Former first daughter Barbara Bush promoted fellowships for her non-profit organization, Global Health Corps, to a crowded room of USF students and faculty, mainly associated with the USF Business School, on Monday, Oct. 4. Bush refrained from discussing details about her life during her father’s presidency although she did say, during an exclusive interview with the Foghorn, that she had “a very normal college experience.” She said it was more normal than people would expect, considering herself lucky to have had a supportive environment and “a very normal life.”
Setting politics aside, Barbara Bush focused on discussing her passion for global health both abroad and in the United States. Bush said that her passion for global health developed while witnessing the contrast between the availability of health resources in developing and developed countries during a family trip to Africa in 2003. Accompanying her parents on an initiative of the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPAR), Bush, who had been 20 years old at the time, recounted a particular moment in her travel that influenced her current career path. She said, “I vividly remember sitting next to a tiny precious girl who was lying down dressed in her fanciest white and lavender dress. I didn’t know the details of her life at all. Her mother dressed her up and brought her to see the American president though she probably didn’t live much longer after then that.”
Upon returning to Yale University, the school which she attended, Bush decided to shift her focus from her previous studies in architecture to enroll in health classes that fueled her interest in global health. After graduating, Bush worked for the Red Cross’s Children’s Hospital in South Africa and interned for UNICEF in Botswana. In 2008, with funding from Google.org, Bush and several partners, some of whom were present at the USF event, created Global Health Corps (GHC).
Bush said the non-profit she founded developed to “harness all of the passion, energy, and skills of young people in our generation to confront these huge global health challenges facing our world today.” She said that one of the most common assumptions people make is that they cannot get involved in supporting medical work because they are not doctors or nurses.
However, Bush said that while asking international partner organizations about their needs, they rarely ask for medical staff. Instead Bush said, “Today’s challenges require people with diverse skills sets from a wide range of fields beyond medicine which is why I’m really happy to be talking to y’all because I know that a lot of you are from the business school.”
Barbara Bush said that GHC currently works with the Clinton Foundation and Partners in Health to identify areas of need and develop fellowships in Africa and parts of the East Coast in the United States. So far, GHC has sponsored 60 fellowships in Tanzania; Rwanda; Malawi; Burundi; Newark, New Jersey; and Boston, Massachusetts. It was also said that fellowships in Latin America might be a part of GHC in the future.
Global Health Corps recruits recent college graduates and young professionals for yearlong fellowships. Bush warned that the application process is competitive as they received more than 1,000 applications to fill the first 22 fellowships their program offered.
Among the requirements for the available positions, Bush said that GHC targets people that show leadership, flexibility, humility and relevant skills apparent in the essays they submit and the references they provide. Requirements to qualify also include an undergraduate degree and being under 30 years old.
Applications for upcoming fellowship opportunities, according to Bush, should be available on the non-profit’s website by mid January. Bush also said that as the program expands, she and her team plan to have 500 fellowships available within the next five years.
While discussing the work students and young professionals participate in, Bush shared the stories of recent GHC fellows. One of the stories Bush mentioned was that of Jeffrey Misomali who watched his father pass away from HIV. After graduating from the University of Malawi and earning his degree in Environmental Science and Technology, Misomali completed his graduate studies in Water and Environmental Management. After being accepted to participate in a GHC fellowship, Misomali worked with a partner on developing a project to help HIV positive mothers counsel pregnant women and other mothers on the importance of HIV prevention, testing and treatment.
Bush said that the particular district Misomali worked in showed statistics of one in four people living with HIV. After twelve months of working for Global Health Corps, the number of children without HIV born to positive mothers went from seven to 100.
Bush said, “Jeffrey is clearly succeeding in his work in making sure that other families don’t have to suffer due to the loss of someone that they love.”
With respect to the work being done in the United States, Bush said, fellows working in Newark have helped train hundreds of nurses on how to improve communication with patients and counsel homeless youth and teenagers on access to health resources.
When asked why Newark was one of the two U.S. cities chosen for fellowships, Bush responded that during the launch of Global Health Corps in New York, where the organization is based, she and her partners kept finding the need to speak with people facing a lack of health assistance in Newark, therefore making it a valid candidate for their work in addressing health issues. Bush added that fellows provide reports on the work they do and that several alumni have been offered higher positions in the organizations they worked with after the completion of their fellowships.
The panel held at the end of her talk included advice from Barbara Bush as well as from the three GHC work partners that accompanied her that night.
Ajit Shah, strategic advisor to Global Health Corps and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley since 1982, said he has seen a new wave of individuals get involved with entrepreneurship in the non-profit sector and he advised that young people learn from those that have engaged in similar work to find mentors and build alliances.
Jennifer Miller, finance professor at USF and CFO of Global Health Corps, said that GHC has had its “daily hiccups” but that perseverance has been key in helping their project move along. Miller also said that flexibility in restructuring GHC’s mission has also been a part of the process to improve their line of work.
For example, Charlie Hale, geopolitic analyst for Google and Co-founder of GHC, said that the non-profit originally preferred to accept students that did not have previous medical training to add diversity to the academic background of GHC fellows but have since then reconsidered to include them in the list of qualified candidates.
With hopes that USF will take interest in this unique opportunity, Barbara Bush told students, “Next time you read or write about global health challenges, don’t allow the statistics to show you that nothing can be done. Instead think about your Jesuit education. Think about men and women for others. Think about the optimistic stories of real people making real change.”
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