Helping Malawians Help Themselves: Melissa Kushner, 35

Helping Malawians Help Themselves: Melissa Kushner, 35

Melissa Kushner unexpectedly fell in love with Malawi.

In 2002, between her undergrad years at the University of Pennsylvania and graduate school at NYU, Kushner worked as an intern at the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships, focusing on building connections with the private sector. Her boss at the time had previously worked for UNICEF in Malawi and invited Kushner to accompany her on her next visit.

Malawi, known as the “warm heart of Africa,” is the seventh poorest country in the world and home to an estimated 1.3 million orphans, 90 percent of whom are receiving care in their communities as opposed to institutionalized orphanages.

During her time at UNFIP and NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service, Kushner visited Malawi several times a year, bringing toys, clothing and other supplies for the children. Upon graduating in 2006 with a master’s in public administration and international development, she founded Goods for Good (GFG) a 501c3 public charity, providing supplies for Malawi orphans and vulnerable children.

After launching GFG, Kushner spent a year in Malawi with her husband, teaching and forging local partnerships. In 2007 Kushner returned to New York, diving into GFG.

In 2011, GFG shifted its focus to economic stimulation, creating jobs in the community and providing ongoing revenue for orphan care by helping local community centers launch small businesses.

For most Malawians Kushner encounters, she is the only Jewish person they will meet. “It’s very fun explaining to people when they kill a chicken in your honor that you can’t eat it because you’re kosher,” said Kushner. Back in Brooklyn, Kushner frequently hosts Shabbat dinners and is active at Kane Street Synagogue in Carroll Gardens, where her daughter goes to preschool.

With plans to return to Malawi this summer, Kushner, a recipient of NYU’s Distinguished Alumni Award, said, “Founding and running Goods for Good has been one of the most challenging but also rewarding experiences… I embrace the successes and challenges that lay ahead.”

Trilingual – Kushner is fluent in English, Hebrew and Chichewa, the second language of Malawi. Her children all have Chichewa names.

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