A Refugee Leadership Academy in Utah | LIRS
URGENT: Immigrant children and families affected by Hurricane Ian need your support! Donate now.

A Refugee Leadership Academy in Utah

Published On: Donate
Hari presents to the Professional Leadership Academy in Utah.
Hari presents to the migrant and refugee participants at the Professional Leadership Academy

When LIRS Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy alumni are motivated to take their experiences back to their communities, we are able to clearly see the power and impact of their participation in the event. Hari Koirala, a 2015 Academy participant, felt inspired after leaving the Academy this past June and saw an opportunity to apply his newfound skills in his community in Utah.

As a Workforce Services Specialist for the State of Utah and a refugee himself, Hari knows the challenges that exist for refugees to access and retain quality employment and education. Hari has been able to put the advocacy, leadership, and organizing skills he learned at the Academy to use, complementing knowledge already gained in his local community.

The result? A three-month comprehensive Professional Leadership Academy with over 25 participants and support from local foundations, religious groups, and universities.

Below, Hari shares his experiences:

My Inspiration

The 2015 LIRS Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy planted positive ideas in the minds of growing immigrant and refugees leaders like myself. As I was truly inspired and motivated by the advocacy training during the Academy, I was thrilled to start the grassroots Professional Leadership Academy (PLA) classes primarily focused on Bhutanese youth and leaders in the great state of Utah.

My willingness to start a local Academy also deeply connects to the inspiration, hope, and commitment given by one of the profound leaders of my community, Rudra Kuikel, whose effort in the community is radiant and vibrant. He encouraged and motivated me to get started with this project, helping me design the structure of the project and its management. It is also the grace of the Lord that energized both of us to start the local Academy to support those in need.

Impact of the LIRS Academy

The 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy was a bank of resources.

After getting back to my state and sharing the information I gathered, I realized that I had more than enough information and knowledge to start a local Academy. I realized that knowledge grows when shared! So, I, along with Rudra Kuikel, decided to get started with the project where we can give more with less, i.e. less costly than national level training but encompassing more needy immigrant and refugee populations.

The LIRS Academy helped me to initiate an effort to help marginalized immigrants and refugees with their daily challenges.

Community Support In Utah

From the day we decided to start the project, we have been reaching out to community members, local administration, local leaders, and local agencies to explain the Professional Leadership Academy’s role in the community. From this outreach, we have received inspiration, impressive participation, and committed volunteer speakers from local entities.

This has given us hope that this project will make a difference in our state.

Hari Koirala Leadership Academy
An outdoor session at the Professional Leadership Academy in Utah.

Structure of the Professional Leadership Academy 

The Professional Leadership Academy is a 12-week pilot project which has been divided into three categories. We identified that the primary needs of the immigrant and refugee youth, while transitioning into their new communities, are centered around career building and academic advancement. We realized it would be most strategic to focus on these needs first, rather than compel them to emerge as leaders when they have not yet been able to stabilize in a job. As a result, the PLA has been divided into three phases:


Participants will gain the skills to obtain and retain quality employment to help boost the economy of the nation and to become self-reliant individuals.


Academic advancement will open participants’ eyes in understanding the importance of continuing higher education. It will assist participants in understanding social networks and available academic resources within and outside of Utah.


To enhance participants’ leadership skills and give clarity to their expressions, the third phase has been divided into three subcategories of leadership through:

  • art
  • photography
  • writing

Participants will be assigned into the three groups based on their skills, talents, and creativity. They will be encouraged to create a solid picture of their prior and post-resettlement life.

By the end of the training the participants will gain the minimum grassroots level skills needed in order to address the issues and needs within their community. This class will act as a platform for our community youth to showcase their inborn talents and potential as well as to advocate.

The Future of PLA

We can see the community has a growing interest in this project and more participants are interested in attending. With the growing interest among the participants and the support from local agencies and entities, we can’t deny the fact that it would be easy to reach other immigrant and refugee communities. We plan to make a continued effort to launch similar and advanced trainings to other communities in the future, after evaluating the scope of its effectiveness to this current group.

To learn more about Hari’s story of growing up in a refugee camp in Nepal, read Learning to Paint in a Refugee Camp in our arts-focused Through Courageous Eyes blog series.

Leave a Comment

Newsletter Sign Up
Stay up to date with everything going on at LIRS.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


Offer a warm welcome to refugee children and families today!