Barbara Bush is the CEO and co-founder of Global Health Corps, and Jess Mack is its senior director of advocacy and communications. The pair played “20 questions” on a recent trip to Rwanda.
1. Mack: What do you think young professional women need to do more of?
Bush: Dream and act. We worry too much. We worry if we’re doing things “right,” if we’re following the “right” path. We worry about how this or that looks on our resume. There is no “right.” Be thoughtful, believe in what you do and trust yourself.
2. Bush: What do you think young professional women need to do more of?
Mack: Negotiate. Don’t settle for the given or the status quo. In your salary, your job, your relationship or your life. That’s my personal policy as a feminist. Question things, and don’t be afraid to dissent, whether in big or small ways.
3. Mack: You have a background in design, and now you’re one of the few female founders and CEOs of a global social
enterprise start-up that’s seven years old. Wow. If A is where you were when you graduated college and B is this moment, how did you get from A to B?
Bush: As a 21-year-old architecture major, I had the opportunity to be on the ground for the launch of PEPFAR—the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief. I went on a trip where I witnessed firsthand the roadblocks so many people face in obtaining health care to lead happy, prosperous lives. Following that, I began working on global-health issues, which are often perpetuated by broken systems. This is a reality in the U.S., as it is in developing countries. Health is a human right—how can we design and rebuild health-care systems that help realize this? In 2009, five colleagues and I started GHC to harness the passion, energy and skills of our generation to confront the world’s massive health challenges. Seven years later, our incredible crew of social-justice leaders is now almost 600 strong, and we’re currently seeking our next class of 168 fellows.
4. Bush: You have a background in theology (specifically in Buddhist studies). How did you go from divinity school to the school of badass-ery, leading our community of young global health leaders in raising their voices?
Mack: I have been passionate about women’s rights and health my entire life, but I set out to become a professor of religious studies. Halfway through grad school, in a remote Buddhist nunnery in the Himalayas, it hit me: I need to work in the real world, not in the theoretical. I’ve always been outspoken—an agitator of sorts. I felt bad about that for a long time. My New Year’s resolutions as a kid included ‘be more passive’ and ‘realize that things cannot always be equal.’ I think it’s an interesting statement on the world that little girls are brought into. Many of us are constantly trying to be smaller than we really are. I am who I am, and I wanted to strengthen and wield that in a way that felt meaningful in contributing to the larger issues I care about. One of the great joys of my job is working to clear space for diverse, inspiring and under-represented voices to rise in the global health arena.
5. Mack: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Bush: Ah! I wish I knew. GHC wasn’t even an idea 10 years ago, and I couldn’t have predicted the positive shock waves of our work’s impact. I do know that in 10 years, I’ll still be working in social justice. It’s not a movement you leave—it’s a way of life.
6. Mack: What advice would you give to millennials who are trying to get started?
Bush: What issues keep you up at night? What problems haunt you or keep swirling around in your mind? Once you find something that ignites that spark, take action and advocate for issues you feel passionate about. Everyone has a role to play in positively impacting the world—that’s our responsibility as humans.
7. Bush: What’s one thing you would change about your professional path in the last 10 years?
Mack: I would have more actively pushed myself outside my comfort zone. It feels terrifying, but it’s the most incredible space for learning.
8. Mack: What’s something that you’d tell your 20-year-old self?
Bush: Don’t work alone; collaboration is a beautiful thing. GHC’s founding team was five people strong, and we came from very different backgrounds: Computer scientists, college organizers, a teacher. Our strength was in our diversity. That’s mirrored in our GHC community. We’re Rwandan architects, Ugandan computer scientists, Malawian nurses, American economists…all working together to advance health equity.
9. Mack: What’s something you look for in prospective employees or colleagues?
Bush: A demonstrated commitment to social justice. Impressive titles or experiences are great, but are you truly connected to social justice? Is it an inherent part of who you are and are you living your values?
10. Bush: When is a moment when you felt like a total failure, and what did you do?
Mack: The first time I traveled and lived outside the U.S. for work, I struggled in a new cultural work environment. I wasn’t aware enough of my own privilege and of the cultural, historical and political contexts. I wasn’t thoughtful enough about how I listened, sat back and watched—or about connecting with colleagues and letting go of my assumptions and expectations. It made for a pretty bleak time, and I was quickly schooled in humility and openness. I have been reflecting on and learning from that experience for years now.
11. Bush: What animal best describes your work personality?
Mack: She-wolf. I am fierce, but I love my pack.
12. Mack: What’s your animal?
Bush: Can I copy yours? I’d say lioness—they partner up with other strong ladies, hunt together, explore together and ultimately raise a crew of other lions who are independent.
13. Bush: What are three traits that are most important to be successful?
Mack: Curiosity, endurance and empathy.
14. Mack: Please complete this sentence: The field of global health needs more _________.
Bush: Women leaders.
15. Bush: Please complete this sentence: More people should _________.
Mack: Mentor. If you’re not supporting the growth and achievement of others (alongside your own), what are you doing with your life?
16. Bush: What’s your least favorite business or professional idiom?
Mack: “Stay in your swim lane.” If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you should never stay in your swim lane. Know your role, but don’t be afraid to think beyond it.
17. Bush: What’s the oddest or coolest job you’ve ever held?
Mack: I worked on a farm for a summer in college, for Heifer Project International. It wasn’t a resume builder, but sometimes doing work you’re passionate about is more important. I was dying to milk goats and drive a tractor.
18. Mack: Name three traits that an ideal leader has.
Bush: Humility, resilience and vulnerability. (But that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to be confident.)
19. Mack: What is your personal motto?
Bush: “Engrave this upon your heart: There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you heard their story.” —Mary Lou Kownacki
20. Bush: What’s your personal motto?
Mack: “Come on, girl!” No, really. That’s what I constantly say to myself, whether I’m hiking to the top of a big mountain or taking on something big and new at work.
Barbara Bush brings a background in design to her last decade of work in global health. In 2009, she co-founded and now leads Global Health Corps, a movement to build the next generation of global health leadership and advocate for health equity worldwide. She is a runner and cat lover based in New York City with her cat Eleanor.
Jess Mack has a background in Buddhist Studies and reproductive rights. Over the last decade, she consulted on reproductive health and rights in the U.S., Africa and Asia for UN agencies, philanthropies and nonprofits before joining Global Health Corps in 2015 to lead advocacy and communications. She loves to hike and is based in Los Angeles with her dog Mimi.