Barbara Bush, CEO and co-founder of Global Health Corps, addressed END7 student leaders on March 1, 2016 at the closing reception of the second annual END7 Student Advocacy Day.
I am so thrilled to be here with y’all at the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases’ Second Annual END7 Student Advocacy Day. I’m Barbara Bush and I’m the CEO & co-Founder of Global Health Corps. I am honored to be here with you today to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the USAID NTD program, a unique public-private partnership that has successfully leveraged more than 11.1 billion worth of donated drugs and supported the distribution of 1.4 billion safe and effective NTD treatments to more than 687 million people throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America.
It seems oddly fitting and very humbling that I am with you today to celebrate this program that my father launched a decade ago as he was the catalyst for my involvement with global health, an interest that was born rather unexpectedly. In 2003, as a 21-year-old architecture major, I was lucky enough to take 2 weeks off of my fancy Summer internship designing beautiful buildings and clothing in NYC, to be on the ground for the launch of PEPFAR—the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief–in five countries in East and Central Africa, and witnessed first-hand the roadblocks so many people face in obtaining appropriate healthcare to lead happy, prosperous lives.
It was a harrowing image–seeing hundreds of people lining the street waiting for life-saving medicine that had been readily 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 3, she was probably 7. 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 all of our control – like where and when we are born.
Yet, these heartbreaking memories were set against inspiring memories, memories of witnessing the commitment health workers, family members, and community members had made to change this unacceptable status quo.
Following that trip, I became obsessed with working on global health issues. And, quickly realized that I was only one of hundreds of thousands of people in my generation eager to fight to make health a human right; a fact demonstrated by the tremendous growth of global health programs on US college campuses, as well as by the engaged minds sitting here this evening.
Global Health Corps is building the next generation of global health leaders who share a common belief: health is a human right. At Global Health Corps, we are motivated by the conviction that great ideas don’t change the world, great people do.
However, our belief that health is a human right is not reflected in today’s reality – millions’ potentials and futures are undermined simply because they do not have access to the healthcare that they deserve. This is a truth y’all know too well as more than 1 billion people are at risk of NTDs’ debilitating effects, despite the fact that they are easily prevented through cost-effective interventions. This inequity of healthcare access persists in developing countries just as it does here in the United States; as it does in this very city.
Yet, right now is an incredible time to be working in global health (and alive, for that matter), we have vaccines that prevent childhood diseases that just a generation – or even half a generation – ago were fatal. In 2016, we actually have the technology, medicines, and interventions to not only save lives, but ensure people everywhere thrive – living healthier, more joyful, and more connected days. In many ways, life today is better than it has ever been. And, yet, millions die from preventable, treatable illnesses such as NTDs. Health systems are weak and we need new leaders to fix them.
The complexity and scope of today’s Global Health problems require people with diverse experiences, including an array of hard skills which are not clinical but still profoundly critical in the health care setting: operations, project management, engineering, communications, and architecture to name a few.
We believe that most powerful lever of change in global health is leadership: exceptional, talented problem solvers who can inspire and collaborate with others, and really move the needle in a new way. Getting the right talent in the right positions in the health system.
In 2009, five other twentysomethings and I founded Global Health Corps, a leadership development institute, to harness the passion, energy, and skill-sets of our generation to confront the world’s massive global health challenges.
Since then, we have been growing the movement for health equity, with many bumps and victories along the way. Six years ago, GHC had two staff members, including myself, and 22 inaugural fellows who took a chance on us. Today our team is ten times that size and our global community of fellows and alumni is nearly 600 strong.
These 600 young leaders have been placed at high-impact organizations in Rwanda, Malawi, Uganda, Burundi, Zambia, and the United States for a year-long fellowship. We partner with organizations on the front lines of health equity, across issue areas including NTDs and WASH and ranging from large international organizations such as Partners In Health to government agencies such as Ministries of Health to small grassroots non-profits such as Nyaka AIDS Project in Uganda. Our partners identify capacity gaps that they have and then we competitively recruit two young leaders, between the ages of 21 and 30, to serve with them for a year to address those needs. In this way, we are seeding the global health field with new talent and fresh ways of thinking and responding to real-time, demand driven needs in the global health field. 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 of young leaders. Throughout the fellowship year, we invest heavily in training, coaching, and mentoring our fellows, ensuring they understand policy-making, advocacy, and intra-and entrepreneurship because we know their year with Global Health Corps is just the launching point for a career as a changemaker in global health.
Our fellows embody a vision of leadership we’ve crafted over the years based on the evolving needs of the global health field. It’s 2015. Post-Ebola crisis, post-Millennium Development Goals, at the dawn of the Sustainable Development Goal era, with Africa rising, we strongly believe that to see the progress we need to see – and to ensure access to healthcare for all – we need a change. We need a cadre of leaders placed in the right gaps in the health system to move us forward. It’s an exciting moment.
But we aren’t focusing on building any leader. In our view, a leader possesses several key qualities: Compassion. Vulnerability. Resilience. Collaboration. Creativity. Commitment to social justice. Business acumen. These qualities have not been automatically linked to leadership in the past – especially traits like vulnerability, compassion, and resiliency.
This past June, we welcomed our 7th class of 134 fellows who are serving at 62 organizations. And quick side note that three-quarters of this year’s class are brilliant, inspiring women. This year we received more than 14,000 applications for 168 positions in our 2016-2017 fellowship class. We will accept less than 3% of these applicants. In short, our fellows are exceptional. From counselling homeless youth on chronic disease management in Newark, New Jersey, to building an electronic medical records system in Malawi, to screening and treating cervical cancer in Zambia, our fellows are positively affecting the health of thousands of people around the world. GHC fellows represent the powerful notion that young people can make an impact in the field of global health now, while gaining necessary skills to be leaders throughout their lives.
You might be wondering what the next generation of global health leaders looks like. Well, they are pretty diverse. They are writers, architects, economists, healthcare practitioners. They have founded organizations, completed other prestigious fellowships, won African Grammies, and given TED talks. You may know some of them – you may one day be some of them.
One of the biggest obstacles to this goal is that a lot of people who want to make a difference in this field are under the impression that they can’t. They think that only people with medical training—doctors and nurses—can help the sick and suffering. So part of our work is education—showing people that this simply isn’t true.
The complexity and scope of today’s problems require people with diverse experiences, from a wide range of fields beyond medicine. Finding innovative, sustainable solutions demands skills ranging from education and psychology … to supply-chain management …to computer programming … to engineering and beyond. I’m sure some of these skills can be found right here in this room.
Global Health Corps is working to change this perception. Ameet Salvi, who studied engineering at UC Berkeley and went on to work for the GAP in supply-chain management. After three years in retail, he began looking for a way to use his skills to make a difference in the lives of others. He heard about Global Health Corps, applied, and was accepted as one of our 22 inaugural fellows.
Only weeks after leaving his job, Ameet moved to Tanzania. His task was to do for the 1 million people living on the island of Zanzibar exactly what he did for GAP. But instead of working to get jeans into stores, Ameet used his skills to get life-saving medicines to health clinics—and into the hands of the patients who needed them most. Today, Ameet works as the Supply Chain Manager for Partners In Health in Sierra Leone, where he moved when the Ebola crisis hit West Africa. Ameet represents the powerful notion that bright and motivated young people can make a profound and immediate impact working in the field of global health and build skills to become new leaders in the industry.
Our fellows look like Jasmine Burton who is currently serving as a Design Specialist with Population Services International in Zambia. As a product designer, Jasmine wrestled with how products could be designed and created to solve health issues. These questions led her to discover her unique passion for toilets. In 2014, she won the Georgia Tech InVenture Prize competition for her design of an inexpensive mobile toilet. As founder of Wish For WASH, Jasmine strives to bring innovative solutions to the sanitation crisis; a crisis that impacts the spread and prevention of NTDs. Jasmine’s skills as a product designer were turned into life-changing superpowers when paired with her creativity & belief in health equity.
Our fellows also look like Regina Yang and Amelie Ntigulirwa, architects from the United States and Rwanda. These women served their fellowship year with MASS Design Group using their backgrounds in architecture and design to make small and inexpensive changes in the way that air flows throughout health centers so airborne illnesses like TB, which affects a 1/3 of Rwanda’s population, don’t spread to everyone that enters the hospital. Excitingly, the Ministry of Health was so impressed by the drop in TB incidences and the improvement in health outcomes due to these design tweaks that airflow is now a factor in all new health facilities built throughout the country. Both Regina and Amelie remained at MASS Design after their fellowship and are still currently working there, alongside the new generation of GHC fellows. Amelie and Marie are making an impact in the health field now and wherever their careers take them, they will be champions of the global-health cause for the rest of their lives. But we need to recruit many more people like them. As we recruit more people like them to join the global health field, the possibilities for innovative and creative solutions grows exponentially and that is inspiring. And the talented people we have working to solve these challenges, the more lives we can save.
In 20 years, we will see a dramatic improvement in health systems, in terms of quality and affordability of care. This will be the result of an infusion of radical new leadership, a group of leaders that Global Health Corps is working to build. In 10-15 years, young leaders like Sarah Snidal, currently at CHAI with its Global Vaccines Delivery team where she focuses on identifying and mitigating systematic bottlenecks and sharing best practices across regions and stakeholders, will be the Director of the World Health Organizations overseeing that NTDs no longer needlessly rob people of their health and lives. And Marie Amelie, the Rwandan architect at MASS Design Group, will be the Minister of Finance in Rwanda, funding smart clinic designs that stem disease spread. And Estefania Palomino, a Colombian human rights lawyer working on reproductive health in the US, will be the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights ensuring that health as a human right is realized in every way. And All this while Ameet Salvi, who’s been working on the frontlines of the Ebola crisis will be running Partners in Health. And finally, James Arianaitwe will be Uganda’s Minister of Health, revitalizing infrastructure and empowering frontline workers. These and many other impressive individuals are becoming empowered to advocate and fight for change.
This community of young leaders inspires and energizes me. Knowing that I’m standing in front of a community of equally engaged, thoughtful, and committed individuals eager to improve lives worldwide also inspires me. It is critical that you continue to advocate and work for change by meeting with your representatives in Congress and amplifying your voice and the voices of other END7 supporters through petitions and op-eds. We have so much at our disposal to achieve great things, and we also have the possibility to reimagine leadership that can accomplish even more, including eliminating NTDs. This is exciting, even if it is a bit daunting. But I know, beyond a doubt, that we are up for the task. Thank you.