Al Arabiya interviewed Barbara Bush, chief executive of Global Health Corps and daughter of former American president, George W. Bush, on the side-lines of the Women Deliver global conference in Malaysia, which focused on issues such as female health, early or forced marriage, sex education and abortion.
Q: Revolutions are sweeping the Middle East, and the driving force have been the youth. How can they be given more of a voice, and a chance to make a difference?
Bush: Interestingly, right now half of the world is under 25, and the Arab Spring is a great example of that population coming together and moving the needle on the issues that they care about. With Global Health Corps, all of our work is about engaging young leaders and preparing them for leadership roles now, so that when their voice is heard they know what to do next.
It is important to get people’s attention, but then you have to know how to use that attention and that sphere of influence to create the world that you want to see. Young people are seeing that they can get more attention, and it is important for them to know what they want to ask for and visualize what they want to be, so that they can end up in positions of greater influence.
Q: How can international non-governmental organizations such as Global Health Corps help these young people on the ground? Is there a chance to spearhead action and help in the near future?
Bush: Yes, there is a chance for that and a huge opportunity. The truth of the matter is, we always say young people are the leaders of tomorrow, but they are leading now. We see that in the Middle East, in terms of the voices that are being heard. They are young people, and it is a responsibility to take that leadership and run with it.
As a non-profit organization, we see a huge opportunity around mobilizing young leaders and investing in their own talent and leadership development, and then giving them opportunities to voice their vision in a concrete way so that they have the next steps to move on. Increasingly, organizations around the world are going to have to see young people as an asset and an opportunity to affect the change they want.
Q: What are the principles behind empowering youth? What do you do to give them that platform?
Bush: We are taking advantage of the fact that there are already so many young leaders who are interested in social change, and in working on global or women’s health issues. Often, these youths are inspired by a certain injustice that they have seen.
Our programme is a fellowship model, so we mobilize young leaders and place them for a year of service, where they will work on global health issues every single day for a year in the field within an organization.
On top of that, we train them to use their voice in terms of understanding advocacy and policy change, and most importantly connecting them with each other so that they have this really strong peer network that they can brainstorm and collaborate with, and support and push each other to keep working.
We see now, more than ever, the power of networks. There is no need to do this work alone, because we can all be connecting and reaching a shared goal.
Q: What message do you have for these types of people? Is it to come together and stay together to make a difference?
Bush: I think the power of collective action is enormous, and the Arab Spring is a great example of that. Figure out who your allies are in the work that you want to do, find them and work with them, so there is this collective and critical mass of people working together for change.
Q: Could a collective voice be able to infiltrate and make a difference within government institutions that are stagnant and adverse to change?
Bush: Yes, absolutely. They should be the voice that is being heard right now, and it is not fair if the voice we hear in the media is not the 50 percent of the youth population.
It is important to figure out how to use collective voices for positive change, and ensure that young people are doing their homework and knowing the issues really well to be respected as a louder voice. This will allow opportunities for those voices to shift public discourse, dialogue and policy to serve more people.