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EvolveMe #40over40: Melissa Kushner

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

We're over the moon! EvolveMe is celebrating our 40th #40over40 profile! This one is special, so stay tuned...

Now is our time! We're stronger when we work together to lift other women in midlife. EvolveMe's #40over40 list curates profiles of women who have or are in the process of reinventing their careers in their 40s, 50, 60s, and beyond.

We're thrilled to share stories of reinvention - women returning to work, pivoting careers, or launching new ventures!

Meet Melissa Kushner, founder, former Executive Director, and former Board Chair of Yamba Malawi, an innovative non-profit that combines direct services for children and entrepreneurship for caregivers to break the cycle of poverty for children in Southern Africa. Currently, Melissa serves as Special Advisor to the organization.

Recently, while staying involved in the nonprofit she created, Melissa pivoted her professional focus to become the Board Chair of her children's school.

There are SO many nuggets of wisdom in here! Read on to learn how Melissa is using her strengths to make an impact and juggling it all with being a mom.

What's the current focus of your career?

From 2006 - 2018, I founded and built Yamba Malawi. This innovative non-profit combines direct services for children and entrepreneurship for caregivers to break the cycle of poverty for children in Southern Africa.

Six years ago, I transitioned from Executive Director to Board Chair, and this month I transitioned from Board Chair to Special Advisor. I also recently became the Board Chair of my four children's school.

"Sometimes I feel like I am in transition; other times, I feel like I am right where I need to be. "

In my Special Advisor role at Yamba Malawi, I am able to focus on the intersection of my strengths and interests and what the organization needs. For example, HR planning and capacity building, long-term strategic planning, and fundraising.

Similarly, as I went into this new Board Chair role at my children's school, I made my interests and strengths clear to the administration and the board and asked that board members and faculty support me in areas that are not my core strengths. This has enabled me to lean into what I am good at and support the school in key areas while not taking on, but also not neglecting, key areas of work.

Over the next few years, I plan to continue advising both institutions on growth and strategy, giving me time to work in senior, substantive, and professionally rewarding roles while exploring my next career move.

What prompted your career reinvention?

About ten years into my leadership at Yamba, I realized several things:

  • The organization was ready to grow significantly, and that was not my core strength or interest.

  • The organization needed proximate leadership, so we began a mindful transition to African leadership and staffing.

  • I was growing tired of the Executive Director role.

This prompted my shift to Board Chair, which was a great interim step during the leadership transition but still a role that did not always play to my strengths and had a lot of administrative work that came with it.

I think the big "aha" moment for me has been realizing that I am at a level of experience and stage in my career and can lead with what I am good at and want to do and join teams where colleagues have complementary skills.

What's the best thing about a midlife career change?

The best thing about a midlife career change is that while you might be shifting or reinventing yourself, you are not just starting out. You know what you are good at, your strengths, and what does not come naturally to you. This really helps when looking at career opportunities as well as finding colleagues that are good complements to you.

Your best career advice for other women at midlife is...

Find the confidence to lean into what you like to do and play to your strengths. When you do, you use your precious time more efficiently, and your goals become very clear.

What's the biggest challenge?

I am a professional and a mother of four young children. Like so many women, I have more things to do than hours in the day. In 2023 I am challenging myself to play to my core strengths and responsibilities at home and in the workplace and delegate the rest.

What's your personal mantra or mission? Why?

I am someone who likes to know where the ship is going and how we will get there. But working with ultra-poor children and their families in Southern Africa requires flexibility, constant iteration, and patience while striving for results, excellence, and clarity.

It's through this work that I have come to lean on three important mantras:

  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good

  • Life is a journey, not a destination

  • The work is a marathon and not a sprint


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