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Women's Initiative Fellowship LiveBlog

Article by Charity Wallace April 10, 2013 //   27 minute read

Welcome to the liveblog for the 2013 Women’s Initiative Fellowship.

This year, the Bush Institute welcomed 19 Egyptian women to participate in the year long program – beginning with a month in the U.S. and spending the remainder of the fellowship in Egypt. We invite you to learn more about these brave women and follow their journey on this blog over the next month and the next year.


The Journey Continues In Egypt

April 10, 2013

On Saturday, the 2013 Women’s Initiative Fellowship class returned to Egypt after spending four and half weeks in the United States.  The month spent in the U.S. is just the beginning of their year-long program, and was critical to the Fellows in building a foundation of leadership skills, expanding their networks, and obtaining practical tools for success.  

The last week of the Fellowship was spent in the Silicon Valley of California visiting some of the most innovative, exciting, and inspiring companies, including Google, Cisco, Twitter and Facebook.  Fellows learned from extraordinary leading women in at Cisco and Facebook, about overcoming challenges and making their unique mark on a company and society.  They learned about how to promote successful, innovative cultures in companies and nongovernmental organizations from Google; and they discussed the best ways to get their message out at Twitter.  Josh Ochs, Founder of Media Leaders, taught the group how to be “Light, Bright and Polite” on social media and how to most effectively use social media for their cause or company. 

One of the highlights of the week in the Silicon Valley was a private reception hosted by John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, and his wife Elaine.   Their hospitality and generosity of time overwhelmed the Fellows, showcasing the best of the American spirit.  The Fellows told their personal stories and shared their dreams to improve Egypt.  Guests left the reception inspired by the Fellows and motivated to support their work.

As I proudly watched the Fellows interface with some of the Silicon Valley’s most prestigious residents, I felt a renewed confidence that these courageous women will lead their society toward a better future. 

We do not get to choose the generation or country of our births, but we do have the opportunity to leave a legacy for generations to come.  The women that make up the Fellowship, ranging from 22 to 51 years old, did not choose to be born during this critical time in Egypt’s history, but they have a unique chance to shape their beloved country’s future.  But, they have enormous challenges to overcome in doing so.  I am convinced that now, more than ever, is when these women need the support of average citizens, as well as former world leaders, to bolster them.  Their path will be difficult, but it is worthy and it is critical to peace and prosperity – not only for Egypt, but for our world.

Photo by Joyce Boghosian

Thank you to the Women’s Initiative Fellowship Program at the George W. Bush Presidential Center by Josh Ochs

April 8, 2013

After a visit with the Women's Initative Fellows, marketing, advertising and technology leader Josh Ochs published this blog. A big thank you to Josh for sharing his marketing and social media strategies with the Fellows.

Josh Ochs poses with the Women's Initaitive Fellows. Photo by Eric Draper. Check out more pictures from the visit here.

Mentors and Fellows: The Ripple Effect

March 29, 2013

At the beginning of this week, the 2013 Women's Initiative Fellows traveled to more than 12 cities around the United States to spend the week with their American mentors.  A critical component to the success of the Fellows is the support and resources provided to them by their mentors. 

Each mentor arranged interesting meetings and interactive sessions for their Fellow or Fellows. These experiences and the one-on-one time with their mentors provide each Fellow with invaluable resources and knowledge, as well as practical examples of how to improve their respective work. The Fellows are able to utilize the meetings, advice, and ever expanding networks to hone their personal action plans and return to Egypt equipped with a roadmap to affect change.

I have been overwhelmed by the generosity and commitment of the mentors toward their Fellows.  Each mentor has taken time out of her busy schedule this week to arrange productive meetings, to tap her own network in order to make introductions and provide unique opportunities for her Fellow, and to establish a relationship with her Fellow that will undoubtedly last a lifetime.

This week the Fellows visited diverse locations all over the map, such as: Kate Spade in New York City; art museums and handicraft businesses in El Paso, Texas; George Washington University's School of Law; the Discovery Channel in Los Angeles; a show set in San Francisco; medical nongovernmental organizations in Orange County, California; youth camps in Tyler, Texas; the U.S. Congress and the Women's Democracy Network in Washington, D.C.; a meeting with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg; and venture capital firms in the Silicon Valley.

The investment by women from across the U.S. in their sisters in Egypt will surely impact not only the 19 women who make up the 2013 Fellowship class, but the lives of people across Egypt. The mentors and Fellows are only beginning to see the ripple effect of changing one life at a time.

Reem Molokhia with her mentor, Susan Karamanian.

Fellow Roula Abdelhady in Amarillo.

Living Colorfully in New York City!

March 23, 2013

The Women's Initiative Fellows have had a lively and exciting visit to New York City.  The pulse of New York City is reminiscent of Cairo - and the Fellows are feeling a little bit of home in one of the most iconic cities in the United States.

On Thursday, the Fellows started their visits at UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.  The organization's mission is to promote gender equality and empowerment of women through working with member states to set norms and standards regarding women, coordinate work towards gender equality, and support countries to ensure they honor the agreements.  The priorities of UN Women specifically regarding Egypt include increasing leadership and participation in the public sphere; increasing economic security, especially for those in marginalized areas; and reducing violence against women and girls. These priorities are shared by our 2013 Fellows, and they are eager to return to Egypt to meet with UN Women in Cairo and partner together to strengthen Egypt one woman at a time.

From UN Women, we visited Kate Spade New York, a women's clothing design house.  CEO Craig Leavitt explained that the brand's promise is to help women lead a more interesting life and to live colorfully.  The Fellows had the chance to meet with Mr. Leavitt, Deborah Lloyd, President and Chief Creative Director, Sydney Price, Senior VP for Corporate Social Responsibility, and Johanna Saum Almstead, Director of Public Relations - who is also serving as a mentor to Women's Initiative Fellow, Esraa Fathy, a fashion designer and entrepreneur in Cairo.


We all were giddy with excitement as we entered Kate Spade's colorful and stylish headquarters, where we sneaked a peak at future collections, and jotted down our wish lists.  Who doesn't love a great purse and a fabulous pair of shoes?  As we tried to contain our delight, we identified our seats with personalized kate spade stationary ... and settled in to learn about the incredibly important work Kate Spade is doing for women around the world related to corporate social responsibility (CSR).  Kate spade's CSR philosophy is "trade, not aid."  Working in Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Bosnia, Kate Spade is investing in women by providing them with skills training to use indigenous resources, like cashmere, to create products for Kate Spade stores.  Using the rich resources of the respective country, Kate Spade supports a country and her women by training and employing women, enabling them to become financially independent.  Studies show that when women are included in an economy, countries are more stable and prosperous.  The lessons that Kate Spade's leadership shared with the Fellows are invaluable for their businesses and in thinking about how best to strengthen Egypt.

With new Kate Spade tote bags in hand, the Fellows headed to Women's World Banking (WWB) to learn about resources available to them in Egypt. WWB is working with banks and microfinance lenders to support women around the world to develop businesses.  The Fellows also participated in an exercise to discover and discuss their leadership style.  Using as assessment that uses colors to describe leadership character traits, the Fellows learned about their own leadership style and the style's of the other Fellows.  This exercise was not only fun, but enlightening and helped everyone realize how to best use their unique styles and skills.

Toting colored balloons representing their leadership styles, the Fellows boarded the bus for ABC News.  When we arrived, the Fellows had the chance to speak with ABC producers about the development of compelling stories.  This conversation gave the Fellows an idea of how best to frame stories and effectively communicate their points of view.  The Fellows had the chance to sit behind Diane Sawyer's desk for ABC World News and to get a glimpse of how news stories come together and get delivered to the public.  The greatest thrill of the visit was an impromptu visit with Diane Sawyer, who graciously greeted the Fellows and was genuinely interested in hearing their visions and work for the betterment of Egypt. 

We finished the evening at a wonderful networking reception hosted by Amanda Pullinger, Executive Director of 100 Women in Hedge Funds and Vicki Downey, Chief of Staff at the Mountbatten Institute. Amanda and Vicki opened their rolodexes and invited women from their networks that mirrored the sectors that are represented by our Fellows.  These women were inspired by the Fellows and were eager to invest in their lives by providing advice, guidance and connections.  One of the Fellows even sold one of her paintings!

Although it was a long day, everyone returned to the hotel inspired, overjoyed, and eager for another day in the big Apple!

The Fellows Visit the New York Stock Exchange with Broker Doreen Mogavero

March 22, 2013

A Fellow Meets Her Mentor

March 21, 2013

Fellow Esraa Fathy talks with her mentor Johanna Saum, Director of Public Relations at kate spade, during a visit by the Fellows to kate spade new york. After the inspirational meeting, Sydney Price, Senior Vice President at kate spade new york, said, "We hope what we showed you inspires you not only to reinvest in your community but reinvest in other women." Photo by Joyce Boghosian

History Comes to Life

March 21, 2013

The Women's Initiative Fellows got up bright and early on Wednesday for an exclusive tour and presentation at the National Archives of the United States. The Fellows saw the Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. They also had the opportunity to visit the personal office of the Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero. 

Rare documents, dating back to the 1840s, were chosen by the archivists especially for our visit. These documents showcased the role of brave American women, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in advocating for the abolishment of slavery and their right to vote. The stories of Susan B. Anthony and Ms. Stanton, along with Alice Paul and the Suffragettes, are also highlighted at the Sewall-Belmont House, which the Fellows visited Wednesday. The Museum educates visitors on the long fight for women's rights in the U.S. The women spotlighted, and their dedication to improving the lives of Americans, continue to serve as an inspiration. Even though many did not live to see women gain the right to vote in 1920, their struggle reminds us of the importance of standing up, and the fruits of perseverance.  Like these women, the Fellows find themselves living in a time that demands character and persistence to influence and create change. 

Since the passage of the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, more and more American women have used their voices to influence policy and impact their communities.  One such woman is U.S. Congresswoman Kay Granger from Texas.  Congresswoman Granger greeted the Fellows at the U.S. Capitol and shared her story of triumph and success. She told the Fellows of her journey from being a teacher and a mother to serving as the first female mayor of Fort Worth and then the first female Republican member from Texas.  In response to a Fellow's question, she spoke of how being a woman affects her decisions as a leader.  She encouraged the Fellows to use their unique perspective and experience to improve the lives of those in their communities and country.  And, after spending the last 12 days with the Fellows, I believe they will.

Lessons of Leadership

March 20, 2013

On Tuesday, the Women's Initiative Fellows began their day speaking to reporters and journalists from Voice of America (VOA), the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and Al Hurra, the Arabic program for VOA. Tish King from BBG masterfully led a lively and interesting conversation about the importance of a strong and free press in a democracy. Cecily Hilleary shared her commitment and philosophy of balanced reporting by speaking with people from both sides of a story. Fran Mires encouraged the women to take full advantage of opportunities that come along - even if they initially appear scary or overwhelming. She shared from her personal experience of stepping up when given an opportunity which, in her case, catapulted her career. 

Following the BBG and VOA meeting, the Fellows learned how one promise to a sister can literally change the world.  When Susan G. Komen was diagnosed with breast cancer over 30 years ago, she had little hope for survival - and the media in the U.S. could not even print or say the word 'breast' in their reports. Susan asked her beloved sister Nancy Brinker to promise that she would do everything she could to try to eradicate this devastating disease - and she has. While the U.S. has made great strides to raise awareness and combat the disease, there are still countries in the world where breast cancer carries a terrible stigma.  In fact, women die because they are too afraid to go to the doctor for fear that their husbands may abandon them. 

During their visit to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Fellows learned best practices from Komen staff regarding advocacy and grassroots campaigns. Additionally, the women heard from Dr. Mohammed Shaalan from the Breast Cancer Foundation of Egypt. Breast cancer rates remain high in Egypt.  Since arriving in the U.S. for the Fellowship, one of our Fellow's lost her grandmother to breast cancer. Although deeply saddened by her loss, she remains resolved in her desire to affect change - and feels more hopeful about future generations of Egyptian women because of Komen's commitment and motto: "where you live should not determine whether you live."

The Women's Initiative Fellows have learned that networking is one of the best indicators of a woman's success.  During a roundtable at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce late in the day, the Fellows received incredibly helpful advice from successful American women who have utilized their networks to propel them personally and professionally. The Fellows were able to immediately practice these new skills and expand their networks at a reception with American women from government, business, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors.

The Women’s Initiative Fellows are taking full advantage of the Fellowship and through each meeting are learning important lessons of how best to step up and lead.

Scenes from Washington D.C.

March 19, 2013

The Women's Initiative Fellows discuss the role of women in transitions and participate in a dialogue together to foster mutual understanding at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

During a visit to the State Department, Under Secretary of State Tara Sonenshine met with the Women's Initiative Fellows to share her hopes for women in Egypt and the region. Sonenshine also shared her "3 Cs": community, contacts, confidence. Women need community to lean on and to invest in, contacts, because it is always important to continue building your network, and confidence, which is critical to success as well as contagious. Sarah King, Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs, also led a dynamic conversation, discussing the various programs provided by the State Department and sharing valuable information on resources available to the Fellows.

Meridian International also hosted the Bush Institute Women's Initiative Fellows during their stay in Washington D.C. this week. The Fellows participated in speed mentoring sessions with inspiring role models, including businesswomen, policy leaders, and female ambassadors, who shared advice, ideas, and resources. It was also a great opportunity to expand the Fellows' networks and find mutually beneficial connections.  The Fellows were also able to meet the Egyptian Ambassador serving in the United States during a reception hosted by Meridian International.  

Photos by Joyce Boghosian

The Fellows Land in Washington, D.C.

March 17, 2013

The Women's Initiative Fellows landed in the Nation's capital today and, before their meetings resume, had the chance to tour some of America's most iconic sites. The Fellows stood in the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials reading timeless and inspiring words from some of America's most courageous leaders. The courage of these men is not unlike that of the Fellows. None of them would have dreamed they would be in this daunting position, but these women are stepping up - and they are eager to use the tools they learn as part of the Fellowship to help shape their country's future.

The Cowgirl Spirit Is Within Us All

March 17, 2013

The 2013 Women's Initiative Fellows are off to a great start on their journey, beginning with a month in the United States.  Already this week, the Fellows are starting to expand their networks by developing relationships with each other as well as their American teachers and mentors who are eager to serve as a resource to them. They are participating in interactive leadership courses at SMU that are teaching them practical ways to successfully influence, effectively communicate, lead change, problem solve, make wise decisions, build effective teams, negotiate, and establish powerful networks.  As part of the process, the Fellows are discovering their passions and recognizing their strengths.

The Fellows are inspiring - personally and professionally.  Many have overcome great obstacles.  And, they are investing in their country and communities through employing women, enhancing education, improving health, fighting for human rights and political participation, and using media to inform people of their rights and increase awareness about women's rights.

As they learned on Tuesday night at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, the "cowgirl" spirit can be found from the plains of the American West to the deserts of Egypt.  Like the cowgirls in the old West, the Women's Initiative Fellows from Egypt possess a sense of purpose and a pioneering spirit.  The courageous and remarkable 2013 Fellows are defined by resilience and courage in the face of great odds ... just like their cowgirl sisters half a world away.

Genesis Women's Shelter

March 15, 2013

On Wednesday, the Women's Initiative Fellows had a life-changing visit to the Genesis Women's Shelter in Dallas.  Over the last 30 years, the Genesis Women's Shelter has given shelter and assistance to women who have suffered from violence, mostly from people they love in their homes, which should be a safe haven and not a place of terror and humiliation.

At the Genesis Women's Shelter, the Women's Initiative Fellows learned about the struggles and advancement in addressing domestic violence in the United States. The dynamic executive director, Jan Langbein, gave an impassioned overview of the history of domestic violence in the U.S. and the way in which the Genesis Women's Shelter is tackling this critical issue. A female detective from the Dallas Police Department shared her experience over the last 28 years in learning how to better handle domestic violence cases and the best ways to protect victims of violence.  A judge whose court only handles domestic violence cases talked passionately about his work - including that he, himself, has participated in the programs that he often sentences perpetrators to so that he could personally understand the benefits and the excellence of the program.  Several prominent men from the Dallas community discussed ways that they are calling on men to be part of the solution and strongly stand up against violence against women.

The Fellows also learned about a Coordinated Community Response (CCR), which exemplifies the way in which the justice system, police, advocacy groups, and shelters can work together to more effectively combat the issue of violence against women.  The example of the CCR reinforced that working together can make an even more significant impact on addressing pressing issues, bettering a community, and positively changing a country.

Examples like the CCR and the Genesis Women’s Shelter help strengthen the Fellows’ resolve as they continue to develop strong relationships that will help them work together to enhance their communities and strengthen their country.

Mrs. Bush Talks With Erin Burnett OutFront on International Women's Day

In case you missed it, Mrs. Laura Bush sat down with Erin Burnett OutFront on International Women’s Day to talk about the Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative Fellowship. Watch the full interview with Mrs. Bush and several of the 2013 Women's Initiative Fellows:

Meet the Class of 2013 Women's Initiative Fellows

March 11, 2013

Congratulations to the 2012 Women's Initiative Fellowship Graduates!

March 11, 2013

Mrs. Laura Bush Celebrates International Women's Day 

March 8, 2013

On International Women's Day Mrs. Laura Bush celebrates the inaugural class of the Women's Initiative Fellowship and their accomplishments and introduces the 2013 class of Fellows. Watch the following excerpt from today's speech:

The Journey Begins

March 7, 2013

This week, the Women’s Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute is celebrating International Women’s Day and welcoming two classes of Women’s Initiative Fellows to Dallas. One hundred years ago, March 8 was chosen to observe International Women’s Day.  The day marks the progress women have made over the last century in education, political involvement, and the workplace; and it emphasizes the need to continue to strive for women’s equity around the world.

The Women’s Initiative will commemorate International Women’s Day with events to celebrate the accomplishments of the 2012 Fellows who are graduating from the yearlong program, and to launch the 2013 Women’s Initiative Fellowship.  Over the past year, the inaugural class of Women’s Initiative Fellows has experienced great success individually, and established a robust network of women to help build a stronger civil society for their country.  The women have developed leadership skills that they are passing along to other women in their personal networks, creating a multiplier effect.

The second class of nineteen Egyptian women who constitute the 2013 Women’s Initiative Fellowship represent six influential sectors of society, including business, education, health, law, media and politics.  They are about to begin their yearlong Fellowship which will equip them to become effective leaders. The Fellows will be paired with American mentors from their same profession who will provide guidance and support over the next year. The Fellows will also spend the next month in the U.S. learning new leadership skills. Upon their return to Egypt, these women will join forces with the 2012 Fellows to expand the network and improve the lives of women in their neighborhoods and across their country. 

The women who make up the Women’s Initiative Fellowship represent the progress of women, and the desire to expand women’s roles in every aspect of society.  Research shows that when women are educated and included in the economy, countries are more stable and prosperous.  By investing in the Fellows, we believe that Egypt will be the vibrant and thriving democracy its people had hoped for two years ago in Tahrir Square.


Charity Wallace is the Director of the Women's Initiative at the Bush Institute.