New York|Interviews

Interview: Jenna Bush Hager On Art, Advocacy, And UNICEF's Next Generation

Last night, a crowd of distinguished young professionals—among them political commentator Margaret Hoover, author Michael Hastings, Artlog founder Manish Vora, and tech entrepreneur Kipton Cronkite—congregated at R 20th Century Gallery for an evening of art, wine, music, and... water purification tablets. The event? The Spring Photo Benefit of UNICEF's Next Generation, an organization of young advocates chaired by Jenna Bush Hager.

[Photo: Henry Hager, Jenna Bush Hager]

The annual silent auction of photography raises funds and awareness for UNICEF’s programs. This year, the event was themed "water" in order to draw attention to their Tap Project, which provides children worldwide with access to clean drinking water.

In keeping with the theme, many guests wore cerulean and coral ensembles while bidding on the photographs on display: images of lakes and seascapes were juxtaposed with scenes from arid climes where drought, and deaths from dehydration, remain a constant threat. As UNICEF members reminded passing guests: 4,000 children die every day due to poor hygiene and inadequate access to safe water.

For Jenna Bush Hager and UNICEF's Next Generation, the death of any child from preventable causes is unacceptable. We spoke with the former first daughter about the organization, and what it means to be a leader in advocacy today.

What is UNICEF's Next Generation?
Unicef's Next Generation is a group of young professionals, ages 21 to 40, who are helping to make the world a better place for children. Every day 21,000 children die of preventable causes. We believe that number can and should be zero.

[Photo: Elise Jordan, Jenna Bush Hager, Casey Rotter]

What’s the importance of art and advocacy, especially in an event like tonight?
Art gets people talking. You look in the gallery tonight and you see people walking around having conversations about these photos, which is so important to raising awareness. Tonight we’re focused on water and –it’s ridiculous—it’s 2012, and kids still don’t have access to clean drinking water. So it’s important that we have these conversations, as well as raise money.

I hear you have a new online project with Mia Baxter, one of the talented photographers on display tonight. Could you tell us a little about it?
Yes! We just started The Novo Project, which is a website dedicated to people making change. From the person opening the local sustainable bakery to country music star Loretta Lynn, the Project draws attention to all the people and things we love. Mia is a photographer and I’m a writer so, for both of us, it’s become this great creative collaboration to help make a difference.

Sounds like a great match. And you two had also written a book together, right?
Yes, we wrote 'Ana’s Story' together, which was based on my experiences with UNICEF. It was our first project together, and it went so well we thought we’d continue it [with Novo].


[Mia Baxter, posing next to her photograph]

Now, I heard you gave your first commencement speech the other weekend. Congratulations! Can you share a little about that experience, and what advice you had for the Class of 2012?
I did! I gave my first Commencement speech, which seemed like a drain and like I was doing it a little too early, but it was such a great experience. It was in New Haven at Southern Connecticut State University. I shared with them the same advice I gave to myself eight years ago: to take risks and not follow such a rigid plan, because you never know what’s going to happen in life. And also to give yourself the challenge of making a difference, because there’s really nothing more rewarding than helping people who are less fortunate than you are.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be, and why?
Well my sister and I are twins, so if I had a superpower, it would definitely include her. I think we’d be like the Wonder Twins! And it would probably involve the ability to transform into some sort of cat. That, and the power to change the world for the better.

For more information on UNICEF's Next Generation, go HERE.


[Mia Baxter, Casey Rotter] [Kristin Conrad, Thomas Pierce] [Emilie Miller, Randolph Frazier]


[Tyler Armstrong, Nathalie Krup] [DJ Kiss]