Interview: Maranda Pleasant

Maranda Pleasant: Can you tell us what Global Health Corps is?

Barbara Bush, Jr.: What we do at Global Health Corps is mobilize, train, and place young leaders to serve for a year in the field of global health. Mothers to Mothers is one of our partners. Different nonprofits or government agencies that work in communities right now in East Africa, Southern Africa, and the U.S., they host our fellows to work for a year. What we’re trying to do is bring new talent and new leadership and new human capital to the field of public health, so that there’s more manpower at the table, working on solving these problems. Our program is very much focused on human power. So many young people want to work on social change issues. We’re lucky that many of them are interested in global health. We feel like that’s a tremendous opportunity—to take advantage of this passion and interest.

It’s essentially a year-long fellowship. Throughout the year, we train our fellows on understanding advocacy and policy change. Most importantly, we connect our fellows together throughout the year, so they are embodying the idea that you should be reaching across sectors, cultures, and issues, to work together to create solutions and get work done, instead of assuming that this is the status quo and we can’t get past so many health issues.

MP: What is it that drives you?

barbara-bush_01BB: Good question! What drives me and motivates me is the other people that I’m around. My work with Global Health Corps is focused on people. I get to work with amazing young people who are choosing to use their life and skills to tackle huge problems. For me, that’s a motivation—to seek other people as inspiration, and choose to see inspiration in what other people do and the choices that they make. I’m interested in global health issues, so I find it unbelievably motivating to see other people that are not sitting back, but stepping up and doing something about health problems that they see every day.

MP: Is there something in particular that makes you so passionate about your work with Global Health Corps?

BB: When I got interested in global health, it was from seeing injustices where you feel like the problems are so big, you can’t do anything about them. I initially realized that I could work on global health issues when I was young, in college. It was when the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief was being launched. I was really lucky that I got to travel along for the launch, in five countries in East Africa. PEPFAR was providing free access to the drugs that people needed so that they could actually live.

At the time, we had had those drugs in the United States for several years. Landing in Uganda or Nigeria and seeing lines of people that were dying—they were absolutely dying. They were waiting for something that people didn’t even realize was a luxury in other countries. I ended up talking to so many people there, and of course being struck by the fact that they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was there with my mom, sitting with many other moms who were sitting their with daughters who were born HIV-positive. It was one of those moments of realizing, I’m here with my mom—they have the same relationship that these moms and daughters do, but their futures are so uncertain right now because they can’t get the drugs that they need.

Of course, there’s so much science and medicine that goes into global health issues, but there’s so much more. It was about people having access to what they deserved to live a healthy life. There’s so much work and so much problem-solving that can be done. That’s where I initially realized I wanted to work on global health issues.

I live in New York. I have friends in various walks of life in New York, and many struggling with HIV in the United States. The beauty is that we can do something about it. We know how to treat and prevent HIV and so many other health issues. Why aren’t we doing everything that we can? Now there’s not an excuse. You can’t say that there’s an excuse because we don’t understand treating the issue or understand the illness and virus. We have the magic of understanding, around HIV particularly.

MP: Can you tell me about your work with the United Nations Foundation?

BB: The Social Good Summit is bringing so many different ways of thinking and enormous energy to creating social change. They have a very multi-discipline, multi-sector approach, with a huge tech emphasis. That, to me, is very exciting. It’s bringing different people to the table than who you traditionally see in development and aid work. Intuitively, when you get different voices, you get different solutions.

With the UN Foundation and the Social Entrepreneur Council, it’s very much based on the same idea. They are all coming from very different backgrounds. Many are coming from the tech sector, some are coming from retail luxury brands. One of the other social entrepreneur members has a kefir business and makes yogurt. It’s bringing young people that have excelled and exceeded in the work they wanted to do initially, in terms of problem-solving or building companies. It’s bringing them to the table to work on huge issues. Not to generalize, but oftentimes people think of the UN as a very established institution. I love that they’re reaching out to people from very different walks of life and sectors, to leverage the expertise or brain power that they have, and apply it to huge problems.

We’re specifically focused on engaging youth voices. The UN development goals are about to expire, and new goals are being made. It’s so important to have youth voices in the creation of these goals. Younger people are going to be the ones that ensure these goals are met.

MP: What can we do to support your work?

BB: We’re a new organization. We just launched our fifth class of 106 fellows. We accepted 2% of our applicants, which is exciting because it shows so many young people want to work on global health issues. But we want to grow. For us to do so, it means engaging partners that will financially support our fellows.

The world is creating goals around what it wants to see. Everybody should realize that it’s their responsibility to contribute to this broader conversation. The Social Entrepreneur Council has been working on an online platform called My World, which is essentially trying to grab other voices and make sure that they’re being listened to.

MP: I am so inspired. Thank you so much.

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