When most people hear the name Bush, they think of President George W. Bush, or the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on SMU’s campus. Most people, however, also do not know what goes on behind the scenes of the Bush Library. Behind the library is the George W. Bush Institute. It is easy to mistake it for another part of the expansive presidential library, but the Bush Institute is home to many initiatives which developed from the work that Mr. and Mrs. Bush undertook while in office to make the world a better place.
One example is the Women’s Initiative, with its three program areas: The Women’s Initiative Fellowship, the Afghan Women’s Project, and the First Ladies Initiative. The Women’s Initiative broadly seeks to “empower women worldwide by promoting access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunity, and support first ladies from around the world in using their unique platforms effectively.”
“Gaining more leadership,” are three words Shannon Bradford, Ursuline class of 2011 and associate of Global Initiatives at the Bush Institute, chose to describe the women’s transformation throughout the program. “I think that the Women’s Initiative embodies women’s leadership,” she says. Speaking as a former Ursuline girl, she values women’s education. She also emphasizes the importance of equality as a fundamental human right. “More women and girls are able to access education around the world,” she said. The Initiative wants to highlight and celebrate the successes of women and girls around the world.
The Women’s Initiative Fellowship helps women in the Middle East and North Africa become better-equipped leaders. Fellows complete a year-long leadership training program. The first four weeks are spent traveling across the United States, from Dallas, Texas to Silicon Valley in California. Women also take leadership courses and seminars at SMU.
Two years ago, women traveled to Washington, D.C. and New York City and saw the Stock Exchange, among other organizations and institutions. They then went to California to see the companies in Silicon Valley. Back in their countries, they received training. After these women, “rising stars” as Shannon Bradford says, completed the program some reported that they had been promoted or given greater responsibilities at their jobs following the completion of their time as a Women’s Initiative Fellow.
The Bush Institute also helps women in Afghanistan through the Afghan Women’s Project, aiming to “shine a spotlight on the challenges and successes of Afghan women”. Another program, called the First Ladies Initiative, “engages and supports first ladies from around the world to effectively use their unique platforms to advance issues for women and girls in their countries. It is so important for women to have all of the same opportunities as men so they can help advance the world around them,” Bradford says. These crucial and impressive characteristics will remain the goal of the Women’s initiative for decades to come.