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The Year In Review: Women’s Initiative

Article by Betsy Martin and Natalie Gonnella-Platts December 21, 2015 //   6 minute read

At the Bush Institute, we envision a world where all children have access to education, women are living healthy, vibrant lives, and the economic life of countries is spurred by the active inclusion of women.  Through our work across the Women’s Initiative (including the Afghan Women’s Project, First Ladies Initiative, and the Women’s Initiative Fellowship), we aim to inspire leaders and improve the lives of women and girls at both the local and global levels.

Addressing important gender challenges across all program areas, here’s a look at seven major Women’s Initiative moments in 2015:


2015 Global Women’s Network:  A Summit of Ideas, Innovation and Partnerships

The 2015 Global Women’s Network Summit spotlighted ideas, innovations, and partnerships that are disrupting the status quo and improving the lives of women and girls globally. Partnering with tech industry pioneers, such as Google. Facebook, Intel, and Cisco, the Bush Institute brought together more than 250 guests from over 20 countries (including First Ladies and leaders from the public, private, and NGO sectors) in Dallas, Texas  to showcase effective interventions to address pressing gender challenges. Summit themes included technology and innovation with an emphasis on best practice solutions and partner collaboration in the areas of health, education and economic opportunity.

Launch of Custom Research

In February of this year, the Bush Institute’s First Ladies Initiative launched three new case studies, examining the work of first ladies in Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Uganda.  Building on this research, the First Ladies Initiative is currently collaborating with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) on a first of its kind study exploring the Role and Influence of First Ladies globally set for release in 2017.

First Ladies Initiative Advisor Trainings

Capacity building enables First Ladies’ staff to effectively support their principal’s agendas and platforms.  Launched in 2014, the First Ladies Initiative Training program has welcomed the participation of advisors from over 12 countries across the globe. In 2015, the Bush Institute’s First Ladies continued to build out the program’s curriculum. Topics and featured content experts this year included:

  • “Tools to Aid Partnership Impact” (June  2015: Johannesburg, South Africa), featuring Intel, World Vision, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and Opportunity International
  •  “Reaching Audiences: Best Practices for a Robust Digital Presence” (September 2015: Dallas, Texas), featuring Facebook and Google.


Collaborative Dialogue

Partnership meetings and roundtable discussions provide an opportunity for First Ladies’ offices, relevant governmental ministers, and private partners to meet on a mutual area of interest with the goal of exploring specific program engagement.  Each convening is initiated based on a First Lady’s platform focus and seeks to establish sustainable partnerships that encourage a continuum of service approach.  In September 2015, the First Ladies Initiative brought together:

  • The First Lady of Haiti, Her Excellency Sophia Martelly and leading practitioners and program implementers in the corporate, non-governmental organization, and non-profit organization sectors to discuss education and creating sustainable economic opportunities for women and girls in Haiti.
  • The First Lady of Zambia, Her Excellency Esther Lungu; the Office of Her Excellency Jeannette Kagame; and innovative organizations and partnerships, including Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, to explore mutual areas of interest and potential program engagement in regards to improving maternal health in sub-Saharan Africa.


Women’s Initiative Fellowship: Graduation and New Class
In March 2015, the third class of Women’s Initiative Fellows – 17 Tunisian women – graduated from the program and the 2015 Women’s Initiative Fellowship class began with 14 Tunisian women.  The 2015 class is comprised of lawyers, educators, a computer engineer, a current member of parliament, and a trainer seeking to counter radicalism.  The Fellows and their American mentors reconvened in Prague, Czech Republic for a four day training around networking and leadership.  The trainings were hosted at the CEELI Institute which works to develop an international, professional community of reformers committed to the rule of law.

Afghan Women’s Project
Mrs. Rula Ghani, First Lady of Afghanistan, visited Mrs. Bush at the Bush Center in February for a day focused on the progress and future of women in Afghanistan.  After a private meeting, the women attended a meeting of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council and Mrs. Bush was also awarded the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the American University of Afghanistan by their first female valedictorian, Onaba.  The Women’s Initiative was pleased to welcome Onaba back to Dallas in September to moderate a conversation between Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Obama during the Global Women’s Network.

We Are Afghan Women

In her remarks at the Global Women’s Network, Mrs. Bush announced the Bush Institute’s latest book, We Are Afghan Women: Voice of Hope, which will be published in March 2016.  The book spotlights the stories of 29 inspiring and heroic Afghan women in their own voices and records their extraordinary struggles, resolve, and will to triumph in present-day Afghanistan. With an Introduction by Mrs. Bush, We Are Afghan Women provides a portrait of Afghanistan through a host of accomplished Afghan women who have become educators, business owners, politicians, and philanthropists.

Betsy Martin is the Deputy Director of the Women’s Initiative

Natalie Gonnella-Platts is the Manager of the First Ladies Initiative

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