VB Gives Back

VB GIVES BACK: Barbara Bush

August 1, 2018

After a life-changing trip to East and Central Africa, Barbara Bush wanted to find a way to improve global health. While traveling with her parents working on AIDS relief, she witnessed the disparity between healthcare in the US and around the world. Determined to make a difference, she found like-minded peers who were also dedicated to global health issues. In 2009, driven by the belief that health is a human right, five other twenty-somethings and Barbara founded Global Health Corps, a leadership development organization with a mission of building the next generation of leaders who will transform global health systems. Today this international community of fellows and alumni is nearly 1000 strong and operates by the belief that “great ideas don’t change the world, great leaders do.”

What sparked your passion for making a difference in global health?

I was moved to action by witnessing the roadblocks so many people face in obtaining the healthcare they need to lead healthy, fulfilling lives. In 2003, as a 21-year-old architecture major, I was lucky enough to join my parents for the launch of PEPFAR—the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief—in five countries in East and Central Africa. I saw crowds of people who had traveled long distances by foot to wait in line for life-saving HIV treatment that had been available in the U.S. for years. I vividly remember standing with my mother next to a tiny precious girl and her mother. The little girl was lying down dressed in her fanciest white and lavender dress. I didn’t know the details of that child’s life, only that she was too sick to stand, and though she looked like she was three, she was probably seven. Her mother dressed her up and brought her to the launch, though she probably didn’t live much longer. People’s lives, like that little girl’s, were limited and cut short, simply because of factors beyond our control – like where and when we are born.

What led you to found Global Health Corps? 

Following that trip, I became obsessed with working on global health issues, and I quickly realized that I was only one of thousands of people in my generation who was eager to solve health issues. In 2009, driven by the belief that health is a human right, five other twenty-somethings and I founded Global Health Corps, a leadership development organization with a mission of building the next generation of leaders who will transform global health systems.

Since then, we have been growing the movement for health equity, with many bumps and victories along the way. Ten years ago, GHC had two staff members, including myself, and 22 inaugural fellows who took a chance on us. Today our team is 20 times that size, and our global community of fellows and alumni is nearly 1000 strong. We have seen that great ideas don’t change the world, great leaders do.

Who can become a Global Health Corps fellow?

Global Health Corps is open to anyone who fiercely believes that health is a human right and is committed to making it a reality for all. We recruit young professionals from all skill sets and backgrounds who have the potential to be the bold, empathetic, resilient leaders the world needs now more than ever. Our fellows are writers, architects, economists, supply chain analysts, IT experts, and more. They have founded organizations, completed other prestigious fellowships, won African Grammies, and given TED talks. They are majority women, mostly people of color, and all age 30 or younger.

How do you match your fellows with their placement organizations? 

Our fellows fill real-time gaps with partner organizations working on the front lines of global health on issues, ranging from malaria and nutrition to maternal health and HIV. Our partners are grassroots community-based organizations like Nyaka AIDS, international nonprofits like Partners In Health, and government agencies in Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, the U.S. and Zambia.

We competitively recruit two young leaders, between the ages of 21 and 30, to serve with these organizations for a year. In this way, we are seeding the field with new talent and fresh ways of thinking and responding to real-time, demand-driven needs. Our fellows always serve in teams of two—one fellow from the country where they work partnered with an international fellow—making this a truly global group. Throughout the fellowship year, we invest heavily in training, coaching, and mentoring our fellows because we know their year with Global Health Corps is just the launching point for their career as a change-maker.

Can you give us an example of a co-fellow and how they addressed an identified need on the ground? 

Two of those fellows are Jeffrey Misomali from Malawi and Emily Bearse from Hudson, Ohio. Jeffrey and Emily represent the powerful notion that bright and motivated young people can make a profound and immediate impact working in the field of global health, while building skills to become new leaders in the industry. After watching a close family member die of AIDS, Jeffrey knew he wanted to help save other families from knowing the same grief. He attended the University of Malawi, earning his degree in Environmental Science and Technology, and then completed his graduate studies in Water and Environmental Management at the University of Bristol. He put these skills to use addressing water, sanitation, and environmental problems that affect community health. Emily had studied public health and also wanted to put her experience to good use.

Together, Jeffrey and Emily improved and expanded a program in Malawi that enlists HIV-positive mothers to help counsel pregnant women and mothers on the importance of HIV prevention, testing, and treatment. The program also provides HIV-positive pregnant women with the medical treatment they need to give birth to healthy babies. In the district where Jeffrey and Emily worked, one out of every four people lives with HIV. However, during the year these fellows spent in Malawi, 7000 HIV+ mothers were enrolled in their program. This means that 7000 HIV+ mothers brought home 7000 HIV- babies. Today, Jeffrey works at ELMA Philanthropies in Cape Town, South Africa and Emily serves as a Maternal Health Clinical Officer at Partners In Health in Sierra Leone.

What is your hope for the future of Global Health Corps?

I hope and believe that we’ll see a bright future in which this new generation of leaders drives us to a tipping point in global health—solving preventable and treatable illnesses so health is a right, not a luxury. As the GHC community grows, I see our leaders continuing to work together across borders and boundaries to transform systems. It will take humility and resilience, collaboration and innovation, and a lot of hard, unsexy work. But, we are on our way, and we will get there. 


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