizing their skills/education upon arrival to the United States. The most significant barriers are English proficiency and cultural competency. My program will pair skilled refugees with American professionals in congruent fields for the purpose of helping the refugees find appropriate employment. While researching for my program I have found many useful Canadian skilled immigrant mentoring programs but only one other professional mentoring program for refugees. The comparable refugee mentoring program has not made an active online presence in years and I have heard that it is no longer operating. I am excited to have the opportunity to build something unique in Buffalo, something that could become a model for other organizations.

I want to travel after graduation. I hope to use my ILR diploma to work internationally with nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations. The International Institute of Buffalo has been my first experience with nonprofit work in a professional capacity. Working for a nonprofit is very different than volunteering with one. This summer has exposed me to the nine to five office environment and the feeling of a real work week. I have, until now, only worked part-time and the transition to full-time employment has helped me better understand what life after graduation will feel like. This summer at IIB has exposed me to the nonprofit sector. As compared to my understanding of a private firm, IIB is very collaborative. The people who work here are not as divided as archetypal offices with each department wholly separate from one another. They are more involved with one another’s work as everyone operates towards the same mission. Even defining the mission is incredibly collaborative, IIB is currently rebranding itself and in one meeting everyone in the building got together to voice what they believe the International Institute is about. Often time interpreters are needed; whoever hires the interpreter will frequently share time with other departments so that everyone can successfully get their work done.

The other significant difference I believe between nonprofit and private firms is money. Financial resources are incredibly important for nonprofit organizations as it is often the limiting operations factor. People who choose to work at a nonprofit do not make that decision for the money. I would wager that everyone working at IIB could be paid much more at a private firm than here and that they work for earnings far below their qualifications. I went on a mission tour of the institute and many of the employees explained why they work at IIB. It is the mission. These people want to help others and they believe in the work that they do. By being available, by working here, their skills can directly help families in need. Some of the most disadvantaged families, those living on welfare, families living on minimum wage paychecks, persons with no English ability who have to live in a foreign country without being able to communicate. This is not a description of every client IIB resettles and plenty are not in this dire of circumstance but many clients live this way and need assistance. Helping these families is what makes the International Institute of Buffalo a worthwhile place to work.