Jane Leu, founder of Upwardly Global (UpGlo), believes in the potential of immigrants and a globally diverse workforce. She grew a network of forward thinking corporate partners and helped them examine their institutional frameworks and ask themselves if their practices are inclusive or exclusive to create positive lasting change.
Jane was an Assistant Director in a national refugee resettlement organization in 1999. Their emphasis was helping newly arrived immigrants get jobs in the first 90 days in America. She calls them survival jobs. In that position, she witnessed the low level jobs that educated and professional immigrants were placed in. These people were not being connected to their professional networks and there was a profound lack of leadership roles available to them. Jane also saw how immigrants on a societal level were being seen as less than or not at all. As a group, they were not encouraged to integrate into or contribute to the community.
Jane saw a problem, and took action. She quit her job one day and started Upwardly Global to change the status and attitudes about immigrants who she saw as courageous. Without any funding, she opened up her home and began working with immigrants and refugees full time to help them with the job search process. Jane helped the refugees with credential evaluations to translate to the American market and connected them with resources and American mentors. This grew to become a volunteer program that now stands at approximately 5,000 people helping immigrants prepare for and navigate the system.
Upwardly Global’s first funder was a Venture Capital Group called Draper, Richards and Kaplan Foundation who enabled them to focus on the employer side of the equation. After 9/11 and the dot com bust in California, the job market was challenging with lay offs and a political atmosphere fearful of immigrants. That did not stop UpGlo. They reached out to HR professionals and advisory groups to craft different solutions to offer companies. They worked with government representatives to look at policies and regulations that prevent workforce integration and they built bigger partnerships with leading companies while attracting well connected funding sources.
In 2006, UpGlo opened an office in New York City and in 2009, they opened an office in Chicago. In 2013, they started an online program and in 2014, they opened an office in Maryland. Along the way, Jane Leu has received numerous awards and recognition for her social entrepreneurship.
In 2009, Jane left UPGlo as the CEO and currently sits on the board. Nikki Cicerani became President and CEO and continues the mission to build demand for foreign-born professionals among leading companies, and help meet this demand with screened, qualified candidates who are prepared to succeed in the American workplace. This will enhance economic opportunities for and reduce discrimination against immigrant and refugee professionals.
For the last 18 months, Jane has worked in Germany to help integrate the increasing numbers of newly arrived refugees and immigrants coming across their borders. Many of the challenges there are cultural. America sees itself as a multi cultural society with a narrative of rags to riches. Germany, like many other European countries, is more homogeneous and has a more difficult time imagining itself as a diverse community. As a result of helping employers take advantage of these newly arrived refugees, immigrants now have more choices and there is competition among the companies to attract a strong multi cultural workforce. Jane thinks Germany will inspire other countries who are building a diverse workforce as a model for intentional nation building.
Jane hopes that America’s image as an immigrant nation does not erode with a more isolated and protective political environment. While UpGlo recently placed 1,000 job seekers from the travel banned countries, fear exists among all immigrants, even those with citizenship. One of the many positive outcomes from Upwardly Global, is that though immigrants may be of different races, religions and classes which may keep them separate from Americans, the power of the workforce enables them to mix organically with people who share similar professions and passions.
Jane shares that UpGlo recognizes that people do the work they love. Our work is naturally wrapped up in our identity. By helping newly arrived immigrants find the work they are passionate about, they are offering them the opportunity to express their core identity and evolve as other Americans to be potential leaders in their workplace and community. That’s what helps differentiate Upwardly Global from other resettlement agencies.
In partnership with corporations, community engagement through their volunteer program and major donors, UpGlo is a model to re invigorate our country’s founding story as a multi-cultural nation, revitalize our diverse community and build a workforce that can compete in the global marketplace. After all, that is who we are as a nation. UpGlo leads by example.