For far too long, culturally diverse communities have not had the same access to disability services as communities from the dominant culture. Lifeworks is working to correct this gap by building relationships with culturally specific partners to reach historically marginalized and underserved communities. In collaboration with WeNetworkNow, a nonprofit that provides professional development and mentorship opportunities to people of African descent, Lifeworks shares resources and creates space for conversation to understand each community better. By opening avenues to reach the communities Lifeworks and WeNetworkNow know best, the organizations are establishing a partnership to advance inclusion for people with disabilities and African communities in Minnesota.
“Our philosophy was to start small,” shared Mamady Konneh, the founder and Executive Director of WeNetworkNow. “Initially, we focused on the immigrant community because we understood their challenges, and this knowledge became the foundation for our growth. As we expanded, our mission evolved to provide educational and mentorship programs and resources to anyone in need – high school and college students and trade professionals –to mention a few.” The impact of WeNetworkNow’s education efforts has transcended beyond the immigrant community, and the organization has expanded its scope. “One area of education we aimed to enhance for our members was services and resources for families and people with disabilities.” Mr. Konneh admires Lifeworks, saying, “They have a genuine concern for these populations and a thoughtful approach to supporting them.”
In parallel, Lifeworks wanted to learn more about perceptions of disability in the African community to deliver culturally appropriate services. Lifeworks recognized that true partnership with all people in the disability community does not come from service delivery with a “one-size fits all” approach. By being responsive to the different beliefs, practices, and needs of those in communities of African descent, Lifeworks can craft a more inclusive service delivery model. Mr. Konneh reflects on his initial encounter with Lifeworks during the African Immigrant Professional Development Conference in October 2022. At that time, Lifeworks had not yet deeply engaged with the immigrant community, primarily due to the sensitive nature of discussing disabilities, which might be considered taboo. With a desire to collaborate, he saw how WeNetworkNow could partner with Lifeworks – and leverage its existing relationships with its members – to provide much-needed help and support to those in need.
Lifeworks and WeNetworkNow have bridged their shared vision by bringing disability inclusion education directly to WeNetworkNow members. In April, Lifeworks hosted a webinar with WeNetworkNow to raise awareness and educate people about the challenges and stereotypes that people with disabilities face. These conversations highlighted the perceptions from communities of people of African descent about disability and areas where disability resources can benefit their community. On August 26, 2023, Lifeworks and WeNetworkNow will host a public listening session at the Lifeworks main office in Richfield to explore further how we can best support people with disabilities in Minnesota’s African communities.
As dialogue turns to action, Mr. Konneh reflects on the power this partnership has to generate lasting change: “At the end of the day, we are better together – especially when we combine our respective resources, competencies, and skills.” He envisions achieving far greater accomplishments than ever imagined. This very principle was the driving force behind WeNetworkNow’s collaboration with Lifeworks.
Are you ready to advance disability inclusion in your organization or community? Join Lifeworks and WeNetworkNow at our Disability Listening Session on Saturday, August 26 from 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM at Lifeworks Services Main Office, 6636 Cedar Ave S, Suite 250, Richfield, MN 55423. To register or learn more, visit lifeworks.org.
Explore partnership opportunities to advance disability inclusion by emailing Lifeworks at firstname.lastname@example.org.