The news cycle reminds us that the world has some serious figuring out to do when it comes to refugees – those individuals who have left their home country due to war, conflict or persecution. Thankfully, there are advocates out there working relentlessly to find solutions. One of these people is Jessica Therkelsen, global policy director for Asylum Access, a nonprofit devoted to refugee rights.

And, while we know there’s a problem and that refugees are homeless while building a new life, what many of us may not realize is the scale of this crisis. There are more than 20 million refugees today, and a refugee (including children) stay in a refugee camp in exile for an average of 20 years.

This isn’t okay with Asylum Access. The nonprofit believes refugees have a right to a fair chance at a new life – wherever they might be – and the group works tirelessly to help refugees in their new country obtain basic rights to live and work. Last year Asylum Access helped more than 20,000 refugees gain these basic rights through individualized legal services. And it doesn’t stop there. The nonprofit also advocates with the United Nations and government entities around the world to ensure the systems that help refugees obtain these basic human rights remain intact.

“There is a growing recognition in the international community that the status quo of how we deliver aid is not meeting long-term needs,” Jessica says, “… What somebody experiences to become a refugee is something you never ever want your family or friends to experience.” Listen to episode 9 of I Want Her Job: The Podcast to hear her advice on how you can get involved and make an impact.


  • Understand and Access: How Asylum Access helps refugees understand their rights legally in the places where they are exiled.
  • Tools of the Trade: While Jessica travels and can often be found in New York, Washington, D.C., and Geneva, Switzerland working on global policy, she swears by the power of Skype for connecting and working.
  • On Perspective: “I try to be very cognizant of my own privilege and the luck that I’ve had to live a life that is very open and free. I have the right to live in the United States. I have the right to move freely in this country. I can choose where I live. I can choose where I work. I am able to go to school. That’s something that I am grateful for every day, and it’s also something that I fundamentally believe that everyone should have access to.”
  • On Global Policy: “We’re not really talking about a special package of rights for a special package of people. We’re talking about families – parents, youths – people who want to live a normal life, who want to go to school and have opportunity. These are not crazy things to want. These are not crazy things to ask for.”
  • I Got It From My Mama: The special woman who inspired Jessica’s career path.
  • Food For Thought: “We don’t all have the same deck of cards that we’re playing with.”
  • Dance Lessons: How Jessica’s days in ballet during law school gave her the ability to focus, the maturity to deal with rejection and the inspiration to shoot for really, really big goals.
  • Resting + Recharging: How time outdoors and spent reading helps Jessica refuel.
  • On Her Nightstand: The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine
  • Creating Comfort: Find out how you can get involved and make a difference in the refugee rights movement.
  • Learn More:
  • On Twitter: Follow her @JessTherkelsen and the nonprofit @asylumaccess