Brought to you by Norwich University Archives

#19 Glen Leet ‘30: Founder of Trickle Up

Bicentennial Admin 200 Things about Norwich, Leaders & Legacy

Glen Leet '30Shortly after his graduation from Norwich University in 1930, Glen Leet began an extraordinary 60-year career in public service. Originally from Brockton, Mass., Leet became a field representative for the American Public Welfare Administration, where he helped draft many of the social welfare laws during the Great Depression. In 1944 he was appointed by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration to direct relief efforts in Greece. It was there that Leet became involved in antipoverty work. With very little capital, Leet helped Greek peasants pull themselves out of the extreme poverty and deprivation that prevailed in rural areas.

The success of Leet’s work received worldwide recognition and led to similar individual improvement and community development initiatives in other parts of the world.

Leet met his wife, Mildred Robbins, through their mutual involvement in international development. She served as the president of the Save the Children Federation and also as the first chief of the Community Development unit of the United Nations. Mildred was a member of the International Peace Academy and a past president of the National Council of Women. Together, Glen and Mildred formed a consulting firm and travelled the world to help organizations working on social issues.

Glen Leet ‘30, captain of the Norwich fencing team

Glen Leet ‘30, captain of the Norwich fencing team

During a trip to the Caribbean nation of Dominica, the Leets recognized that even the world’s lowest income people have entrepreneurial potential. In 1979, at the age of 70, Glen and Mildred formed Trickle Up, an international nonprofit designed to assist low-income populations. With the help of local agencies and $1,000 of their own money, they gave 10 people grants of $100 to launch their own microenterprises.

The new businesses ranged from manufacturing building blocks to selling eggs, jams, and school uniforms. Along with a seed grant, the Leets taught grant recipients the skills to run successful and profitable microenterprises, including how to keep records, balance accounts, and reinvest profits in their businesses.

The quality of life improvements were overwhelmingly positive for the participants and several of the original enterprises still exist.

In a 1997 interview with the New York Times, Glen Leet said, “People all have potential. The question is how are you going to reach them.”

Trickle Up has grown since its inception and by the time of Glen’s death in 1998, the program had served as the catalyst for more than 75,000 businesses in 115 countries. The program has created more than 400,000 jobs in the United States and in developing countries throughout the world. The small grant model has remained the same. Entrepreneurs in the United States can receive a maximum of $700. Overseas, they get $100.

The Leets received a multitude of honors and awards for their community service, including honorary doctorate degrees from Norwich University in 1994.

In 1980, on the 50th anniversary of his graduation from Norwich, Glen Leet presented Norwich University a large collection of his writings, which are available in the Special Collections of the Kreitzberg Library.