Betsy Bassan is the President, CEO, and Founder of Panagora Group, a woman-owned social enterprise providing innovative solutions in global health and development. With more than 30 years of experience, Betsy is an industry leader who has developed novel approaches to major global health problems while also advocating for small businesses.
Driven to make a difference on a global scale, Betsy discovered early in her career that she had a mind for business and innovative problem solving. “When I discovered the field of international development, which includes a wide array of professionals working to eradicate poverty, improve rule of law, increase access to health care – and much more – in developing countries around the world, I was hooked,” she says. Betsy went on to live in Africa for 7 years, where she was part of multiple projects in the international development field and honed her passion for sustainable change.
“I learned to puzzle out sector dilemmas, work toward innovative and complex solutions, develop comprehensive programs grounded in field realities that, if implemented, could really make a difference in whatever problem I was trying to address within international development,” Betsy adds.
Opening Markets, Building Sustainable Solutions
Ever curious and optimistic, Betsy gravitated to business possibilities and opportunities. At Chemonics International, a long-time leader in the international development consulting space, she opened new markets in countries like Morocco and South Africa, where she and her team supported local entrepreneurs and businesses. She developed programs in new regions like Europe & Eurasia, which, after the wall fell, focused on building market democracies.
She also grew entirely new business sectors like global health which was very challenging to penetrate but where international development companies could greatly contribute to saving lives. She developed many innovative solutions to global health problems, often via public-private partnerships which harness community, business, and government energy in tackling key health objectives like improved mother and child health, or effective treatment of diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS—all of which can take a huge toll on societal well-being and productivity.
A leader in her field, Betsy also fanned out into a host of industry leadership positions and found her voice in wider trade and professional associations. Through the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a membership-based foreign aid advocacy group, Betsy helped build support for critical foreign aid programs. As Program Vice President and then Chair of the Society for International Development-Washington D.C., a leading professional association, she greatly enhanced its profile as the “the public square of development” through cutting-edge knowledge exchange.
It’s Personal: Self-Advocacy and Science Saves Lives
At the peak of Betsy’s career, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and found herself in a life-and-death battle, one that her own mother lost. Betsy fought hard to balance a demanding job, chair a major professional association, and care for her family, alongside punishing cancer treatments and surgery.
That experience solidified what she already knew: self-advocacy, preventative care, and innovation in science can save lives. “As I look back at what I’ve accomplished and look ahead at what is to come, I’m grateful for the self-advocacy and health care that ultimately saved my life. This is what fuels me to work hard to provide innovative and empowering solutions to complicated health and poverty issues that affect women and families all over the world,” Betsy says.
Launching a Successful Social Enterprise
In 2011 Betsy started Panagora Group, a social enterprise dedicated to novel and high-impact international development consulting with a special focus on global health. Panagora works to build national capacity and promote sustainability, utilizing integrated, private sector solutions. Through the Panagora platform, Betsy has also amplified the voice of international development companies working in this space. She led the founding of the Council for International Development Companies (CIDC) and, as chair, transformed the Small Business Association for International Companies (SBAIC).
Today, Panagora Group offers a range of health and development services and experts, across family planning and reproductive health, maternal and child health, neonatal health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria. Panagora uses private sector solutions to solve complex problems in cross-cutting areas such as health systems strengthening, knowledge management and communications, performance monitoring and evaluation, and capacity-building. For example, Panagora helped design and build the capacity of a locally-owned health franchise in Bangladesh.
Sharing Innovations within Industry
At Panagora, Betsy encourages creative thinking and innovation proactively in everything the company does. “We pride ourselves on being a social enterprise where our key offering is making the world a better place through more innovative and cost-effective, out-of-the-box solutions.” Whether in strategic planning, proposal efforts, ongoing projects, or after-action reviews, Betsy challenges the team to come up with the most thoughtful, creative, and high-impact solutions.
Similarly, everyone at Panagora engages in sharing and promoting their innovations within the industry and learning from others. For example, two years in a row, Panagora has been featured in USAID’s Moving the Needle conference, which highlights and shares key innovations that increase impact in international development. In 2016, Panagora was one of five global awardees at this conference for its work in Uganda on innovations in evaluation and performance improvement.
Passion and Perseverance
When asked what she attributes her success to, Betsy answers, “Vision, strong work ethic, leadership, the ability to motivate others, and effective management. But most important is perseverance.” She urges women in business to believe in themselves and not be defined by others.
She advises, “Find your passion and follow it. Be persistent. Take the long view. Work in participatory ways that build the ownership for others to keep the change going.”
Panagora Group continues to find innovative ways to share what works in eradicating poverty in developing countries so that development dollars achieve maximum results. It also perseveres in advancing novel and sustainable ways to further international development, in particular by using evidence-based approaches, building capacity among developing country institutions to take over and lead the work, and harnessing private-sector solutions that don’t depend on government financing.
As an industry leader, Betsy continues to promote the role of small businesses in solving global poverty while serving as an engine of the U.S. economy. At Panagora, she is always on the lookout for ways to make the company a great place to work, where people are challenged and rewarded while achieving Panagora’s mission of making the world a better place for good.