Grantee Partner

Church World Service

Leadership training programs transform how refugees tell their stories to the media and policymakers and change the narrative about refugees

Church World Service (CWS) is a leading organization working to eradicate hunger and poverty, and to promote peace and justice around the world. CWS is also one of the nine refugee resettlement agencies in the United States, with local offices and affiliates in seventeen states. CWS also plays a leading role in local, state, and federal advocacy to protect refugees.

In 2015, CWS launched an innovative leadership development and civic participation program that elevates refugees’ voices in policymaking and in the media, inspired by and modeled after community organizing and storytelling trainings that have seen great success in the civil rights and immigrants’ rights movements.

CWS has now trained over seven hundred refugees with an emphasis on building teams and networks of leaders in fifteen cities across seven key states with ongoing expansion. Working alongside Refugee Congress, CWS has helped train refugee leaders from 36 states across the country. This work has helped refugee leaders enhance their capacity to organize their communities, tell their stories in impactful ways, develop campaign ideas, advocate to defend the refugee program, and engage in voter education, registration, and mobilization for eligible former refugees who are now U.S. citizens.

This effort has successfully impacted the public narrative through refugees telling their stories and earning media at local, state, and national levels. For example, two refugee leaders from Columbus, Ohio were featured on CNN’s New Day program. One of them later participated in the Women’s March on Washington with two other refugee women who had participated in the trainings, and all three were featured in a Newsweek article. Refugees are writing their own Opinion Editorials and pitching their own stories to the media.

By sharing their stories with policy makers, refugees have also increased bipartisan support for the Congressional Refugee Caucus, which convenes Members of Congress who support refugees, refugee protection, and refugee resettlement. And refugee leaders have successfully urged their Members of Congress to write letters, request briefings, and hold the administration accountable to keeping the refugee resettlement program strong.

Unbound has supported Church World Service since 2016, helping the program grow, expand, and resource partners that want to do similar work. Church World Service advances our System and Public strategy areas.


The refugee leadership training I participated in greatly impacted me to get involved with my City government and start a Sudanese community group. I gained more knowledge on how to build a bridge between the American community and immigrant communities and help them understand that what we have in common is more than our differences.

Hager Ahmad

Harrisonburg, VA

Investing in refugee leaders to build collective power and tell their stories to impact the public narrative and change policies.


Refugee leaders trained in community organizing and public narrative

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Photos: Shared with permission by Church World Service

Photo 1: Former refugees engaging in a Get Out the Vote campaign in Columbus, OH

Photo 2: A woman from Sudan shares her story at a rally