Current and Former First Ladies Gather at RAND Forum in New York to Expand Leadership on Women's Issues

For Release

September 26, 2012

Ten current and former African first ladies joined former U.S. first lady Laura Bush and Cherie Blair, wife of the former U.K. prime minister, today at a Pardee RAND Graduate School-organized forum focused on becoming more effective leaders.

The first ladies had a rare opportunity to meet with peers in a private, facilitated discussion that covered the opportunities and challenges of their unique roles. The conversations were designed to help first ladies become champions of change in their home countries on issues such as women's health, girls' education and women's economic empowerment.

“Today's discussions were indeed very useful. I am convinced that as role models, change-makers and leaders in our respective countries, we are increasingly realizing our potential and must now take specific steps alongside our development partners to improve our existing projects and programs to positively change the lives of our people,” said Penehupifo Pohamba, first lady of Namibia and chair of the Organization of African First Ladies Against AIDS.

The half-day gathering, held at the Ford Foundation in New York, was part of the RAND African First Ladies Initiative. The initiative, co-led by Cora Neumann, Gery Ryan and Anita McBride, former chief of staff to Mrs. Bush, has been partnering with the spouses of select presidents and prime ministers for four years.

“Active and engaged first ladies have the opportunity to provide vital leadership on vexing health and education issues—important problems that affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people,” said Susan Marquis, dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School (PRGS).

Today's meeting will be followed by a five-day seminar for the first ladies' senior staff. The PRGS-led training will focus on topics such as evaluating the effectiveness of health programs, strategic planning and developing successful partnerships.

Along with Mrs. Pohamba, first ladies participating today included Salma Kikwete of Tanzania, Traore Mintou Doucoure of Mali, Antoinette Sassou N'Guesso of the Republic of Congo, Hadidja Ikililou of Comoros, Dr. Christine Kaseba-Sata of Zambia, Chantal Boni Yayi of Benin, Jeannette Kagame of Rwanda, and Chantal Campaoré of Burkina Faso, as well as the former first lady of Malawi, Callista Mutharika, and the wife of the Vice President of Nigeria, Hajiya Amina Namadi Sambo.

Sponsors and partners of the RAND African First Ladies Initiative include Merck & Co., General Electric, ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women, the George W. Bush Institute, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, the American Cancer Society and the Ford Foundation.

Photos of today's event are available at

More on the program partners:

Pardee RAND Graduate School: With about 100 students, PRGS is the nation's largest public policy Ph.D. program. Its 197 faculty members are drawn from the more than 1,000 researchers at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. Founded in 1970 as one of eight graduate programs in public policy created to train future leaders in the public and private sectors in policy analysis, the school is the only program specializing in the doctorate degree and the only one based at a public policy research organization.

ExxonMobil: Since 2005, ExxonMobil and the ExxonMobil Foundation have helped women in developing and emerging countries fulfill their economic potential and drive economic and social change in their communities. To date, this includes investments of more than $53 million to help community based and global partners implement programs directly benefiting tens of thousands of women.

General Electric HealthyImagination: GE is an advanced technology, services and capital company with the scale, resources and expertise to take on the world's toughest challenges. Dedicated to innovation in the areas of infrastructure, energy, transportation, and health, we're committed to leadership, integrity, partnership and human progress. GE businesses, ranging from transportation, energy, aviation, capital, health care, and home & business solutions, have operations on the African continent. Major locations include Angola, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women: A five-year campaign to foster greater shared economic growth by providing 10,000 underserved women around the world with a business and management education. The 10,000 Women program reaches women across 43 countries through a network of over 80 leading academic and nonprofit partners. The program works with its partners to develop short-term, pragmatic, skills-based business and management training programs that are supplemented with mentoring, business advising and links to capital.

Merck: Today's Merck is a global health care leader working to help the world be well. Merck is known as MSD outside the United States and Canada. Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies, and consumer care and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to healthcare through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships.

The Bush Institute: The George W. Bush Institute is an action-oriented organization, focused on results-based solutions for improving the human condition through education reform, human freedom, global health, and economic growth. Across all areas of engagement, the Bush Institute works to empower women through its Women's Initiative. The Military Service Initiative helps military support organizations achieve their goals and honor the sacrifice members of the military and their families make. Every initiative we undertake is guided by the values of president and Mrs. Bush and provides solutions to pressing national and international issues.

The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women: We invest in women entrepreneurs in developing and emerging markets so they can build and expand their businesses -- and in doing so benefit not only themselves but also their families and communities. As a charitable foundation, we take a hands-on collaborative approach, working in partnership with local non-profit organizations, corporations and government bodies. We develop projects with sustainable solutions to the challenges women entrepreneurs face, providing business skills, technology, networks and access to finance through three programs: mentoring, mobile technology and business support.

American Cancer Society: The American Cancer Society combines an unyielding passion with nearly a century of experience to save lives and end suffering from cancer. As a global grassroots force of more than three million volunteers, and with programs in more than 20 countries, we fight for every birthday threatened by cancer in communities worldwide. We save lives by helping people stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early; by helping people get well by being there for them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures through investment in groundbreaking discovery; and by fighting back by rallying lawmakers to pass laws to defeat cancer and by rallying people across the globe to join the fight. As a global leader in cancer research investment, we turn what we know about cancer into what we do.

The Ford Foundation: An independent, nonprofit grant-making organization, the Ford Foundation has for more than 75 years worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

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