Dana Perino: After I left the Bush White House in January 2009, I joined the ONE Campaign’s Women’s Advisory Board and the board of Mother’s Day Every Day. Susan McCue helped found the ONE Campaign, and she really propelled it into stratospheric success. She has an amazing reputation, and I was so excited to meet her. She is truly extraordinary— and I don’t say that about many people. Her leadership qualities run the gamut, and her calm demeanor and creativity draw people to her. As it turns out, that was only the beginning of our relationship.
Senator Mitch McConnell recommended me to the Obama White House to serve on the Broadcasting Board of Governors later that year. I had previously volunteered in Africa, and I have long championed press freedom as the best way to ensure human rights, economic prosperity and democracy. Susan had been nominated for a post on the body of eight by President Bush, but it wasn’t until 2010 that Congress confirmed the full board.
Susan and I agreed we wanted to work together on expanding Voice of America’s coverage in Africa, with a particular focus on maternal health and early childhood development (ground she was already covering with ONE and Mother’s Day Every Day). I believe we can reach more women with better programming that can help them with what they need most: information about how to help raise healthy and happy children to be well-educated, well-nourished citizens of the world. Early in our tenure, we planned to visit the continent accompanied by fellow governor Michael Meehan—a big force for improvement at the BBG, whose help in Africa was critical.
We were in Nigeria for only about 36 hours because there had been recent violence; a car bomb had been set off outside one of the ministries. A VOA reporter took us to visit the Abuja Children’s Home. It was fantastic—women from all denominations across the city joined together as the Glorious Women, all supporting this orphanage. The kids were so well taken care of. I remember Susan asking the children what they needed. They yelled, all at once, “Phones! Bicycles!” When we asked the nannies the same question, the answer we got was diapers and formula. I said, “Well, you’re obviously taking very good care of them, because they want what every other kid in the world wants—phones and bikes! They don’t even know they need formula and diapers.” The next day, we saw some bikes for sale on the side of the road, so we bought four and took them to the home. It was a wonderful experience, one of the best of the trip.
Even before I had been appointed to the board, I had known Susan by reputation and through Mother’s Day Every Day. With her small, thriving philanthropic enterprise, she does a breathtaking amount of nonprofit work, yet she always manages to look cool under pressure. I have never met anyone in Washington, from either side of the aisle, who does not like Susan. I admired her for having corralled the Senate for Sen. Harry Reid [as his chief of staff from 1999 to 2006] during some very turbulent times in our country. Believe me, more agreements could be made in Washington if she were still in that position.
Susan McCue: I had wanted to serve VOA for a long time because of the critical importance of a free and open press in developing democracies. The free flow of information is a fundamental democratic ideal on which our country was built. If people have access to information and can exchange ideas, they can build civil societies, become self-sufficient and improve their lives in countless ways.
When I left then-Majority Leader Reid’s office after more than 16 years on Capitol Hill to work on the ONE Campaign, I was able to pursue a seat on the BBG. Along with Dana, our incredible chairman Walter Isaacson, and five other board members, we oversee all nonmilitary US international broadcasting, including VOA, Radio Free Europe and Alhurra in the Middle East. (Alhurra means “the free one” in Arabic.)
Dana’s legacy with handling the press is legendary, so our partnership was natural. Our friendship, too, was easy to come by, as I admire her as a tough, smart and unflappable woman. She deserves an incredible amount of credit for her time as press secretary at the White House during the George W. Bush administration—that podium can be a pressure cooker. She has managed to transition with ease, and her work and mine overlap in several areas, which is again why our partnership makes sense. One thing I didn’t expect was how she keeps me laughing! We laugh all the time at how absurd Washington can sometimes be.
Dana and I started working together on global health projects a few years ago, and given our dedication to global maternal, newborn and child health, launching the African Health Network was a priority for us. Our hope is that the information provided will empower women and communities to get the care they need for their families and to reduce preventable diseases. Sub-Saharan Africa is the hardest-hit region when it comes to preventable disease, accounting for 90 percent of malaria deaths, twothirds of all people living with HIV and nearly a third of all tuberculosis cases. The human, social and economic impact is enormous. Information is a cost-effective way of helping to save lives and secure not just Africa’s future, but also our own. As a country, we are building allies in African nations that will last lifetimes.
Our trip started out in Ethiopia, brought us to South Sudan and then back to Ethiopia before ending in Nigeria. It was a whirlwind. In each country, we met with our VOA affiliates, stringers, staff, local and national government leaders, US ambassadors and embassy experts, USAID teams and NGO workers. We were in South Sudan about two weeks before its people achieved their independence as the world’s newest nation; the excitement was palpable. And we were able to secure agreements from South Sudanese leaders for increased VOA broadcasting as they set out to build their nation.
Nigeria is one of VOA’s largest audiences with two million—and growing—listeners. The people of Nigeria love VOA and are grateful to the United States for providing these lines of open communication. While we were there, we met with Nigeria’s vice president and signed deals for expanded FM transmissions, which will continue to build VOA audiences in Africa and strengthen our alliances.
It was an incredibly productive trip with a great traveling companion. And despite the predictable setbacks and challenges along the way, I will never forget how much we laughed.