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Updated: September 4, 2020

Immigrant Welcome Center seeks next leader to carry on Nahimana's legacy

Side-by-side photos of Alain Nahimana and Shima Kabirigi Photos / Maureen Milliken and Courtesy of Immigrant Welcome Center The late Alain Nahimana, left, former executive director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, and Interim Executive Director Shima Kabirigi.

The Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center has launched a search for a new executive director to carry on the legacy of the late Alain J. Nahimana and help it start a new chapter after COVID-related programming disruptions.

Nahimana died unexpectedly on May 31 of complications from diabetes. He was 49.

"By no means are we expecting anyone to come in and replace Alain," Shima Kabirigi, a co-founder of the center currently serving as interim executive director, told Mainebiz this week. 

"We're looking for an individual who embodies the culture of the center, and someone who embodies innovation and collaboration," she added. "We were founded on those two principles, and one thing that is really important during this time is a person who is energized by this opportunity and is really able to pivot this organization."

Kabirigi, an AmeriCorps Vista alumna and current part-time program officer at Maine Initiatives, took on the interim role Aug. 3. Born in Geneva, Switzerland, she spent most of her childhood in East Africa before settling in Portland.

In announcing the appointment last month, Immigrant Welcome Center board chair Mary Allen Lindemann of Coffee By Design cited Kabirigi's familiarity with immigrant issues and passion and commitment to community development as positives, along with her experience as board co-chair.

Along those same lines, Kabirigi said the center plans to cast a wide net in its search for a permanent executive director, both in terms of geography and professional background.

"While we would appreciate someone based in Maine, the mission supersedes the actual physical location," she said. "We are looking for a skill set and not limiting ourselves based on geographic location."

Kabirigi also said that while being an immigrant is not a prerequisite for the job, experience working with immigrant communities in a professional capacity is.

The search comes three months after Nahimana's death.

Nahimana, honored on the 2018 Mainebiz Next List for his contributions to the state's economy, co-founded the Greater Immigrant Welcome Center in 2017 with Rwanda native Damas Rugaba, after three years of planning, to help new Mainers find the resources needed to start a business.

"This was a dream of mine for a long time," Nahimana told Mainebiz in a September 2017 interview not long after the center had opened.

"If I as a newcomer hadn't had anyone to guide me, telling me where to go, how to do things, I wouldn't have made it. People in the immigrant community were deprived of that support, and fundraising for any one community was difficult, so why not pool resources and build something we can share and be empowered from?" 

Pressing the restart button

Kabirigi told Mainebiz this week the Center is getting ready to open its doors again after being on remote operations during COVID, during which its digital language lab and Immigrant Business Hub were not accessible.

"I want to give a shoutout to staff, who have been resilient and tenacious during really tumultuous time of personal loss and with COVID,"  she said. "They've been really able to pivot, and having an interim executive director has provided some grounding for this organization ... By next week we are ready to open our doors."

Kabirigi also said that the current racial climate has also prompted some deep thinking at the center about its future.

"We're really looking at our equity framework and making sure that communities that have not perhaps found utility or added value in using  our space, we want to make sure that they have access," she said. 

To make that happen, she said the center has partnered with other community organizations about using the space for various reasons, such as mental health consultations.

Kabirigi also looks forward to the next cohort of MaineHealth employees starting English-language lessons soon in a program the two groups paired up on, and which was profiled in Mainebiz last year.
The classes will be held at MaineHealth in Portland rather than at the Immigrant Welcome Center.

"We're excited for this renewed partnership," she said.

More information

More information about the executive director position is available here.

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