KARL HOFMANN: Tell us how you came up with the concept of the Global Health Corps.
BARBARA PIERCE BUSH: I started Global Health Corps to harness the passion and energy of people in our generation to confront the massive health challenges that we’re facing. When I graduated from college I was looking for a job in global health and serendipitously found a job in a children’s hospital in South Africa. From there, I worked for UNICEF in Botswana. I knew I wanted to work in this space, and I was able to launch my career in global health. But it’s not always easy to get your foot in the door. So I partnered with some of our other co-founders to engage young people at the beginning of their careers and show that whatever skill set they have it’s equally needed in global health as in any field.
KH: Your organization is interested in people who don’t necessarily have health backgrounds. What do they bring that’s special?
BB: Our fellows are from nine countries. We partner with existing health non-profits or government agencies working on health-care delivery and find out areas of need, and then we recruit young people to work for them. What’s been exciting for us is that a lot of our partners have not requested traditional medical backgrounds; they want young people with technology, management, engineering and design skills. The reason that’s amazing is that you can really show a young person who might have been working in the private sector that those skills can equally be transferred to the global health field.
KH: So you’re really looking for young leaders from across all sorts of disciplines.
BB: Yes. I want all sectors because there are a lot of problems. In order to make change and save more lives, the more ideas and skill sets you can bring, the more efficient you’ll be.
KH: Talk to young people in America right now. What can they contribute to solve the problems of global health?
BB: There’s so much interest in global health right now, but that interest needs to move to action. So first of all, young people can use their voice to do that. Second of all, we’ve seen with our fellows, for 68 positions, we received a few thousand applications, so it shows that young people would want to make this their career, if they could figure out how. We have a lot of applicants coming from the private sector who want to be able to use the skills and knowledge they have to make a difference and save people’s lives. They just need to know how to get into the space.
KH: Fantastic. How about non-Americans, young people from elsewhere around the world?
BB: Global Health Corps has a global model, so everywhere we work there’s one fellow from that country partnered with an international fellow – primarily from East Africa and the U.S. Many of our fellows are from post-conflict countries, and they really want to rebuild their countries.
Some of them have ended up being hired by the Ministry of Health after their fellowship. One of our Rwandan fellows who lived as a refugee did Global Health Corps with Partners in Health, and then afterwards he was hired by the Minister of Health in Rwanda. We hope that other fellows will follow similar career paths.
KH: Do you think the voices of youth are sufficiently taken into account these days in terms of setting the global public health agenda?
BB: The voices of youth are definitely heard. But young people don’t necessarily know the power of their own voice, and they don’t realize that they can use it – mainly because they might feel like they don’t have enough experience to be able to assert their own voice. In global health we’ve seen that isn’t necessarily the case. Organizations like the ONE Campaign or advocacy organizations that are really focused on mobilizing people realized that they can have much quicker results if they can mobilize young people, because of the networks that young people have. So I think it’s crucial just to continue to encourage that voice.
KH: What would you say is the one issue that you could identify that really unites young people here and elsewhere around the world in terms of health?
BB: What’s interesting and also frustrating about the global health field is that there are a lot of angles you can take to get involved because there are a lot of issue areas. Access is crucial and just in terms of equity, young people realize that it doesn’t matter where you’re born, you should have access to health care. Purely from an equity standpoint, that’s been a really easy way for us to get people involved.
Watch the interview below: