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  • Children’s National Healing Garden to honor first ladies 

    First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy visiting Children's Hospital in 196(?)

    Jacqueline Kennedy visiting patients at Children’s Hospital, 1961 (Source: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library)

    First ladies have always had a meaningful relationship to the children, parents, and staff at Children National Health System (formerly Children’s Hospital) in Washington, DC.  In honor of this enduring bond, Children’s National has announced that it will be dedicating a planned healing garden to the first ladies of the United States.

    When I served as chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush, I accompanied her on her annual holiday visits to Children’s Hospital.

    Mrs. Bush gave the patients a special preview of the popular “Barney Cam”―streaming footage of the first family’s dogs Barney and Miss Beazley as they romped among the White House decorations with tiny cameras mounted on their collars.

    Every year, Mrs. Bush also brought Barney to Children’s National. The one year Miss Beazley came along, she was not particularly well behaved, barking loudly during the book reading whenever the children laughed.

    Nevertheless, the dogs’ energy and playfulness brought joy to the children and their families. Every visit to Children’s Hospital was meaningful and emotional. We were acutely aware that many of the children were facing grave illnesses and lengthy, grueling treatments.

    Laura Bush with Barney and friend at Children's National.

    Laura Bush with Barney and friend at Children’s National.

    For Mrs. Bush’s final visit as first lady in 2008, our advance person was Heather Florance, a longtime volunteer for our office. She was moved by the experience of advancing this visit and later became deeply involved in the hospital’s foundation, eventually joining its board.

    Last spring, the hospital leadership approached the Foundation with a pressing need. They had just confronted an emotional end-of-life experience with an 11-year-old girl whose final wish was simply to go outside after months of hospitalization.

    Because of the complicated lifesaving equipment to which she was attached, the process of moving her safely outdoors took a great deal of effort by many hospital staff members. They prepared for the move over the course of several days.

    The hospital leaders said they had long wanted to convert an existing gravel rooftop area into a green space as a respite for patients and their families. This 11-year-old girl’s request was the catalyst for moving forward.

    Heather and her husband Andy are leading the effort to make this rooftop healing garden a reality. The Florances thought it would be fitting  to dedicate the healing garden in honor of U.S. first ladies, recognizing their longstanding support for the nation’s children and for Children’s National in particular.

    When Heather called me about the project and to float the idea of former first ladies becoming co-chairs,  I was sure, from both my experience with Mrs. Bush and my research at American University on the legacies of first ladies and their activism, that they would enthusiastically support this effort.

    Heather asked a group of us who had worked in the East Wing to join the Healing Garden planning committee and invited us to the gravel roof to see the inspiring view of Washington. We all felt a personal connection and committed to the project that very day.

    Our first task was to reach out to our respective first ladies about co-chairing the effort. It was an easy ask. Every former first lady as well as First Lady Michelle Obama has signed on as an honorary chair for this wonderful project.

    Mrs. Obama helped to publicly announce the healing garden on February 9, 2015. “I’ve seen firsthand the strength and bravery of the children and families at Children’s National as they take on incredible challenges,” Mrs. Obama said. “The new healing garden will give children and families a place where they can find peace and comfort, while also contributing to their health.”

    Artist sketch of proposed Healing Garden. Source: Children's National.

    Artist sketch of proposed Healing Garden. Source: Children’s National.

    The Children’s National Health System Healing Garden will be a 7,200 square-foot space with inspiring views of the nation’s capital, featuring elements of art and music as well as greenery, sunlight, and fresh air. The final cost of the project is estimated to be $5.5 million dollars.

    Kurt D. Newman, M.D., President and CEO of the hospital, said,  “Children’s National has been honored by our relationship with the first ladies over the years, and their holiday visits have meant so much to children and their families. We are grateful that the first lady and the former first ladies are supporting this important project. It’s a fitting tribute to dedicate this inspiring space to them.”

    I am honored to be part of the planning for this healing garden and encourage everyone to learn more about the project and support the initiative by making an online gift.

    Please  visit

    Tags: Children's National Healing Garden   

  • Reflections on a Learning Tour of Cambodia with CARE 

    At an integrated health center in Siem Reap

    At an integrated health center in Siem Reap

    Between November 21-26, a delegation of international influencers and policy makers participated in a Learning Tour in Cambodia hosted by the humanitarian antipoverty organization CARE. The delegation included three U.S. Members of Congress (Rep Kay Granger R-TX; Rep Ander Crenshaw R-FL; and Rep Mike Quigley D-IL); two Members of Parliament from Australia; representatives from the media, nonprofits and private industry; and AU’s executive in residence, Anita McBride.  McBride participated as a representative of the academic sector and as a former member of the George W. Bush administration, which established and implemented innovative U.S. foreign aid programs, including the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI).

    Driving home the importance and impact of CARE’s work

    As a global organization whose mission is to eradicate poverty, CARE operates in 90 countries, implementing health, education and development programs. CARE focuses much of its work on women’s health and education, based on findings that educating women and improving their health is one of the most effective ways of empowering communities and improving people’s standard of living in the developing world. Part of CARE’s overall strategy is to maintain close ties to societal influencers– policymakers, educators, and communicators, who, it is hoped, will be most effective in spreading the word that investments in foreign aid are having a lasting impact. Through a grant from the The Gates Foundation, CARE’s Learning Tours play a vital role in its communication strategy by taking these influencers “off the beaten path” and into direct contact with people on the ground who are benefiting from these investments. Another objective of the tours is to demonstrate that the workload is being shared between various governments—including that of the focus country—private industry, and non-governmental organizations.

    Cambodia is considered a success story and therefore an ideal destination for CARE’s latest Learning Tour. CARE began operating in Cambodia in 1973, providing emergency relief and preparedness, health, education and development assistance. Since then, the country has made progress, with its government devoting significant resources to women’s health and maternal and infant care and HIV/AIDS prevention in particular. The Cambodian government is still dependent on foreign aid, however, with 30 to 40 percent of budget coming from donor funds.

    On its Cambodian Learning Tour, the CARE delegation spent time in both the capital city of Phnom Penh and in Siem Reap, a city in the northwestern part of the country near the ancient Buddhist holy site of Angkor Wat. The tour started in Phnom Penh, where the group received a briefing by local technical experts, representatives of CARE and USAID, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the US Embassy, and by Cambodia’s  Minister of Women’s Affairs, before moving on to site visits.

    Empowerment and self-determination

    Touring a Levi Strauss Touring a Levi Strauss garment factory with David Ray, CARE's Vice President for Advocacy

    Touring a Levi Strauss garment factory with David Ray, CARE’s Vice President for Advocacy

    One of the first stops was to the Levi Strauss factory in Phnom Penh, where the company operates a health education program for its workers. According to McBride, the company’s “strategic business model involves improving the health and working conditions of its employees as well as providing fair wages and good working conditions.” McBride found the health education program particularly encouraging. She said, “Here are women working very hard in the garment industry to provide for their families and improve their lives, but their employer is also providing them an opportunity to learn about another important aspect of their life, and that’s their health and their decisions about having families.” She went on to say, “Our delegation was impressed by this model workplace program that provides an environment where they can lead this discussion amongst themselves with a facilitator and in a safe space.”

    Another site the group visited was a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) program in Sre Ambel. The VSLA program is a community-based and community-led microfinance initiative in which members set policy and determine where and how much money will be loaned. One benefit of these VSLAs is that they help make financial knowledge and decision making power available to women (McBride first visited a VSLA program in 2010 on a CARE Learning Tour to Sierra Leone).  VSLAs now operate in 60 countries and reach more than 9 million people.

    At a Village Savings and Loan Association meeting with Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) and Musimbi Kanyoro, CARE Board Member and President and CEO of the Global Fund for WomenGranger (R-TX) and Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women

    At a Village Savings and Loan Association meeting with Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) and Musimbi Kanyoro, CARE Board Member and President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women

    The delegation next flew to Siem Reap for visits to a women’s health clinic and an integrated health center. At the women’s health clinic, McBride was impressed not just by the coordination of the medical care the patients received, but also by the safe environment the clinic provided and its approach to empowering women with the education needed to make the various maternal and child health decisions that affect their lives. She said, “What I liked about the session we attended with a young woman we met at the clinic was that she took this information she had learned and was able to have a conversation with her husband about the spacing of their children. It was a family decision that they were making together.”

    The integrated health center the group visited for mothers, infants, and young children, was one of the many Centers around the country that is now providing a coordinated “continuum of care,” from prenatal and maternal care to health visits throughout the first few years of a child’s life. Once again, McBride was encouraged by the emotional support patients received in a safe and healthier environment where entire families could be together around the clock while waiting for the birth of a baby. “There were generations – mother, grandmother, aunts, cousins, nieces, sisters and young children, who were waiting for the mother to have her baby and be able to recover and be monitored before going home,” McBride said. This welcoming environment is important, not just to the practitioners and patients but to the entire family. McBride explained, “The Cambodian government has placed an emphasis on increasing the number of women who give birth in clinics rather than at home. Through an aggressive awareness campaign and through the partnership with agencies like CARE and USAID, currently, approximately 60 percent of Cambodian women now give birth in a health center.”

    With the mother, sister and child of a new mother who delivered her newborn at an integrated health center in Siem Reap.

    With the mother, sister and child of a new mother who delivered her baby at an integrated health center in Siem Reap.

    “We are lifted up when others are lifted.”

    In addition to meeting with the US Embassy, USAID and CDC representatives working in Cambodia, the delegation also encountered other Americans in Cambodia, including Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright scholars, one of whom was Erin Moriarty Harrelson, a PhD candidate at American University conducting anthropological research among the growing deaf community in Cambodia. Moriarty Harrelson, who is herself deaf, is working under a joint Fulbright-National Geographic “digital storytelling fellowship” and is learning how to use video, text, maps, and other visual format to document  lives of the deaf community in Cambodia.

    As a longtime advocate of effective, well-monitored U.S. foreign aid and global investments, McBride believes that U.S. leadership coupled with greater cooperation between governments, private entities and NGOs, is  essential to achieving sustainable development. “What we saw in Cambodia is a good example of how aid recipients want to be partners in their development and good stewards of the development assistance. We saw programs that demonstrate how our investments are improving lives and how we are having a greater impact by collaborating more effectively with US agencies on the ground and through multi-sector partnerships.”

    That revelation, McBride said, is one of the important outcomes of the Learning Tours. “Sharing that message will help build greater awareness amongst Americans who have a distorted view of the amount of U.S. foreign aid (it makes up less than one percent of the U.S. budget) and  who question whether it’s effective or valuable to our interests.” She is optimistic about the prospects for ongoing U.S. foreign aid, but emphasized the importance of educating the public about its benefits.  “Americans are compassionate and generous and are uplifted when we see others’  lives lifted up, but it’s also important we make the connection between improved health outcomes, increased economic empowerment and  greater global stability and security.”

    –by Lisa Moscatiello


  • Anita McBride travels to Ukraine to monitor elections 

    This fall was election season—not just for the United States, but for other countries as well. In late October, Anita McBride traveled to Ukraine to observe parliamentary elections with the International Republican Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan, pro-democracy organization.

    Counting ballots with poll watchers in Lutsk, Ukraine.

    Counting ballots with poll watchers in Lutsk, Ukraine.

    Background: Why were observers necessary?

    Ukrainian identity crisis

    The elections took place during a period of political unrest and uncertainty, as the country struggles between two alternatives: maintaining its historical ties to Russia on one hand, and greater integration with Europe and the West on the other.

    The 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union made Ukraine politically independent from Russia, but Russia remains a strong influence through both its cultural ties to ethnic Russians and also its role as the country’s dominant supplier of oil and natural gas.

    Since independence, Ukrainians have worked toward building a stronger democracy and closer diplomatic relations with the West (the way former Soviet bloc country Poland has done). At the same time, a small portion of the population—particularly in the eastern region — favors closer ties with Russia.

    Flashpoints: The Maidan and Russia’s occupation of Crimea

    The tension between these two camps came to a head in 2013 after president Victor Yanukovich backed out of a treaty with the European Union (EU) and instead entered into talks with Russia about forming a customs union.

    Outraged by Yanukovich’s sudden reversal, thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets to protest between November 2013 and February 2014. The largest demonstration was in a square in Kyiv known as the Maidan. Yanukovich’s pro-Russian government responded with a violent crackdown.

    Ultimately,  parliament removed Yanukovich from power, “but not before he ordered the military to shoot protesters and even set fire to the square,” McBride said. During the Maidan, the government killed hundreds of Ukrainian citizens, and many are still missing. In Kyiv, there is a memorial to all the victims of the massacre, and all over the country are reminders of the violence in the Maidan. “In every town I visited, there were makeshift memorials to people who were missing or wounded,” McBride recalled. “The youngest person whose photo I saw was 16. The oldest was a 75-year-old woman.”

    In retaliation for Yanukovich’s ouster, Russia invaded Ukraine in March 2014 and annexed Crimea.

    Some of the protesters in the Maidan used tin shields and WW II-era helmets that were no match for government bullets.

    Some of the protesters in the Maidan used tin shields and WW II-era helmets that were no match for government bullets.

    A new president gets a fresh start

    In May 2014, Ukraine’s newly-elected and western-leaning president Petro Poroshenko called for parliamentary elections as soon as possible in order to help consolidate his victory and lay the groundwork for reforms, including greater integration into Europe. The date set was October 26.

    All eyes on the election

    The October 2014 election presented a dilemma for Ukrainian authorities, who had had limited access to Russian-occupied parts of the country, where they had no way to set up polling stations. As a result, those living in these annexed areas did not have the opportunity to vote.  Ukrainian officials feared that the Russian government and the opposition bloc party would use this disruption as a pretext to discredit elections in the entire country.

    There were 29 parties that fielded candidates for parliament. One of the parties that did not receive enough votes to qualify for seats in parliament was a fringe group called the Internet Party, whose leader is known for showing up in public dressed as Darth Vader.

    In the end, 54 percent of the voting population turned up at the polls. Although the pro-Russian party received enough votes to seat members in parliament―which disappointed some voters―President Petroshenko’s party won the largest number of votes and was thus able to begin the hard work of forming a governing coalition.

    Anita McBride stands in front of a poster for the Internet Party of Ukraine, whose leader dresses up like Darth Vader for public appearances.

    Anita McBride stands in front of a poster for the Internet Party of Ukraine, whose leader dresses up like Darth Vader for public appearances.

    Ukraine and the U.S.

    The final outcome is hopeful news for the U.S. and Western allies, McBride said. “Americans have a great interest in thwarting Soviet-style influence and aggression into countries that have worked so hard to establish democratic institutions. Russian aggression is destabilizing to Eastern Europe and could be destabilizing for Western Europe. Since World War II, our foreign policy has been to support a strong Europe through alliances like NATO. An attack on one is an attack on all.”

    In the midst of their own historic elections, Ukrainians still had time to follow the news on midterms in the United States. One aspect of our electoral system was particularly mystifying to Ukrainian voters. “The Ukrainians were surprised that there are people in the U.S. who are able to vote without presenting a photo ID.” McBride said. “That doesn’t make sense to them. They find it very ironic that we are coming to monitor their elections when we would allow our system to be called into question by not requiring people to show proof of their identity.”

    “They are determined not to go backward.”

    Despite threats of Russian intervention in the elections, McBride said she did not feel that she was in physical danger while at polling stations, partly because she was in the town of Lutsk in the northwest, far from the violence in the separatist areas to the east.

    Recruitment poster for anti-Russian paramilitary group.

    Recruitment poster in Lutsk for anti-Russian paramilitary group.

    McBride said she felt inspired rather than fearful as she witnessed the fortitude and determination of the Ukrainian voters and poll workers, who were so deeply emotionally invested in the process. “They are determined not to go backward,” she said.

    –Lisa Moscatiello

    Tags: election monitoring, elections, global democracy, International Republican Institute, Russia, Ukraine   

  • U.S-Africa Leaders Summit: Investing in First Ladies 

    First spouses gather at the U.S-Africa Leaders' Summit.

    First spouses gather at the U.S-Africa Leaders’ Summit.

    Last month, heads of state and government of over 30 African countries gathered in Washington, DC for a U.S.-Africa leaders summit, hosted by President Obama and joined by former U.S. presidents and nonprofit and industry leaders. One of the events during the leaders’ summit was a first spouses’ forum, “Investing in Our Future,” co-hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush. Although coverage of this forum included the usual commentary on first ladies’ fashion and hairstyles, much attention was given to the engaging joint interview by veteran journalist Cokie Roberts with Laura Bush and Michelle Obama. The spouses’ event was more than a conversation and photo opportunity: it generated millions of dollars in investments in health and education programs for Africa.

    Over the last five years there has been growing recognition of the influence of the spouses of world leaders. This gathering of African first spouses evolved out of the 2009 African First Ladies Health Summit in Los Angeles, CA and the subsequent RAND Corporation-sponsored African First Ladies Initiative. Building upon the RAND model, The George W. Bush institute launched its First Ladies Initiative in 2013.  All of these initiatives share a common purpose: finding ways to capitalize on one of the most valuable resources available to the spouses of world leaders: their unique power to convene individuals and institutions on behalf of causes that benefit their countries.

    At last month’s summit, this power translated into over $200 million dollars in investments for programs that specifically target women and children,

    Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, and Cokie Roberts

    Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, and Cokie Roberts

    including AIDS treatment; resources for women entrepreneurs; increased access to the internet; high school and college education assistance; training for farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, and Zambia; and nearly $3 million to support the expansion into Namibia and Ethiopia of Pink Ribbon-Red Ribbon, an initiative developed in 2011 by the George W. Bush Institute that uses the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) platform and extends it to support breast and cervical cancer prevention, detection, and treatment.

    “The stars aligned”

    At pre-summit coffee with former U.S. First Lady Laura W. Bush

    Anita McBride was chief of staff to former First Lady Laura Bush (at the pre-summit coffee)

    According to AU Executive-in-Residence Anita McBride, who co-founded the RAND African First Ladies Initiative and is former chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush, “the stars aligned” this year to yield especially generous financial commitments from public, private, nonprofit, and nongovernmental organizations. Two of the biggest stars, of course, were Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Bush. They came together last summer as well in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, when the Bush Institute launched its First Ladies Initiative at the 2013 African First Ladies Summit. A highlight of the summit was a joint interview with Cokie Roberts between Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Bush. It was one of the most highly anticipated features of this year’s event as well. The relationship forged by the two women and their staffs helped make it possible for the already-planned White House African leaders’ summit to be combined with a gathering for the spouses.

    Ultimately the results of past investments in Africa are what drive present and future financial commitments from both domestic and international sources. According to McBride, the “undeniable success” of PEPFAR, begun in 2003 by President George W. Bush and continued by President Obama, has paved the way for additional programs in health, education and economic development. Over the past eleven years, the work PEPFAR has accomplished in Africa has led to a more informed populace and a robust infrastructure providing greater access to lifesaving services, both of which are essential for carrying out aid and development programs of all kinds. PEPFAR’s success—measured in millions of lives saved—gives potential investors confidence that money directed to Africa will yield continued benefits to Africans and the partners in their prosperity.

    At a training session for first ladies' senior staff members.

    At a training session for first ladies’ senior staff members.

    Finally, it is the ingenuity and commitment of the first ladies themselves that makes the ongoing success of the initiative possible. For example, Namibia’s first lady, Penehupifo Pohamba, is a trained nurse midwife who participated in the inaugural First Ladies Health Summit in 2009. She credits the African First Ladies Initiative with helping her to convince her country’s government to establish an official First Lady’s Office and thus provide the resources to administer the programs she champions, including maternal and children’s health and HIV/AIDS prevention services.
    by Lisa Moscatiello

    NEXT: Part II – A history of the African First Ladies Initiative


  • “Adding Women to the Leadership Equation in Afghanistan”: A Panel Discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, DC 

    USIP panel members Anita McBride, Phyllis Magrab, Lauren Lovelace, Scott Smith

    L to R: Anita McBride, Phyllis Magrab, Lauren Lovelace, Scott Smith

    Can leadership be taught? Are leadership tools developed in the West useful to Afghan women? Are the gains Afghan women have made in recent years sustainable?

    At a discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) on Tuesday, May 20, panelists addressed these questions and more in a program called “Adding Women to the Leadership Equation in Afghanistan: Lessons Learned from the U.S. – Afghan Women’s Council’s Rising Afghan Women Leadership Initiative.”

    The panelists included members of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council (USAWC)— Anita McBride, Executive-in-Residence at the American University School of Public Affairs; Phyllis Magrab, director of the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development (GUCCHD) and vice chair of the USAWC; Lauren Lovelace, Executive Director of the USAWC—and Scott Smith, Director of Afghanistan and Central Asia, USIP. The conversation was moderated by Ambassador Steven Steiner, senior advisor at the USIP Center for Gender and Peacebuilding.

    The Rising Afghan Women’s Leadership Initiative (RAWLI) is a program designed to help young women from various sectors of Afghan society cultivate leadership skills. This spring, 22 Afghan women, including members of parliament, entrepreneurs and other leaders, together with six Georgetown University students, attended the intensive session from March 9 -12 at Georgetown’s Doha, Qatar campus.

    Learning from One Another

    Magrab explained that RAWLI is based on a successful professional and personal development program for leaders that she helped to create and which members of USAWC wanted to offer to Afghan women in order to help them meet the significant challenges they face in their communities. Although there was no guarantee, going in, that a program developed in the U.S. would translate across cultures, the comments and evaluations participants submitted after the training were overwhelmingly positive.

    At the same time, however, during the training some cultural contrasts emerged. McBride described how the Afghan women conceived of leadership somewhat differently from the way their American counterparts did. Many of the Afghan women initially expressed a belief that leadership is an inborn trait that some people have and others do not. The program introduced them to the idea that leadership traits can be nurtured and that people can be leaders in different ways.

    Learning alongside Afghan women proved inspiring and eye opening for the American students who participated as well, Magrab said. For example, when American women talk about having a “safe space” to discuss workplace issues openly, it usually has to do with the opportunity to express dissent or vulnerability without fear of harsh criticism or ostracism, but for Afghans, it can literally mean having a place to go where one’s life is not in danger.

    Hope for the Future

    With the uncertainty surrounding the future in Afghanistan, panelists discussed the concern that recent gains women have made might be rolled back. One positive sign for the future is the high turnout for the recent election and the fact that the results have been accepted as valid so far, without the high degree of corruption that was seen in the 2009 election. In light of such progress, McBride expressed optimism that Afghans will be able to pull together and draw upon the country’s “considerable resources” and use them in a way that benefits all Afghans and helps them claim Afghanistan’s status as a “stable partner and major player” in the region and the world.

    –Lisa Moscatiello


  • A Day in the Life of Anita McBride 

    Anita is often asked what her job entails as Executive in Residence in the School of Public Affairs at American University, especially when she’s not planning conferences for the American University First Ladies Initiative. Read below to find out what a typical day in the life of an American University Executive in Residence entails:

    On February 12, the day started off at the office, checking emails and making sure we have our files and power points ready for a full day of presentations and events ahead!

    We took the metro downtown to the National Press Club, where Anita spoke at the American Women Writer’s National Museum’s 2nd Anniversary event. The topic was First Ladies and the Press. She joined with Patricia Krider, the Executive Director of the National First Ladies Library in Canton, OH to discuss how first ladies handled the media. The audience asked many questions after the two presentations and we all learned new and interesting facts about first ladies through history. For example, did you know that Nellie Taft was afraid the press would find out she played poker and drank alcohol? She was first lady during prohibition time and held parties with alcohol at the White House! Did you know that Laura Bush made 24 trips to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina? Not many people do! The media affects a first lady’s legacy in part based on the way they cover – or don’t cover – her activities.

    Anita McBride at the National Press Club

    Anita McBride at the National Press Club

    After the event at the National Press Club, Anita gave a guest lecture in AU Professor Richard Benedetto’s “Politics of Mass Communication” class. Each year Professor Benedetto invites her to come in and talk to his students about first ladies and the press. Anita talked about examples of domestic and global activities first ladies have engaged in, how they were covered by the media, their approval ratings, their relationships with the press, and how the possibility of a woman president would change the role of the first spouse. The students had great questions and Anita looks forward to speaking to the class next semester.

    Anita McBride in Professor Benedetto's class

    Anita McBride in Professor Benedetto’s class

    Immediately following the guest lecture, Anita had a meeting with students interested in joining the US/Afghan Women’s Council Student Fellows program at American University. Anita is the faculty advisor for this student organization which provided students with an opportunity to get involved and raise awareness on campus about US/Afghan relations and issues dealing specifically with women. The students are planning on holding events on campus to help people understand how far Afghan women have come since the fall of the Taliban and how fragile their gains are in this time of the withdrawal of US forces. They will also get involved in research projects with the Council.

    Finally, Anita attended the 2014 DC Democratic Primary Mayoral Debate hosted by the Kennedy Political Union at AU. KPU is a dynamic organization with great leadership and since arriving at AU in 2010, Anita has worked with KPU to help secure speakers and collaborate on events. The mayoral debate was interesting and a was great way to showcase the enthusiastic interest of AU students in public policy and our elected leaders at all levels of government. American University is the only university that was chosen to host one of the primary debates.

    2014 Democratic Primary Mayoral Debate at American University

    2014 Democratic Primary Mayoral Debate at American University

    All in all, it was a busy day! Each day is different, but they are all packed full of fun and interesting activities that we connect to the First Ladies Initiative at AU.

    -Alexandra Thornton

    Tags: , , , kpu, national press club, students   

  • US/Afghan Women’s Council and Georgetown University co-host Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton to discuss advancing Afghan women – Nov. 15, 2013 

    Former first ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton joined forces with Secretary of State John Kerry in a symposium at Georgetown University on Friday, November 15, to call attention to the vulnerable status of Afghan women and girls as the U.S. begins to draw down its forces and the country prepares for a presidential election next April. The symposium was called “Advancing Afghan Women: Promoting Peace and Progress in Afghanistan.”

    Former First Lady Laura Bush and Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discuss women in Afghanistan

    Former First Lady Laura Bush and Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discuss women in Afghanistan.

    “Once our troops leave, the eyes of the United States will move away, and we can’t let that happen, “ Mrs. Bush said. She added that individuals can help the people of Afghanistan by donating to specific organizations within the country, such as the American University of Afghanistan, the Afghan Center for Learning and women’s centers around the country.

    Secretary Clinton emphasized the importance of security at this pivotal time. Speaking directly to a group of Afghan women watching the proceedings from a classroom at the American University of Afghanistan (who could be seen in “real time” on a projection screen in the room), she said the U.S. and Afghanistan are currently negotiating a bilateral agreement on security. The one “sticking point” between the two countries concerns immunity from local arrest and prosecution for U.S. troops. She cautioned that if the agreement should fail, Afghanistan risks falling into the same cycle of violence that has taken hold in Iraq as U.S troops have withdrawn.

    American University of Afghanistan

    Women at American University of Afghanistan watched the speech in real-time.

    Both Mrs. Bush and Secretary Clinton called for the youth of Afghanistan—with the online help of young people in the U.S. and around the world—to start a “public relations” campaign on the need for a valid, transparent vote this coming spring with as many people participating as possible.

    Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at the event, cohosted by the US/Afghan Women's Council and Georgetown University

    Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at the event, co-hosted by the US/Afghan Women’s Council and Georgetown University.

    All the speakers agreed that the success of Afghanistan is crucial to the future of the entire region, and that the full participation of women in the economic, educational and political life of the country is essential to ensuring that success.

    The symposium was cosponsored by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, the George W. Bush Institute, the U.S. Afghan Women’s Council, and the U.S. Alliance in Support of the Afghan People.

    -Lisa Moscatiello


  • Honors Tea Talk – “Afghanistan and the Path to Peace through Education” – Nov. 12, 2013 

    On Tuesday, November 12th, Anita McBride, Executive-in-Residence at the School of Public Affairs, was invited to moderate an Honors Tea Talk panel discussion at American University. The panel focused on 3 themes – the importance of education as a path to peace in Afghanistan; raising awareness about the progress made in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban; and the challenges that lay ahead during this period of great transition in the country.

    The participants included Dr. Hakim Asher, an AU Visiting Scholar and Former Executive Director of the Government Media and Information Center in the Office of the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and Eileen O’Connor, the Public Diplomacy Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Central Asia, an Advisor the U.S. State Department, and who also served as a CNN Network Correspondent in Afghanistan.  Also on the panel was Hassina Sherjan, a former SIS student who was born in Afghanistan, and who later founded Aid Afghanistan for Education, which she described as “dedicated to empowering Afghans and rehabilitating the education system in Afghanistan.” Their main goal”, she said, “is to provide primary and secondary education for marginalized Afghans, who were deprived of education during the years of war or do not have access to formal education.”

    While in the Afghan government, Dr. Asher led a staff of more than 140 people, and developed trainings to teach them how to communicate public policy with the new media presence in the country. Dr. Asher said that a new government is the key to a new era for Afghanistan. He said “the Afghan people understand the need for political transformation”, and, are “invested in their future.”  He emphasized that young Afghans without education can easily join the Taliban, and that Afghanistan still lacks skilled professionals and administrative systems essential for a stronger nation. “Education is especially critical in the hard to reach rural villages,” he said, as they that lack resources to teach job skills.

    Dr. Hakim Asher, visiting scholar to AU’s Washington College of Law Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, discussing how education and job skills are critical for young Afghans to be invested in the future of their country.

    Dr. Hakim Asher, visiting scholar to AU’s Washington College of Law Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, discussing how education and job skills are critical for young Afghans to be invested in the future of their country.

    O’Connor talked about how educational programs support the U.S. foreign policy goal of preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists again. There are 8 million children in school today, while before the fall of the Taliban there were only 900,000 children in school, almost exclusively boys. Today, 40% of children in schools in Afghanistan are girls. She also said that the United States is working to educate the population as a whole on how to participate in government – a freedom that they did not have before the fall of the Taliban. Today, twenty-five percent of the parliament members in Afghanistan are women.   In 2001, there was only one television station and one radio station in Afghanistan, and now there are 75 television stations and 150 radio stations.   This increase in media, along with freedom of speech and freedom of press, has drastically changed the lives of the Afghan people.   Eileen said that cell phones in the country went from 10,000 in 2001 to 20 million today, and that cell phones are a vehicle for delivering objective information to the people of Afghanistan.  “The U.S. is also working with the Ministry of Education in Afghanistan,” she said, “to increase the number of community colleges, providing technical skills to a population where 60% are under 26 years old, and in need of education and employment.”

     Eileen O’Connor, Public Diplomacy Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Central Asia, discusses the importance of providing technical skills to young Afghans who comprise 60% of the population.

    Eileen O’Connor, Public Diplomacy Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Central Asia, discusses the importance of providing technical skills to young Afghans who comprise 60% of the population.

    Sherjan, whose family escaped Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion in 1979, has witnessed great change in her native country. While pleased that there are many more students in schools these days, sees the need for reform for the education system in Afghanistan. She emphasized that you cannot have a democracy without an educated population. Her organization, Aid Afghanistan for Education, has produced 1009 high school graduates, 10% of which have been admitted to universities, and 5% of which are employed. She said that many women are urged by their often-illiterate husbands to go to school. By the mothers going to school, one of the parents is able to help the children with homework, and it vastly improves family home life. She stressed that Americans and other nations should not throw away the investments that they have made so far, because they have done so much to help with progress for the Afghan people.

    Hassina Sherjan, former SIS student and founder of Aid Afghanistan for Education, discussing the need for continued foreign interest in education for the Afghan people.

    Hassina Sherjan, former SIS student and founder of Aid Afghanistan for Education, discussing the need for continued foreign interest in education for the Afghan people.

    O’Connor agreed that education reform is necessary, and that teachers are currently being trained how to teach critical thinking rather than just theory and memorization. These critical thinking skills will help children and adults become freethinkers in a democratic society, especially if approached with extremist rhetoric.

    Anita stressed that the conclusion that the connection between education and peace is fundamental to progress for the Afghan people and that we can build upon the foundation that has been laid in the years to come. She commented that we have seen how a country can be destroyed overnight, but it takes years, if not decades to rebuild. She said “the infrastructure of Afghanistan was decimated and impacted by 30 years of war, it will take much longer to rebuild, and the world must be patient as the nation regains its footing.”

    AU students participate in question and answer period with the panel.

    AU students participate in question and answer period with the panel.

    The event was an incredible success! The panel members each had such highly informed viewpoints on the state of education, peace and security in Afghanistan. The Tea Talk paved the way for further discussion on these topics, and came on the eve of a high level event at Georgetown University on November 15th, with Secretary of State John Kerry, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former First Lady Laura Bush, and a number of organizations focused on supporting the Afghan people during this time of transition.

    -Alexandra Thornton


  • Women’s Congressional Staff Association Conversation with Former Chiefs of Staff to the First Lady – Sept. 16, 2013 

    Former Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush, Anita McBride (left) and Former Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama (right)

    Former Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush, Anita McBride (left) and Former Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama (right)

    On Monday, September 16th, 2013, Anita McBride, former Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush, and Jackie Norris, former Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, took part in a moderated panel hosted by the Women’s Congressional Staff Association (WCSA). WCSA is an official U.S. House of Representatives-recognized, bipartisan congressional staff organization dedicated to promoting career development opportunities for female congressional staffers.  WCSA’s Congressional sponsors are Representative Lois Capps (D-CA), Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Tessie Abraham, (Legislative Counsel to Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), President of the Women’s Congressional Staff Association, moderated the panel, which took place at the U.S. Capitol Visitors’ Center.

    Tessie asked Anita and Jackie what the day-to-day tasks were like as a chief of staff to a first lady. Anita explained that a day was never typical, other than knowing that you started your day at 6:45am and usually ended at 10pm.  The most important thing, Anita said, was knowing how to prioritize the tasks at hand and “pivot from important to urgent”.  There were always priorities in a day that were very different in nature.  Anita described how she would find herself switching between getting involved in planning a state dinner for Queen Elizabeth to planning a trip to Afghanistan. When an unexpected disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina occurred, Anita and the East Wing staff would have to be flexible and spend the majority of their time helping the first lady organize visits to support relief efforts throughout the Gulf Coast – making more than 20 trips to the region.

    Jackie agreed that each day was different, and that she would wake up every day worrying about herself or the first lady making a mistake in the spotlight of the media.

    Tessie asked Anita and Jackie what separates good employees from exceptional employees. Anita said that confidentiality and loyalty to the principals or organization that the employee is working for are essential. One thing that Anita felt was most important working in the White House was that the employee understood that they had “temporary custodianship” of the position that they held. The employee in any organization should think of the big picture, and have a willingness to do whatever it takes with a positive attitude. Jackie agreed, and added that honor and follow-through are vital to being an exceptional employee. She said that it can sometimes feel like you are “drinking out of a fire hose,” and that work can be overwhelming. Following through, responding to all of those emails, or completing all of the things on a to-do list can be difficult, but is also rewarding for yourself and those that you interact with – plus it is an important reflection of the person you are working for.

    Anita and Jackie were asked for advice for women in the early stages of their career. Jackie said to “work your heart out” and be a sponge if possible – “but at the same time, make sure that you have work-life balance”. She said that setting boundaries shows your employer that you have a sense of discipline and thoughtfulness. Jackie feels that giving oneself time to reflect is essential for a sound mind. Anita said that your first job isn’t your last, and that you are building your skills and your resume for your future career.  Always networking and keeping your eyes open are lifelong skills to have.  It can take time to achieve a proper work-life balance, but doing your best at your job and earning a good reputation for caring about your work are crucial characteristics in the workplace.

    The floor was then opened up to questions. Megan, an MPA student in DC, asked Jackie and Anita which things that they wished that they did better while starting out in their careers. Anita advised that you should be prepared, but recognize you can’t anticipate everything. If you don’t have the answer to something, be resourceful enough to find out the answer and seek guidance from the correct people. Jackie and Anita agreed that the people that always say “yes” don’t always get everything done, and that honesty is the best policy.

    Overall, it was an empowering evening for the women congressional staff members that attended.  In addition to being glad to see each other again after quite some time, Anita and Jackie loved having the opportunity to meet young women who are at the beginning of their DC careers and sharing the example of bipartisanship. One of the most important lessons of the evening was hearing how these two women – representing different parties and political philosophies worked so closely with each other during the presidential transition of 2009 to ensure the smoothest possible start for the new Administration.

    -Alexandra Thornton, Graduate Student Assistant



  • The Library of Congress National Book Festival – Sept. 21 & 22, 2013 

    The Library’s estimate for attendance this year was about 200,000 people

    The Library’s estimate for attendance this year was about 200,000 people

    The Library of Congress National Book Festival is one of the legacies of First Lady Laura Bush. A former librarian and public school teacher, Mrs. Bush made reading initiatives for children a top priority of the Bush administration and held literary symposia and author-related events throughout her time in office. The National Book Festival is perhaps the best known of her many initiatives to promote books and reading.

    First Lady Laura Bush greets festival-goers in 2001 (Library of Congress Information Bulletin, October 2001)

    First Lady Laura Bush greets festival-goers in 2001 (Library of Congress Information Bulletin, October 2001)

    Mrs. Bush launched her first book festival in 1996 as first lady of Texas. The Texas Book Festival was so successful that when her husband, George W. Bush, became president, she decided to use her platform as U.S. first lady to introduce the book festival tradition to the entire nation. With the Library of Congress as partner, the first National Book Festival took place on September 8, 2001. The Library estimated that between 25,000 and 30,000 people attended it.

    Mary Jordan of the Washington Post interviewed Linda Ronstadt about her memoir and asked about touring in the freewheeling ‘60s and ‘70s. ‘My addiction has always been reading,’ said Ronstadt.

    Festival-goers wait for a book signing by Linda Ronstadt. Mary Jordan of the Washington Post interviewed Ronstadt about her memoir and asked about touring in the freewheeling ‘60s and ‘70s. ‘My addiction has always been reading,’ said Ronstadt.

    The Library of Congress National Book Festival is a free event that takes place on the National Mall each year on a weekend in early autumn. This year’s festival was held on September 21st and 22nd. Participants had the opportunity to listen to in-depth interviews with authors like Linda Ronstadt, Lynda Barry, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Khaled Hosseini and others. A tent was on premises where festival-goers could buy books to have them signed.

    -Lisa Moscatiello, Research Assistant

    Tags: , Laura Bush, National Book Festival   

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