.
Women play a vital role in the success and prosperity of every nation, yet in many parts of the world women and girls are illiterate and denied basic human rights. Improving the lives of women and girls with education and economic opportunity provides the fastest way to growing a nation’s economy, raising living standards, and promoting peace. The George W. Bush Institute’s Global Women’s Initiatives, chaired by Mrs. Laura Bush, advances freedom by empowering women and girls to promote peace and transform their native countries through access to education, health care, and economic opportunity. The Women’s Initiative Fellowship, a program of the Global Women’s Initiatives, empowers and equips women to become effective leaders. It is designed to develop the leadership skills of women around the world, with an initial focus on women in the Middle East and North Africa. Research shows that with a strong professional network, a woman is better able to prosper in her field and expand her influence. Recognizing the significance of networks, each Fellowship class is composed of 14-20 women from a single country. The Fellows represent six powerful sectors of society: education, health, business, politics, law, and media. Fellows build leadership skills during the program that they can share with their colleagues and friends, thereby broadening the women’s network. A critical component of the Fellowship is mentoring. Prominent American women are paired with Fellows who share their same profession. Mentors commit to at least a one-year relationship, providing guidance, advice, and support. The combination of coursework, hands-on skill development, sharing of best-practice models, mentor support, and network-building ensures that Fellows return home prepared to create significant and lasting changes in their countries. The inaugural class of Fellows, convened in 2012, was made up of 13 Egyptian women. The second Fellowship began in March 2013 and comprised of 19 Egyptian women. The 2014 and 2015 Fellowship classes feature women from Tunisia. Currently, the Initiative is recruiting its 2016 class of fellows from Egypt. Editor-in-Chief Ana C. Rold, who served as a mentor during the inaugural class, caught up with former First Lady Laura Bush to discuss the program’s successes and future. [Ana Rold]: Mrs. Bush, I want to begin by asking you to tell me about the impetus behind the Women’s Initiative; about its focus and what makes it different from other women’s programs we have heard about out there. [Laura Bush]: When we ran the White House and established the Bush Foundation and the Bush Institute at our Presidential Library in Dallas, I knew that I would want to continue my work with women worldwide that I’d begun with women in Afghanistan, when George was president. And George believes that women are the ones who will lead democracy—the women around the world and especially across the Middle East. So we decided to do this fellowship program, inviting a group of women all from the same country. The idea of inviting women all from the same country is based from the research of a professor at Southern Methodist University (SMU) who found out that your network is as important as your education level to your success. And we knew that, of course, in many countries in the Middle East women were slightly more isolated than we are and don’t have the opportunity to make the sort of broad networks that American women have. So we looked across the Middle East. This was, right after the Arab Spring, and we decided to start with Egyptian women. We brought women from Egypt for two classes, as you know, and then we brought women from Tunisia for the next two classes. So we’ve had four years of these fellowships. We invited women who didn’t know each other before in their country. And then, when the women went home, they would have each other as part of their network and then be able to introduce all their colleagues to their other colleagues in their families and broaden their network just with one group of fellows. The whole idea of the visit to the United States was to let women know how to start building the institutions that take to support a democracy. We inherited all those institutions here: the free press, the business law, the contract law, all the things that allow us to have a democracy and have a flourishing economy. And we take it for granted. I met with an Egyptian woman once, before we started the fellowship, and I thought of the fact that I knew that 85% of Texas public libraries were founded by women or women’s clubs. And I said to her, “do you have any women’s clubs that you could start, to institute the sort of foundation that you would need for a democracy?” And she said, “we don’t have Freedom of Assembly.” It never occurs to us that we can assemble in any group that we want to. So, the idea was to talk about all these different ways that women can go back to their homes with, to their network and start to build their own lives and also help build the institutions that can support a democracy. [AR]: You said the first two classes were from Egypt and then the other two from Tunisia. Why did you decide to invest so much in these two countries and, I understand, the next class is coming from Egypt? [LB]: That’s right. We’re welcoming our fifth class this coming spring and that will be another class of Egyptian women. And the whole idea of being able to build a broad network is why we focused on these two countries. We’ve had two classes thus far of Tunisian women, and they say there are now 17,000 women in their network. Once these two classes each went back home, they introduced each other to many others of their friends and colleagues. So that’s why we chose to have another Egyptian class—and then probably we will have another Tunisian class after that—so that in those countries, more and more women will have the chance to know each other and to really start to build this institution as they begin to support their democracies. One of the things we wanted to do…we brought women here to Dallas to meet at SMU, where the Bush Presidential Library is. And they worked with business professors and other professors at SMU to learn and to talk about ways they can build their own leadership skills and network. And then they were paired with a prominent American woman in their own field. The fellows then went out to cities around the United States, in their mentors’ hometowns, where they worked with their own mentor. You can imagine what it was like for these women to go to the hometowns of their mentors all over our country. In big cities and small cities, and cities in the southwest, like El Paso that probably look a little bit like Egypt, but have such a Latino flavor. And then they come back for a final weekend at SMU with us at the Bush Presidential Center, and then go home. But the mentors then stay in contact with their mentees for the whole year. [AR]: Tell me what happens after the women graduate from the program. I understand this vast network is being built, which is fantastic. But, how do you keep in touch with them over the years? [LB]: They actually come back at the end of the year and the same kind of new class is started. So they meet the new class that’s coming on. And then the mentors themselves stay in contact with everyone, with the women they’re matched with. At the Bush Institute, Charity Wallace, who’s the director of the Women’s Initiative at the Bush Institute stays in contact. One of our Egyptian fellows came back to SMU to get a graduate degree. And her mentor was a professor at SMU and so she lived with her mentor for that year that she was in graduate school. [AR]: If I can speak from my experience, it’s one of those friendships for life. You’re connected for life after this. [LB]: That is one of the really moving parts of the whole mentorship, and that’s this friendship American women have with our sisters. You know, bonds that grow. [AR]: Tell me a little about the current class. [LB]: The current class of fellows is from Tunisia. Both Tunisian classes have been very enthusiastic in person. The second group of women from Tunisia got to be friends with the first group right away. And it’s the first group that now counts as their broad network. They say they now have 17,000 women in their network. I want to really see from all four classes—from the two Egyptian classes and the two Tunisian classes—women really enjoy the opportunity to be with each other, to learn from each other, and to be able to have these friends for life. I would certainly say that each of the classes have made friends with each other besides making friends with their American mentors that will be friends for life. And when they go home, they introduce each other to their own families and their own friends and colleagues. And it is how [the Fellowship] it broadens that big network. But it’s also a network of friendship. And it’s a network of support, in a way, for women—especially in countries where women have been marginalized—to have the chance to support each other and then to really see what life could be like if they are successful in building these institutions that would support the kind of freedoms that they hope they’ll have eventually in their countries. [AR]: What’s interesting about this program is the long-term investment. In the fifth year of this program you are still working with these two countries. Would you comment on the long-term investment the Bush Center and the Women’s Fellowship Program is making? [LB]: Well, it is a long-term investment and that’s really what it’s designed to be—especially the idea of bringing fellows from the same country. There are a lot of different programs that are similar to this one. Bring people from a number of countries together, which also serves a good purpose. But our point was to bring people from the same country so when they went home they would have each other. And, you know, that’s why we want to continue to have fellows from the same countries, from Egypt or Tunisia, to have this multiplier effect. Also, being able to work with women from the same country is just profound, I think. It makes all the difference in the fellowship. It’s different to come to a fellowship program and meet people from around the world but then go home and be alone. And you might or might not see some of the people that you made friends with during the fellowship program ever again in your life. And I think this is really meant to “be long-term, because we know it takes a long time. Look at all the institutions that we have in the United States that support our democracy. Think of how long it took us to get here. And it’s certainly not perfect now, even though we started with a pretty good document to begin with. That said, each time there is a new class, a new group of women. A new group of young women that need to learn the skills of leadership and also learn that they’re not alone. That there are other people in their own country are around the world that wish them success. [AR]: I know you touched on this already, but would you comment on why you think it’s so important for the United States and the international community at large to care about the women in not just these two countries specifically, but also the larger Middle East region? [LB]: I think—and I know that George believes this—that it’s important for us to realize that the situation in other countries affects us as well. And that we have a moral obligation in a sense to reach out to women. I know women feel this way and I learned this right after September 11 that American women were horrified by what we saw in the treatment of women in Afghanistan by the Taliban. And immediately I started hearing from American women who would call and say, “what can I do? I want to do something.” That’s when we formed the U.S. Afghan Women’s Council. And [the Council] was just private American citizens who wanted to do something; some of them funded the girls secret schools. Others figured out ways to be able to help women in Afghanistan make a living. I know that there is a desire on the part of American women, as we look across the broader Middle East to be with our sisters there and to do what we can to make sure they’re protected in a way that gives them a chance to live a full life with all the rights and privileges that we certainly enjoy in the United States, including, of course, an education. What we saw in Afghanistan, was a country where half of the population was denied an education, and that was shocking, I think, for Americans. But I think that in every case since, we looked across the world, we—American women, especially, but also all Americans—want to see other countries succeed. Because we know that we’ll have a peaceful world if that happens. [AR]: How can women and men in the United States be involved? [LB]: I think that most definitely learn about this program, but also there are a lot of other programs. There are a lot of ways Americans can support women around the world. And, you know, many people do that through their churches for instance, either by going to those locations and working in missions or by just figuring out ways, programs that they can contribute to. I think many Americans do already reach out to people around the world. But I think staying at least informed about the plight of people around the world is the first step. Americans are good-hearted, they want people to succeed.   Ana C. Rold is the Editor-in-Chief, Diplomatic Courier.

About
Ana C. Rold
:
Ana C. Rold is the Founder and Publisher of Diplomatic Courier. Rold teaches political science courses at Northeastern University and is the Host of The World in 2050 – A Forum About Our Future, and producer of Future Tense podcast. Follow her on Twitter @ACRold.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

a global affairs media network

www.diplomaticourier.com

Interview With Former First Lady Laura Bush

September 2, 2015

Women play a vital role in the success and prosperity of every nation, yet in many parts of the world women and girls are illiterate and denied basic human rights. Improving the lives of women and girls with education and economic opportunity provides the fastest way to growing a nation’s economy, raising living standards, and promoting peace. The George W. Bush Institute’s Global Women’s Initiatives, chaired by Mrs. Laura Bush, advances freedom by empowering women and girls to promote peace and transform their native countries through access to education, health care, and economic opportunity. The Women’s Initiative Fellowship, a program of the Global Women’s Initiatives, empowers and equips women to become effective leaders. It is designed to develop the leadership skills of women around the world, with an initial focus on women in the Middle East and North Africa. Research shows that with a strong professional network, a woman is better able to prosper in her field and expand her influence. Recognizing the significance of networks, each Fellowship class is composed of 14-20 women from a single country. The Fellows represent six powerful sectors of society: education, health, business, politics, law, and media. Fellows build leadership skills during the program that they can share with their colleagues and friends, thereby broadening the women’s network. A critical component of the Fellowship is mentoring. Prominent American women are paired with Fellows who share their same profession. Mentors commit to at least a one-year relationship, providing guidance, advice, and support. The combination of coursework, hands-on skill development, sharing of best-practice models, mentor support, and network-building ensures that Fellows return home prepared to create significant and lasting changes in their countries. The inaugural class of Fellows, convened in 2012, was made up of 13 Egyptian women. The second Fellowship began in March 2013 and comprised of 19 Egyptian women. The 2014 and 2015 Fellowship classes feature women from Tunisia. Currently, the Initiative is recruiting its 2016 class of fellows from Egypt. Editor-in-Chief Ana C. Rold, who served as a mentor during the inaugural class, caught up with former First Lady Laura Bush to discuss the program’s successes and future. [Ana Rold]: Mrs. Bush, I want to begin by asking you to tell me about the impetus behind the Women’s Initiative; about its focus and what makes it different from other women’s programs we have heard about out there. [Laura Bush]: When we ran the White House and established the Bush Foundation and the Bush Institute at our Presidential Library in Dallas, I knew that I would want to continue my work with women worldwide that I’d begun with women in Afghanistan, when George was president. And George believes that women are the ones who will lead democracy—the women around the world and especially across the Middle East. So we decided to do this fellowship program, inviting a group of women all from the same country. The idea of inviting women all from the same country is based from the research of a professor at Southern Methodist University (SMU) who found out that your network is as important as your education level to your success. And we knew that, of course, in many countries in the Middle East women were slightly more isolated than we are and don’t have the opportunity to make the sort of broad networks that American women have. So we looked across the Middle East. This was, right after the Arab Spring, and we decided to start with Egyptian women. We brought women from Egypt for two classes, as you know, and then we brought women from Tunisia for the next two classes. So we’ve had four years of these fellowships. We invited women who didn’t know each other before in their country. And then, when the women went home, they would have each other as part of their network and then be able to introduce all their colleagues to their other colleagues in their families and broaden their network just with one group of fellows. The whole idea of the visit to the United States was to let women know how to start building the institutions that take to support a democracy. We inherited all those institutions here: the free press, the business law, the contract law, all the things that allow us to have a democracy and have a flourishing economy. And we take it for granted. I met with an Egyptian woman once, before we started the fellowship, and I thought of the fact that I knew that 85% of Texas public libraries were founded by women or women’s clubs. And I said to her, “do you have any women’s clubs that you could start, to institute the sort of foundation that you would need for a democracy?” And she said, “we don’t have Freedom of Assembly.” It never occurs to us that we can assemble in any group that we want to. So, the idea was to talk about all these different ways that women can go back to their homes with, to their network and start to build their own lives and also help build the institutions that can support a democracy. [AR]: You said the first two classes were from Egypt and then the other two from Tunisia. Why did you decide to invest so much in these two countries and, I understand, the next class is coming from Egypt? [LB]: That’s right. We’re welcoming our fifth class this coming spring and that will be another class of Egyptian women. And the whole idea of being able to build a broad network is why we focused on these two countries. We’ve had two classes thus far of Tunisian women, and they say there are now 17,000 women in their network. Once these two classes each went back home, they introduced each other to many others of their friends and colleagues. So that’s why we chose to have another Egyptian class—and then probably we will have another Tunisian class after that—so that in those countries, more and more women will have the chance to know each other and to really start to build this institution as they begin to support their democracies. One of the things we wanted to do…we brought women here to Dallas to meet at SMU, where the Bush Presidential Library is. And they worked with business professors and other professors at SMU to learn and to talk about ways they can build their own leadership skills and network. And then they were paired with a prominent American woman in their own field. The fellows then went out to cities around the United States, in their mentors’ hometowns, where they worked with their own mentor. You can imagine what it was like for these women to go to the hometowns of their mentors all over our country. In big cities and small cities, and cities in the southwest, like El Paso that probably look a little bit like Egypt, but have such a Latino flavor. And then they come back for a final weekend at SMU with us at the Bush Presidential Center, and then go home. But the mentors then stay in contact with their mentees for the whole year. [AR]: Tell me what happens after the women graduate from the program. I understand this vast network is being built, which is fantastic. But, how do you keep in touch with them over the years? [LB]: They actually come back at the end of the year and the same kind of new class is started. So they meet the new class that’s coming on. And then the mentors themselves stay in contact with everyone, with the women they’re matched with. At the Bush Institute, Charity Wallace, who’s the director of the Women’s Initiative at the Bush Institute stays in contact. One of our Egyptian fellows came back to SMU to get a graduate degree. And her mentor was a professor at SMU and so she lived with her mentor for that year that she was in graduate school. [AR]: If I can speak from my experience, it’s one of those friendships for life. You’re connected for life after this. [LB]: That is one of the really moving parts of the whole mentorship, and that’s this friendship American women have with our sisters. You know, bonds that grow. [AR]: Tell me a little about the current class. [LB]: The current class of fellows is from Tunisia. Both Tunisian classes have been very enthusiastic in person. The second group of women from Tunisia got to be friends with the first group right away. And it’s the first group that now counts as their broad network. They say they now have 17,000 women in their network. I want to really see from all four classes—from the two Egyptian classes and the two Tunisian classes—women really enjoy the opportunity to be with each other, to learn from each other, and to be able to have these friends for life. I would certainly say that each of the classes have made friends with each other besides making friends with their American mentors that will be friends for life. And when they go home, they introduce each other to their own families and their own friends and colleagues. And it is how [the Fellowship] it broadens that big network. But it’s also a network of friendship. And it’s a network of support, in a way, for women—especially in countries where women have been marginalized—to have the chance to support each other and then to really see what life could be like if they are successful in building these institutions that would support the kind of freedoms that they hope they’ll have eventually in their countries. [AR]: What’s interesting about this program is the long-term investment. In the fifth year of this program you are still working with these two countries. Would you comment on the long-term investment the Bush Center and the Women’s Fellowship Program is making? [LB]: Well, it is a long-term investment and that’s really what it’s designed to be—especially the idea of bringing fellows from the same country. There are a lot of different programs that are similar to this one. Bring people from a number of countries together, which also serves a good purpose. But our point was to bring people from the same country so when they went home they would have each other. And, you know, that’s why we want to continue to have fellows from the same countries, from Egypt or Tunisia, to have this multiplier effect. Also, being able to work with women from the same country is just profound, I think. It makes all the difference in the fellowship. It’s different to come to a fellowship program and meet people from around the world but then go home and be alone. And you might or might not see some of the people that you made friends with during the fellowship program ever again in your life. And I think this is really meant to “be long-term, because we know it takes a long time. Look at all the institutions that we have in the United States that support our democracy. Think of how long it took us to get here. And it’s certainly not perfect now, even though we started with a pretty good document to begin with. That said, each time there is a new class, a new group of women. A new group of young women that need to learn the skills of leadership and also learn that they’re not alone. That there are other people in their own country are around the world that wish them success. [AR]: I know you touched on this already, but would you comment on why you think it’s so important for the United States and the international community at large to care about the women in not just these two countries specifically, but also the larger Middle East region? [LB]: I think—and I know that George believes this—that it’s important for us to realize that the situation in other countries affects us as well. And that we have a moral obligation in a sense to reach out to women. I know women feel this way and I learned this right after September 11 that American women were horrified by what we saw in the treatment of women in Afghanistan by the Taliban. And immediately I started hearing from American women who would call and say, “what can I do? I want to do something.” That’s when we formed the U.S. Afghan Women’s Council. And [the Council] was just private American citizens who wanted to do something; some of them funded the girls secret schools. Others figured out ways to be able to help women in Afghanistan make a living. I know that there is a desire on the part of American women, as we look across the broader Middle East to be with our sisters there and to do what we can to make sure they’re protected in a way that gives them a chance to live a full life with all the rights and privileges that we certainly enjoy in the United States, including, of course, an education. What we saw in Afghanistan, was a country where half of the population was denied an education, and that was shocking, I think, for Americans. But I think that in every case since, we looked across the world, we—American women, especially, but also all Americans—want to see other countries succeed. Because we know that we’ll have a peaceful world if that happens. [AR]: How can women and men in the United States be involved? [LB]: I think that most definitely learn about this program, but also there are a lot of other programs. There are a lot of ways Americans can support women around the world. And, you know, many people do that through their churches for instance, either by going to those locations and working in missions or by just figuring out ways, programs that they can contribute to. I think many Americans do already reach out to people around the world. But I think staying at least informed about the plight of people around the world is the first step. Americans are good-hearted, they want people to succeed.   Ana C. Rold is the Editor-in-Chief, Diplomatic Courier.

About
Ana C. Rold
:
Ana C. Rold is the Founder and Publisher of Diplomatic Courier. Rold teaches political science courses at Northeastern University and is the Host of The World in 2050 – A Forum About Our Future, and producer of Future Tense podcast. Follow her on Twitter @ACRold.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.