Five Questions with Rebecca Neale

What is your fondest memory from your time working in the Bush Administration?

Among a range of fond Bush Administration memories, one experience that I will never forget was a visit with Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to schools in remote areas of Alaska. Throughout the state, we observed firsthand the pride Alaskans take in their culture and their unique history. In many classrooms, we observed how Native Alaskan songs and traditional dances were threaded into the curriculum in creative ways. Sadly, these native communities face tremendous challenges, not least that economic opportunities are scarce and populations are dwindling, all of which threaten their culture and way of life. I was inspired not only by the positive impact of President Bush’s education policies but by the commitment of these communities to their young people. I was particularly struck by a visit to a tiny island off the mainland called Shishmaref with a population of some 500 people. Life in this tightly-knit village centered on the school and the education of children. It was indescribably moving to experience this special community’s commitment to education, and it certainly put into perspective the work we were doing back in Washington.

For more than four years, you’ve been striving to strengthen U.S.-China relations through your work at the Paulson Institute, where you serve as Chief of Staff and Director of the U.S.-China CEO Council for Sustainable Urbanization. What challenges or opportunities exist in the area of U.S.-China relations?

The relationship between the United States and China – the two largest economies in the world – is arguably our most important bilateral relationship. It’s fraught with challenges and growing complexity, particularly amid China’s rise. But our countries are deeply interconnected economically – and it’s in our interest to seize opportunities to build a constructive relationship. For example, at the Paulson Institute, we focus on the intersection of the economic and environmental issues that are of importance to both countries. A key milestone in that relationship was the global leadership both countries demonstrated on the Paris Accord. Investing in new clean technologies can present an enormous economic opportunity for the United States, with the added benefit of helping to reduce our carbon emissions. This is an area where I hope our countries can continue to work constructively. It’s critical that the next Administration take a pragmatic, long-term approach to navigating this important and complicated relationship.

The Paulson Institute’s U.S.-China CEO Council just completed its second year. What does this council aim to achieve?

The Paulson Institute’s CEO Council is grounded in the belief that strong business linkages between the United States and China are integral to a constructive bilateral relationship. To that end, the Paulson Institute’s CEO Council works to strengthen ties between leading business leaders from both countries, with a specific focus on sustainable urbanization. Currently, the Council is comprised of 19 CEOs from a range of private and state-owned enterprises, from Jack Ma of Alibaba to Ginni Rometty of IBM, to the heads of China’s largest construction and electricity grid companies. My colleagues and I work alongside teams from Council members’ companies to find opportunities for partnership on projects that demonstrate new, clean technologies to help address the challenges of urbanization. For example, several companies are collaborating on early-stage city development projects, where exciting opportunities exist to test new approaches to building truly sustainable cities. Other clusters of Council companies are exchanging best practices that companies can adopt to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions in their supply chains. Given the collective influence of our CEO Council members, we also advocate for policies to advance China’s economic transition in a sustainable way.

Your work has taken you to China a number of times – do you have a favorite memory from your travels?

I do – in fact, my first day in this job in 2012 started with a flight to Shanghai, and I’ve have the privilege to travel to China many times since. My first trip to the country was in 2006 on a joint State Department-Education Department delegation to Asia, which piqued my interest in the region. It’s been an honor to meet fascinating and impressive people there, from senior government officials to business leaders. But my best “meeting” – and my favorite China memory so far – was with a panda bear named Jun Jun at the Panda Park in Chengdu (see photo).

What is your proudest moment from your years in the Administration?

Perhaps my proudest moment came in 2008 during a White House delegation trip to Africa with the Faith-Based and Community Initiative. Our team traveled to Rwanda and Zambia to hold White House conferences promoting opportunities for local non-profits and churches to partner with the U.S. Government on health and economic development initiatives. By then, the work of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Malaria Initiative had really taken hold. As President Bush often said, these initiatives delivered a “Lazarus effect” to many languishing at death’s door. One of the most striking experiences of this trip - my life – was witnessing firsthand the profound struggles of the communities and individuals I encountered: visiting a village of mud huts in Zambia with an AIDS homecare worker, funded by PEPFAR; making rounds to her patients; praying with a bed-ridden man receiving anti-retroviral treatments. I’ve never been more moved in the moment, or prouder to have been working in the service of President Bush and our country.