Who she is: Former first daughter who has founded a nonprofit organization that is striving to make global change in health care policy.
What she does: As founder of The Global Health Corps, Barbara Bush believes in the necessity of a global movement of individuals and organizations fighting for improved health outcomes and access to healthcare for the poor, in order to change the unacceptable status quo of extreme inequity.
Why she does it: “The extreme disparity in health outcomes and access to healthcare that exists today between the world’s rich and the world’s poor is unjust and unsustainable,” said Bush, who brought her twin sister Jenna to the event for moral support. “We aim to mobilize a global community of young leaders to build a movement for health equity.”
A WOMAN WITH A MISSION
By Hope Katz Gibbs
Photos by Noel St. John
Former first daughter Barbara Bush isn’t afraid to take on a challenge. As the president of the xxx, she believes in the necessity of a global movement of individuals and organizations fighting for improved health outcomes and access to healthcare for the poor, in order to change the unacceptable status quo of extreme inequity.
In the spring of 2010, she stood before a room of reporters at the National Press Club and shared examples of suffering around the world due to lack of good health care, including the fact that 500,000 women die during childbirth each year. Additionally, she said, every five seconds, a child under the age of five in Africa dies of a treatable disease.
When she talked about the moment she’d become a public health advocate, Bush welled up.
“I was with my parents on a trip to Africa in 2003, and a tiny young girl wanted nothing more than to meet my father,” she said. “She looked to me to be about three, but she was actually seven. She died soon after, but meeting her — and all of the wonderful public health officials in her village who were committed to trying to help kids like her — inspired me to want to do something about this devastating problem.”
She also talked about the power of her generation, which is dedicated to helping others, coming up with innovative ideas, and having an innate understanding of technology.
“We grew up with the Internet, and can’t imagine the world without text messaging, blogs and Facebook,” Bush said. “We also have the energy and skills that are needed to make important changes.”
From the White House to Africa
The road from being one of the most celebrated twins in the country to running a nonprofit organization started after Bush graduated from Yale in 2004 with a degree in Humanities. She worked at the children’s hospital in South Africa, and then traveled throughout Africa with UNICEF and the UN World Food Programme. She then returned to the U.S. to work on Educational Programming at the Cooper- Hewitt National Design Museum, a Smithsonian museum in New York City.
One weekend about two years ago, she gathered a handful of like-minded friends in her sister’s house in Baltimore to brainstorm about what they could do to help people in Africa — and throughout the world — attain better health care.
“We decided that what we needed was a good idea, some guts, and a business plan,” she told the luncheon crowd. “Although starting a nonprofit at the height of the recession in 2008 may not have been the best plan, it did give us access to a lot of people who were out of work and rethinking what they wanted to do with their lives.”
Twenty-two fellows graduated from Global Health Corps’ first program this year. They have been working to improve the health care facilities in Africa — in Tanzania and Rwanda; Haiti; and in the U.S., in Boston and Newark.
“Next year, we’ll have a class of 40 fellows, and within five years, we hope to be putting 500 fellows in needy areas around the world,” Bush said. “I love working in the health field. I’d like to make building up this nonprofit my career.”
On a Personal Note
Bush said that although she never lived in the White House (she went to Yale the year her father was sworn-in; her sister was a freshman at the University of Texas that year), she appreciated tagging along with her parents as they traveled the world on official business.
“They always were working with nonprofit organizations and helping with causes they felt were important, and that inspired me to go into public service,” she said. “I always wanted to do something in the field of health that would help others.”
And, she insisted, she has no interest in having a career in politics.
What is her advice for Sasha and Malia Obama? “They are smart, lovely girls who obviously have parents who love them very much,” she said. “I’d tell them to take advantage of everything they get to see, to be a support to their parents, and to have fun.”
For more information, visit http://ghcorps.org.