Nikki Cicerani, CEO of Upwardly Global, feels called to her work. Social justice was in her personal founding. Her grandfather was an immigrant from Italy and had what she called the classic rags-to-riches story. She came from a blue collar family and recognized at an early age that, for immigrants, the playing field was not level. She felt isolation and discrimination. Based on her personal experience, she realized that there were many wrong assumptions made about immigrants. They have aptitude and motivation, but lack contacts and preparation. Nikki loved the immigrant spirit which she describes as courageous, resourceful and resilient. It was a natural fit to bring together skilled immigrants who want to rebuild their career, with employers who are looking for experienced global talent.
Nikki was brought in to Upwardly Global to open the New York office and replicate the UpGlo program with the Founder, Jane Leu. She helped bring the organization from a regional San Francisco based program to a national organization with a national identity and goals. Soon after New York, they opened a Chicago office, giving UpGlo footholds in the West, Middle and East Coasts.
Their second phase of growth was to scale and leverage the program with partners in Michigan and Idaho without the brick and mortar. They found other like-minded people and created a coalition of non-profit organizations working to integrate skilled immigrants into the U.S. workforce, called Imprint. In 2013, Imprint asked Congress to include language in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that would help integrate foreign-educated legal immigrants into the U.S. economy. That created more visibility with compelling success stories about immigrant contributions and data points to share. They developed a movement of awareness.
The next phase, Nikki calls field enablement. UpGlo can offer high quality customized services and community support using data and collective knowledge to advance policy and practice. They can share their platform for training, resources and tools and offer them to other organizations like a Job Center in Alexandria, Virginia. Their partners are advocates to help change human service policies to be inclusive on the local level, and work with the Department of Labor and the Department of Education on a national level.
Nikki thinks that the political climate we may experience as unwelcoming to immigrants is not necessarily shared by all immigrants. The immigrant spirit has a different perspective; our country still stands for values that are more important than this moment in time. These new immigrants have already adopted this country as their own and they focus on the future of possibilities.
Some immigrants may feel targeted but Nikki says, you can’t paint anyone with a broad brushstroke. UpGlo wants to continue to communicate that they see immigrants as people and value them and their personal stories and experiences. Their clients come from 100 countries around the world and they trust to share their stories and vulnerabilities with their staff and volunteers.
Nikki’s vision for the future is about a broader movement to ensure we see the immigrant as an asset for our country. Nikki continues to be patriotic and sees our country with “a proud heritage as a nation of immigrants”. She hopes UpGlo will play their part to help the US find a 21st Century version of that identity. She remains optimistic because of the immigrants themselves. Nikki says, their clients inspire her and will renew our country in so many ways.