Melissa Kushner, Woman Entrepreneur who is Changing the World
I was introduced to Melissa through a very good friend. Melissa is one of those rare people that for me the connection with her was instant. She is full of life, charming, smart, driven and she made me feel like I have known forever. What she has accomplished with her non-profit organization Goods4Goods is impressive. What is also impressive is how the newest generation of non-profit organizations that she is connected to appear to be working together in order to create a common goal. I have been preaching that for a long time. There are so many organizations that are doing the same thing and could make a much bigger impact if they worked as a group or paired with other organizations to fill the holes. Melissa is all over that but first let's begin on where she started.
Melissa grew up in NJ and has been interested in Africa as far back as she can remember. Growing up in a relatively strict Jewish household and community that is all about the giving back could be one of the reasons she focused on helping others. She went to UPenn and after graduating pursued a career in International Development where she landed a job at the Unfund (United Nations Office for Partnerships) working with private public partnerships.
Her boss at the time was working with Unicef and asked Melissa if she would be interested in going to Malawi, Africa. She was thrilled for the opportunity. She knew that she didn't want to show up empty handed but make some type of contribution to the orphanage she was visiting. Melissa contacted Childrens Place, Toys R Us and others and was able to pull together two tons of goods. It was all very grass roots. When she got to Malawi with the products and quickly realized what an impact she had made. Of course she figured she would do that annually.
The UN discovered what Melissa had accomplished and asked her to do the same thing for the Pakistan relief effort. Through this venture she met a woman from Iberia who helped her round up school supplies. They stumbled on a pharmaceutical company that had been warehousing over 400,000 pens and pencils. That supply alone was able to supply 80% of the school kids in Pakistan.
At this point Melissa began to consult other people on how to bring much needed supplies to East Africa that are not necessarily being used in the US. She had figured out how to get access to surpluses not being used here and ship them to Africa. It was 2004 and graduate school was calling. Melissa decided to go to the Wagner School at NYU while waiting for her non-profit, Goods4Goods to be granted status. During that time in graduate school she did work for the Gay Mens Health Center in international crsis. To be involved with a completely different community was eye-opening and rewarding. She continued to travel to Malawi during that time to understand the needs of the community because after graduate school she knew that her own non-profit is where she was headed.
In 2006, Goods4Goods was born by being given non-profit status. Melissa decided that she should live in Malawi for a year to completely immerse herself in the culture. Newly married she convinced her husband that it would be an adventure. They both set up a home for themselves for a year in Malawi working and teaching with children. Malawi is a country of 14 million people where a million of them are orphans. Everything exists around each village. Melissa learned more about what the communities know they need and her time there confirmed that there is little access to get aid.
After meeting with Melissa I am not surprised on what she has accomplished in Malawi and plans on continuing to do. She has tapped into grass roots organizations throughout Africa. Working with many of them to make changes across the board. She is trying to figure out how to bring nursery schools as well as YMCA type organizations to the communities. She has connected with 25 other organizations in the area so that together they can reach over 50,000 children from ages 0 -18. This prong approach is not only the provision for material resources but also towards capacity and partnership building. Together organizations can provide psychological and management training to people on the ground. When groups want to come and provide solar power and toilets the organizations already working there can provide insight on to where that should go and that in turn allows dollars to be wisely spent. Each group feeds off each other to provide unified success. In essence, feed the children so they can go to school, provide training for them to learn in school, create electricty through solar power and provide pencils, pens and clothing so they will show up in school. The key to establishing economies in areas like Malawi is by non-profits working together and knowing all the organizations there who are trying to make a difference to create healthy happy communities.
Melissa is passionate about what she does and what she has created. She should be. An impressive organization with a leader behind it that knows how to make a difference. Her model can easily be rolled out in other countries throughout Africa or any community around the world. What is truly amazing is that Melissa has been dreaming about helping African communities since she was quite young. She kept her eye on the ball and has literally spent her career starting with the courses she took in college to the job she got when she graduated to what she learned in graduate school to creating Goods4Goods. She is the kind of entrepreneur the world needs more of.