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50 for 50: YAO Memories

By Allison Kooser

In 2008, a group of young philanthropists came together in support of Opportunity International. They were so impressed by the model and inspired by the clients that they decided to build a community that would help them introduce even more friends to the organization—Young Ambassadors for Opportunity (YAO) was born.

Through local chapters in cities around the United States, Young Ambassadors were able to build relationships, educate their peers about microfinance and development, encourage friends to get involved with an exciting nonprofit organization, and raise money to support Opportunity’s programs.

Eventually, YAO had chapters in more than 15 cities—all led by incredible teams of volunteers. The original group of founders, known as the YAO National Board, was a team of exceptional young professionals, entrepreneurs, and visionary leaders, including our original YAO founder, Liesel Pritzker. Together, these national and local leaders championed Opportunity’s work, built a nationwide network of passionate advocates, and raised millions of dollars to support Opportunity International.

As we celebrate Opportunity’s 50th anniversary this year, we are excited to take a walk down memory lane and revisit some of the YAO moments we’ll never forget…


Events were at the heart of the YAO program—and Young Ambassadors knew how to throw a great party! There’s nothing like gathering at a gala, a casino night, or a classic Happy YAO’er to grab a few drinks and make a difference for our neighbors around the world.

One of our very first events was the incredible “Financing the Future” gala in New York City that brought together many of our original YAO leaders with their friends and family for an evening of fun and impact. This incredible event kicked off years of parties and galas around the country.

YAO-NYC continued to plan incredible galas every year, featuring silent auctions, great food, music, and more.

Meanwhile, in the Midwest, YAO-Chicago developed a flagship event called “Tunes for Tanzania” in 2010. This annual concert brought together artists, musicians, and young professionals in support of Opportunity’s programs in Tanzania. 

In addition to Tunes for Tanzania, YAO-Chicago also hosted an annual gala that often featured art and silent auction items from local businesses and partners.

And in Los Angeles, YAO-LA decided to hit the dance floor, launching the annual “Spring Swing” event to raise support for Opportunity.

YAO-SF went with a casino night for their big gala, complete with a costumed photo booth.

And in St. Louis, YAO-STL planned a trivia night to test everyone’s quick thinking.


One of YAO’s top priorities was equipping young professionals to be advocates for and champions of Opportunity’s work—and we did that through intensive training about microfinance, poverty, development, and Opportunity’s unique model.

One of our very first training events was YAO Boot Camp in Minneapolis. The YAO-MN team led this intensive retreat where young professionals learned from Opportunity staff and experts.

The Boot Camp eventually became Ambassador Training, a full-day program that we led in cities across the country. The YAO-DC team hosted one of the very first Ambassador Trainings, learning from staff and from one another.

YAO also regularly featured guest speakers from around the world to share their stories and experiences. At the YAO-Boston Breakfast, local young leaders gathered to hear from guest speakers and regularly welcomed International Visitors to events, Happy YAO’ers, webinars, and more!

Sometimes, they combined education and socialization, like at YAO-Chicago’s annual Revolutionizing Microfinance event at Revolution Brewing.

And they regularly made appearances at Opportunity’s Summits and Microfinance Conferences to learn from international experts (and shared their own wisdom, too!).


Young Ambassadors were young, creative, dynamic, and full of big ideas—so we were always chasing bold adventures.

In 2009, 21 Young Ambassadors traveled on the first-ever YAO Insight Trip to Tanzania. This around-the-world adventure gave Young Ambassadors the opportunity to meet clients personally, visit their homes and businesses, and better understand Opportunity’s model. 

It was such a popular trip that Young Ambassadors returned to Tanzania in 2011—including writer and artist Kelly Flanagan, who was the winner of our Tanzania Correspondent Contest.

And in 2012, a group of Young Ambassadors traveled to Colombia!

YAO adventures weren’t always international—but they were always exciting! In February 2011, Young Ambassadors traveled to Orlando, Florida to do something wild in support of Opportunity’s clients: jump out of an airplane! Through this creative, bold fundraiser, 29 young professionals raised more than $100,000 for Opportunity’s work through their skydiving adventure.

In 2012, in conjunction with the Opportunity Summit in Phoenix, they hosted a YAO Adventure Weekend, which included hiking Camelback Mountain, panels of international experts, and connecting with other chapter leaders from around the country.


In the midst of all the adventures, Young Ambassadors were busy raising millions of dollars for Opportunity International’s programs. 

Every year, dozens of Young Ambassadors took the Live Below the Line challenge—eating and drinking on less than $2 a day in honor of the 700 million people for whom that is a daily reality.

Several Young Ambassadors, including AJ Renold, Ashley Luse, and Michelle Mak traveled to the field for extended periods of time to share their professional expertise with our partners as some of the inaugural YAO Fellows.

And in 2010, a group of Young Ambassadors in Chicago ran the Chicago Half Marathon in support of Opportunity International. In subsequent years, Young Ambassadors around the country completed countless feats of endurance and strength to raise key funds for clients, including mud runs, weightlifting challenges, and more!


Community was always at the heart of YAO—so our favorite thing was building new chapters of passionate young leaders.

Our earliest chapters in Chicago, New York, and Minneapolis paved the way for new cities to jump on board, including Boston, San Francisco, Washington DC, and Los Angeles. On May 21, 2011, we hosted YAO-ZA!—a special event in Colorado that served as the official launch of YAO-Denver, where nearly 250 young professionals gathered to hear from Daniel Ryumugabe, a special guest from Rwanda, and raise over $10,000 for Opportunity’s programs in East Africa.

In 2012, we began rapidly expanding the Young Ambassadors program around the country. Led by incredible volunteers, we launched new chapters from coast to coast. Soon, we had communities of Young Ambassadors in Houston, Phoenix, Grand Rapids, St. Louis, Dallas, San Diego, and Toledo.

These chapters were led by incredible teams of volunteers—young professionals who gave so much of their time and talent to serve Opportunity’s mission. Their stories are behind each and every memory—and their stories continue to inspire us. YAO members like Julia, Abbey, Keri, and JP. Chapter leaders like Alexa, Rohit, Kaelen, Kyle, and Emily. And the early visionaries who helped build YAO from the ground up like Amanda and Lauren.

These remarkable people, and hundreds more like them, created something special, and it was such a joy to celebrate, learn, grow, and serve alongside them. Today, they are leading companies, communities, and initiatives around the globe—and they continue to champion and support Opportunity’s work.

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