Departing Pittsburgh

September 25, 2009

My final engagement before leaving Pittsburgh, is a visit to the Magee-Womens Research Institute. The visit came about after a conversation I had earlier this year with Theresa Heinz, who suggested I take a look at the ground-breaking work into tackling pregnancy problems, and neonatal research.

Magee-Womens Research InstituteAfter a presentation from some of the scientists about their research into the health of the unborn child, we were taken on a short tour of some of the laboratories. It was inspiring to see the good work that is taking place at Magee to help women in pregnancy, premature newborns and long-term protection of women’s health. I believe that it is so valuable for scientists around the globe to share their knowledge and expertise – and for young researchers at the start of their careers to connect with each other. I look forward to keeping in touch with some of the contacts I have made today, and taking back their details to share with researchers at the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory who are doing similar, extraordinary work in the UK.

During the reception at the Magee Centre that follows the lab visit, I meet many wonderful people who feel passionately, not only about the science they support, but about Pittsburgh. They are very proud to have showcased their city during the summit meetings.

I am now just making my final arrangements, packing things up, back at the hotel. We are due to leave for the airport shortly, and the overnight flight to get back home.

Until next time…



Friday morning on the spouses programme

September 25, 2009

CAPA spouses visitMichelle Obama has chosen the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts High School for the visit of the G20 spouses this morning. In London, the spouses were treated to performances from school children, J K Rowling, Ballet Black, the Royal Ballet and young singers at the Royal Opera House.

The CAPA School teaches students in dance, music, theatre and visual arts from the ages of 12 to 18 – a similar programme to our own Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts based at Paul McCartney’s old school. As Michelle says as she addresses the spouses, arts education is such an important part of how we learn, and what we take with us through our lives.

I have a great time talking to high school senior student, Jessica Savits who takes a group of spouses for a tour of the school – watch out for her one day on Broadway or our West End. In my touring group I am with India’s first lady, Gursharan Kaur, Sweden’s Filippa Reinfeldt and wife of the Spanish PM, Sonsoles Zapatero. In one class we visit, a group of dancers are practicing in front of a stunning backdrop of Pittsburgh’s famous steel bridges, out full-length windows. Then we listen to members of the school choir singing Danny Boy and True Light.

All the spouses meet up together and for our customary group photo we are treated to inspiring performances from the student choir. We also see the stunning world class cellist Yo-Yo Ma perform with talented student percussionist Jason Yoder. Extra treats come from country singer Trisha Yearwood and pianist and singer Sara Bareilles, whom Michelle admits is her ipod favourite.

Our lunch together is held at the new and impressive Andy Warhol Museum. The pop-culture artist was born here in Pittsburgh in 1928, and the museum houses some of his most iconic works. If you are a fan, it is worth a visit just to come here.

Andy Warhol museumWe all get to look at the Warhol works of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis as American icons (and in the UK you can enjoy these in a month when a touring Warhol exhibition comes to Tate Modern). The museum director, Tom Sokolowski and his staff give us a close up look at how the prints are made using silk screening techniques and we are offered a chance to have a go. My personal experience with toddler finger-painting tells me the chances of making a huge mess are quite high, but thankfully, I survive the experience without incident and have a screen printed tote bag to take home. Here I get the chance to talk to the First Ladies of South Africa, Indonesia, Turkey and Canada.

Our lunch is a great treat with more organic local produce including pumpkin soup, followed by mushroom tart and crabcakes followed by a poached pear for dessert. I am thrilled to be seated next to Yo-Yo Ma for lunch who is not just one of the most sought-after, award-winning cellists, but personally committed to music education reaching out to children all over the world. He is an absolute joy to talk to. Following his performance with 16-year old Jason at the school, we ask ourselves how many 16-year olds know what they want to do with their lives at that point.

Michelle brings our time together to a close, with a toast. As I leave I get one of Michelle’s famous big hugs – she has been a wonderful hostess.

Thursday afternoon – Arrival in Pittsburgh

September 25, 2009

Flying into Pittsburgh you can see its patchwork of 88 neighbourhoods spread out below. This former industrialised centre has transformed itself to a greener, cleaner, vibrant city known for its commerce, universities, culture and Superbowl champions football team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. I have an aunt who lives here and this was the first place I visited in the United States coming to visit my cousins when I was 18-years old. The famous Andrew Carnegie who came and made his fortune here over 100 years ago, came from Dunfermline, the town close to our home (and near to Gordon’s own constituency) in Scotland. So I do feel great affection for this city and am pleased to have the opportunity to come back.

Sarah Brown and Michelle Obama; Crown copyright

On landing we are whizzed to our hotel in a great convoy. It will be a feat of detailed organisation to get all the world leaders travelling smoothly over the next 48 hours.

We have time to stop and freshen up at our hotel and then Gordon and I are off to attend the opening reception hosted by President Obama and the First Lady. It is set in the tranquil oasis of the Phipps conservatory with interesting glass sculptures dotted amongst the greenery. It is good to meet the many friends I have made at past meetings and greet, for the first time, the new Prime Minister of Japan and his wife Miyuki Hatoyama.

We leave the leaders to their working dinner addressing the important global economic issues that were tackled together at the London G20 in April. The spouses attend Michelle Obama’s dinner held at the beautiful organic farm owned by Theresa Heinz Kerry, wife of the Senior Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.

Michelle Obama gives us all her customary warm welcome and I enjoy catching up with her on family news and share with her what I have been doing in New York. We have a delicious dinner of lamb or fish with fresh vegetables – many of which have been grown on the farm, which is very much in keeping with Michelle’s great drive to encourage everyone to think how they can eat fresher and better food.

It is a great pleasure to meet up again with the other spouses. I talk to Margarida Barroso, whose husband has just been re-elected as the President of the European Commission, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy to learn more about her HIV/AIDS campaign, and meet the First Lady of Ethiopia, Azeb Mesfin who is a tireless champion for women’s and children’s rights.

After dinner we travel back to our hotels and I can finally catch up with Gordon after our respective busy days.

Getting ready to leave New York

September 24, 2009

Last night while Gordon was working on G20 preparations, I left him to attend to tackling the challenges of the economic recession, climate change and nuclear proliferation. Instead I was able to join a large gathering of women to both summer the Maternal Mortality Campaign and, frankly, to have some fun.

Sarah Brown at the Maternal Mortality Campaign dinner; PA copyright

The dinner hosted by HM Queen Rania, Indra Nooyi and Wendi Murdoch was held at Cipriani’s with 300 gorgeous, glamorous women present –  ranging from the heads of UNICEF, World Bank, Oxfam and CAMFED International to high profile guests like Nicole Kidman, Diane Von Furstenberg, Naomi Campbell, June Sarpong, Tyra Banks and Natalia Vodeonova.

The purpose of the dinner was to catch up on what has happened to progress the goals to reduce the deaths of mothers and infants. So much as happened and there is a great buzz in the room as all the women pledge to do more.

I was asked why I think it will make a difference and said, “When a mother survives, a lot survives with her, and when women come together they are an unstoppable force for change”.

Our plane to Pittsburgh does not depart until after lunch so I use the extra time to visit old friends for a New York breakfast of orange juice, coffee and bagels.

We are heading off now to our plane to meet Gordon and the Chancellor, Alistair Darling and the rest of the team.

An afternoon at the UN

September 23, 2009
Sarah Brown and Bience Gawanas

Good meeting with Bience Gawanas on how we can progress the maternal mortality campaign in Africa (she is leading the new CARMMA network to recruit champions in African countries to take the work forward). We both join a meeting of the Global Health Council to explain more about what we are doing to a gathering of First Ladies and global health professionals. Next stop Bience and I meet up with Nick Kristof and Sheryl DuWunn to work out ways to collaborate with the Half the Sky movement (so called from the Chinese proverb – Women Hold Up Half the Sky). A very energetic and positive meeting.

Lunch is hosted today by Mrs Ban Soon-Taek for all the G20 spouses to focus on climate change and education. I am honoured to be invited to speak to the guests alongside Mrs Ban and Michelle Obama, and then we heard some young speakers make their contribution.

There is a quick move after the lunch to get to the big Global Health meeting in the UN building where some exciting announcements are being made with Ban Ki-Moon and Gordon in the chair. I am delighted that some of the spouses head in the same direction and I am seated near Therese Rein of Australia and Janet Museveni of Uganda.

The chamber is full with so many countries there to support the new proposals and financial commitments that will make for healthier women and children. President Michelle Bachelet comments that she is impressed by the rapid progress that this issue has made in the last 12 months. After listening to the addresses from Ban Ki-Moon and from Gordon, they are both called away to other meetings to speak. So I find myself suddenly in the chair on the platform representing the United Kingdom on the issue.

Prime Minister Stoltenberg of Norway, who together with Britain has led on the issue of maternal mortality from the start, made a very good contribution reminding everyone that good progress is being made on children’s health but there is still much to do for mothers around the world who raise those children. What is needed, he said, is more money, better use of that money and awareness. I see the awareness bit as the role I can play.

After the meeting ends, I just have time to attend the last part of a meeting on HIV/AIDS bringing all the big AIDS agencies together at which my friend Carla Bruni-Sarkoky is participating as she is the Global Fund Ambassador and passionate about preventing mother to child transmission of the HIV virus. It is good to link up the various aspects of global health as we seek to find ways to help the health needs of everyone.

Now back at hotel to spend a bit too long writing this blog and not quite enough time to get ready for dinner this evening. I will report on the dinner tomorrow as it will have been a long day – so no midnight blogging for me.

Wednesday morning

September 23, 2009

Sarah and Gordon Brown; Crown copyright

Gordon left early this morning for several interviews before his speech to the UN General Assembly on the five global challenges later today.

I’m feeling well rested and ready for my own visit to the United Nations. I’m looking forward to catching up with my co-chair on the Maternal and Child Health Leadership Group, Bience Gawanas, and Pulitzer Prize winning writer Nicholas Kristof who, with Sheryl DuWunn, is steering the Half The Sky movement to improve women’s lives around the world.

The great value of these international meetings is the chance to catch up face-to-face with people I am working with all the time by phone and email.

Afterwards I will be heading to a lunch for the G20 spouses hosted by Mrs Ban Soon-Taek, wife of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

Gordon left early this morning for several interviews before his speech to the UN General Assembly on the five global challenges [] later today. I’m feeling well rested and ready for my own visit to the United Nations. I’m looking forward to catching up with my co-chair on the Maternal and Child Health Leadership Group, Bience Gawanas, and Pulitzer Prize winning writer Nicholas Kristof who, with Sheryl DuWunn, is steering the Half The Sky movement [] to improve women’s lives around the world. The great value of these international meetings is the chance to catch up face-to-face with people I am working with all the time by phone and email. Afterwards I will be heading to a lunch for the G20 spouses hosted by Mrs Ban Soon-Taek, wife of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

New York – Tuesday night

September 23, 2009

We touched down at JFK airport shortly after midday. Gordon went straight on to meetings at the United Nations but after a long drive, weaving through the New York traffic, I had a chance to settle in and prepare for the evening ahead.

During the afternoon I met the US and UK teams of the White Ribbon Alliance – a rare chance to catch up while we are all in New York and can meet together.

Sarah Brown and advisers of the 'Start with a Girl: A New Agenda for Global Health' report

A quick change and then off for my first engagement, to celebrate the completion of a compelling report that looks at simple but effective actions that improve adolescent girls’ health. I was one of the advisers on the report, called Start with a Girl: A new Agenda for Global Health. It was also a chance to meet some of the other advisers – including Nobel Prize winner Dr Muhammad Yunus, World Bank MD Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Irish President and member of The Elders, Mary Robinson – and preview the report, published soon. It is always good to have the opportunity to catch up with Maria Eitel who is president of the Girl Effect campaign – she is a warm and inspirational person.

We arrived at the dinner hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative at about 7pm New York time – I’m trying not to think about the time difference as it is quite late to be giving a speech to so many distinguished guests. The dinner for attendees at the week long annual conference and meetings, was in aid of an issue I feel passionately about – investing in girls and women. It was a huge honour to be asked to speak on the contribution that women can make to their families, communities, and the economy and the importance of early investment in girl’s education, nutrition and economic empowerment. During the dinner, a number of individuals were recognised for the amazing programmes that support young women and create opportunities for them. Ann Cotton, Executive Director of the UK girl’s education charity Camfed International and Melanne Verveer, Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues at the US State Department also spoke during the dinner. Lots of excitement when Barbara Streisand joined one of the tables – I understand she is a CGI regular attendee. If you want to read more, here is a transcript of my speech.