Our History

Founded in 2000 by Jane Leu, Upwardly Global is the first and longest-serving organization focused on advancing the meaningful inclusion of immigrants and refugees with international credentials into the U.S. workforce. Today, Upwardly Global has offices in four major cities and works with thousands of job seekers across the country every year to support their full inclusion in the U.S. workforce, and to share our learnings broadly to promote positive systems change.

The Founding Story

Three decades ago, the aforementioned Jane Leu, a social entrepreneur and Assistant Director of Resettlement at a major national resettlement agency, toured a New York poultry processing plant that was considered a model employer for refugees. The plant owner introduced her to two standout employees: One had been an engineer in Iraq and the other a surgeon in Bosnia. The meeting was eye-opening to Jane: How many other internationally trained professionals were working in subsistence jobs that did not utilize their professional skills? What did these individuals — and the country — lose with these missed opportunities?

Between a New Venture course at Columbia Business School and her kitchen table, Jane crafted a plan that would become the first organization focused on connecting an estimated two million unemployed and underemployed immigrants and refugees living in the U.S. with pathways to professional success, while also working to advance the ideals of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workforce.

Business plan in hand, she recognized that the organization needed a name: “I wanted to express the mutual benefit of immigrant inclusion: economic mobility for immigrants and refugees, with the benefits of global mindsets — diversity, resilience and innovation — for our country.”

The birth of Upwardly Global

The organization we now call Upwardly Global was born in 1999, the first institution to focus on the workforce inclusion of immigrants and refugees with international credentials. Over 20 years later, we are a leading national nonprofit that has supported more than 20,000 internationally trained professionals and U.S. employers in succeeding together.

Over two decades, the organization has grown to have offices in four cities across the country, remote job seekers in other states, and a digital infrastructure to scale its work nationally. With the leadership of three visionary female CEOs, Upwardly Global’s work has received numerous national awards and recognitions, and is cited internationally as a standard for inclusion and innovation.

Today, we remain committed to advancing the powerful vision of a nation where everyone — including immigrants and refugees — can contribute and thrive.

Our Timeline