May 7, 2010

Participating in the symposium on “Educating and Empowering the Women and Girls of Afghanistan” were (from left) Shamim Jawad, Julia Bolz and Andeisha Farid.

Texas universities competing to house the George W. Bush Presidential Center sought the historical resource in part because of the scholars and dignitaries it would attract. But perhaps few expected that activities would begin years before the center opened its doors.

The quick start was fueled by the George W. Bush Institute, which scheduled several conferences for spring 2010 at the Collins Executive Education Center in SMU’s Cox School of Business. In 2013 the institute will join the Bush archives and museum as part of the George W. Bush Presidential Center on campus.

In November 2009 Bush announced that the institute will focus on education, global health, human freedom and economic growth, with special involvement of social entrepreneurs and women.

“When you educate and empower women, you improve nearly every aspect of society,” Laura Bush ’68 added.

SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development co-sponsored the first two symposia. A March 3 symposium posed the question: “Could enhanced leadership [of principals and superintendents] be a missing piece in the practical and sustained improvement of America’s schools?”

A March 19 symposium, “Educating and Empowering the Women and Girls of Afghanistan,” included several speakers from that country, along with State Department officials and leaders of non- profit organizations.

Panelists outlined vexing challenges: a 70 percent illiteracy rate; the world’s second highest maternal mortality rate; and lack of schooling for five million children, many of them girls who fear kidnapping, forced marriages, rape and other injuries if they attend school.

Opening the conference, George W. Bush said, “Laura and I left politics but wanted to stay involved in policy. We looked for a suitable place of thought and action, and there is no better place than SMU, with its vibrant faculty and curious student body. The institute is based on principles, not politics, is scholarly and will be transformative.”

Other institute spring symposia focused on U.S. natural gas development, co-sponsored by the Maguire Energy Institute in Cox School of Business; and the use of technology by cyber dissidents to promote democracy.

In all, the four symposia attracted more than 800 officials, dignitaries, business leaders, activists, scientists and other scholars from throughout the world.