Melissa Kushner (she/her)

NYU Alumni Changemaker of the Year
(WAG ’06)

Changemaker Melissa Kushner

Founder, Yamba Malawi

Empowers Malawian communities - through caregiver education, financial literacy, and sustainable business models - to escape poverty itself.

Malawi, one of the poorest nations in the world, has long been a second home to Melissa Kushner. She began volunteering at a Malawian orphanage right after completing her undergraduate degree and saw a chance to make a real difference. At Wagner she developed the confidence to go bigger; after graduating, she established goods for good, an organization that provided food, clothing, and school materials to Malawian children—only 38% of whom transition from primary to secondary school—while also promoting local economies.

But over time, Kushner grew increasingly aware of an endless-seeming cycle. “When the immediate relief was gone,” she says, “the poverty remained.” Driven by the desire to create more lasting change, Kushner reimagined her approach. Rebranding as Yamba Malawi, she adapted adult poverty-graduation models to fit a childhood paradigm. Yamba Malawi doesn’t just provide emergency relief; it empowers communities— through caregiver education, financial literacy, and sustainable business models—to escape poverty itself.

Since 2006, goods for good and Yamba Malawi have touched the lives of more than 200,000 children. Prior to Yamba Malawi’s unique application of the poverty-graduation model, only 18% of Malawi’s children ate three meals a day; that number is now over 90%. And although Kushner has been phasing out of her executive role to make way for Malawian leadership, she has high aspirations for the standard she’s established. “We’re set up to go international in the next seven to ten years,” she says. “The ultimate goal is the global eradication of childhood poverty.”