Made in the USA

sewing-shop-2The word “innovative” is so overused we tend to gloss over it. Yet recently I’ve taken notice of a young nonprofit, Multicultural Refugee Coalition (MRC), whose earned-income focus and smart capitalization of key markets is creative and effective enough that we might actually apply “the i word” to their programs.

MRC works with refugees from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo, Burma and Bhutan. This year they refined their mission to focus on creating opportunities for these refugees to earn their livelihood.

The practical results of MRC’s new focus have received attention from an impressive list of influencers. From supporters such as the Mission Capital Accelerator program and UNLTD USA Incubator, to invitations to national and global meetings at the United Nations—even the White House.

So what is MRC doing that has captured everyone’s attention? The short answer: filling economic niches with business enterprises that train and employ refugees while, at the same time, generate earned income to be invested back into MRC’s programs.

Sewing
MRC employs refugee women full time and at a fair wage through its nonprofit social enterprise Open Arms. The women manufacture pillows and other sewn goods for retailers including IKEA (yes-that IKEA). Additionally, the MRC trains refugee women in intermediate level sewing techniques and equips each of them with a sewing machine so they can operate their own home-based business or be referred to other employers.

Agriculture
Partnering with community gardens to provide garden plots, MRC serves as an agricultural incubator for refugee farmers. The organization’s strategic plan envisions a thriving Farm to Market business within the next few years.

Interpretation Services
In their newest venture, MRC is training roughly 75 refugees a year to become interpreters in community and medical situations for the immigrant population. These trained interpreters earn supplemental income and provide a valuable community connection. Who better to offer translation services for refugees than other refugees from their same region?

So what do you think? Does MRC pass your “innovation” test?