Immigrant Leadership Institute

Enrollment for the Immigrant Leadership Institute is OPEN!

About the Immigrant Leadership Institute:

The Immigrant Leadership Institute prepares foreign-born residents of the Greater Philadelphia region with the skills, knowledge, and tools necessary to engage in the civic life of their community. ILI uses a dynamic approach to create opportunities where immigrants speak for themselves and participate in the cultural, political, and social life of the city. This model increases the meaningful participation of immigrant communities in the decision-making processes of the city while helping immigrants develop leadership skills that enable them to build a sense of belonging and have true agency over their future.

This is important because by taking an asset-based approach, ILI focuses on recognizing people’s skills and talents to support their capacity to overcome barriers to integration while providing opportunities to build relationships, improve language skills, and develop a sense of belonging. Participants develop the skills to become engaged citizens and join a network of current and past participants willing to collaborate to address community needs.

What does ILI do?

  1. Supports participants in forming stronger, meaningful connections between newcomers and existing communities.
  2. Promotes immigrant inclusion and elevates the positive impact of immigrants in all areas of society.
  3. Expanded representation of immigrants in public life.
  4. Reframes positive, asset-based language about immigrants.

What you will learn:

Program Requirements:

Please note: The program is held in person at The Welcoming Center office and runs weekly on Wednesdays from 5:30 pm to 8:00pm for a period of 15 weeks (about 3 and a half months). Participants in the program form action project teams that require at least 1 hour weekly dedicated to team development. 

What is an Action Project?

ILI uses an experiential learning process to explore issues of interest to immigrants that are barriers to the integration process. Our Action Project model provides participants with a hands-on approach to practice their newly acquired skills in developing innovative solutions to address barriers. Some of the barriers include building confidence in English, lack of relationships and connections, lack of professional credential recognition, limited familiarity with American culture, access to information, and racial discrimination.

An Action Project is typically implemented by a team of 5-6 participants over a period of 15 weeks (about 3 and a half months) on average.

View some action projects below!

"We Speak the Same Language" - 12th Cohort

“Welcome, we speak the same language” is an action project that was organized by a team of Graduates in the 12 Cohort of the Immigrant Leadership Institute. The team members included Marilu Salazar Mendez from Venezuela, Liliya Usmanova from Uzbekistan, Ida Kuraeny Bestio from Indonesia, and Lamia Mebtouche from Algeria with the sweet support of Liliya’s 6-year-old son, Marsel Mukhamedov.

The Team chose to investigate the barrier of how immigrants access information while going through the integration process in the US. They decided to develop their Action project to support immigrants in accessing information to help overcome the barrier “Lack of information and resources while in the integration process in the US.” Through the team’s listening campaigns, they observed the unique way that immigrants obtain information through family and friends even though there are several organizations in Philadelphia who give information freely. The team organized a public event where they created a safe space where people could come together to connect, share their stories and experiences and information that they needed.

The action project event was held on Wednesday May 10 at The Welcoming Center with 37 participants in attendance. Through the efforts of Marilu Salzar Mendez, who is also a community leader, the team was able to connect with Gente de Venezuela https://gentedevenezuela.org/ a non-profit organization that supports Venezuelans and Hispanic Immigrants by promoting cultural and professional development in the Greater Philadelphia Area. The team was also supported by Erick Barragan Ramirez, a  graduate from the 2nd Cohort of the Immigrant Leadership Institute, member of the Participant Advisory Council, who currently works at  Catholic Social services as an Accredited legal representative https://cssphiladelphia.org/immigration-legal-services/

The event engaged the audience through stories that reflected shared experiences in accessing information as an immigrant as well and conversational questions that created a space for people to share more about the resources that they had found useful. There was also a beautiful moment of entertainment with songs that was led by one of the team members Liliya and her 6-year-old son Marcel through song and dance.

Reflections from Team Members:

Marilu Salazar Mendez from Venezuela

“I felt that the event was nice, and we were able to do what we planned and wanted to do. The event also revealed that there is still a need for information among immigrants. “I saw this event as a big responsibility and did a lot in the team for the event. The challenge was not in doing the event in as much as it was more about the language and having to communicate ideas and thoughts in Englis”.  It was a great time to have opportunities to talk in English.

“This event is an important point of reference in the future because as a community volunteer, being a leader through the ILI program became something that built my skills, and I can add to my resume. “The Immigrant leadership Institute is the only important thing that I have been able to do in the US since January of 2023.”

Ida Kuraeny Bestio from Indonesia

“I have been in Philadelphia for the past one year and worked as a Director of sales in my country. I was happy about the event but still felt nervous and not satisfied with my English vocabulary though I felt confident during the event as one of the Masters of Ceremony.

I was used to organizing events in my country for close to 4000 people and I would invite speakers from other countries for such big events, I was used to speaking Infront of many people in my native language and English.

“I appreciate the way that ILI created a space where the learning process was more open to discussions where everyone was able to talk.

"Let's Talk Philly" Conversation Circles

Ideation: These English Conversation Circles are small groups of 6-8 participants who meet twice a week for two hours each session to practice their spoken English with the help of two facilitators. The groups are organized as a peer-to-peer system where participants control their learning and decide what topics they want to talk about, and how to learn. 

The organizing team conceived of the project through a listening campaign that asked recently arrived immigrants about their experience building English proficiency. In response, the team decided to concentrate on helping immigrants practice English in a safe environment. Their goal was to “motivate immigrants to practice English speaking skills through informal meetings with comfortable and fun methods”, and also help them build up their confidence to gain independence and better their lives in the city. The informal nature of the conversation circles meant that it was conducted without the presence of teachers and students but a peer-to-peer environment that gives every participant control of their own learning. 

Their project design places emphasis on ensuring that participants understand that a conversation circle is not a class, and that nobody in the circles is a teacher. There is also interest in ensuring that participants evaluate their own progress through short surveys and group reflection. 

Another critical design element is that all participants have an opportunity to practice facilitation skills. This is particularly important because it helps to recognize and inject into the learning environment the skills, experiences, and passion of the participants. Most importantly, it is a way to establish a sense of mutual responsibility in the collective learning process.

Next Steps: After graduating from the Immigrant Leadership Institute, Karen and Yu-Shan joined The Welcoming Center’s Intercultural Wellness Program (IWP), which trains immigrants on the concepts of community wellness and well-being among immigrant communities. ‘Let’s Talk Philly! Conversation Circles’ continues organizing conversation circles for immigrant communities to this day.