Bringing a Change Toolkit to the American Red Cross

LEADING ORGANIZATIONS through change is what Elisa Basnight MC/MPA 2007 does best. “My toolkit is really a change toolkit,” she says. Last year Basnight joined the American Red Cross as a senior vice president for the organization’s blood supply chain. “And who would have thought that there would have been this much change within the first year?” she says.

Basnight grew up in Wisconsin, with a father who was a U.S. Navy Reserve officer and small business owner and a mother who was a nurse. Early on, they instilled in her three core values: hard work, education, and giving back to others—even though the family did not have a lot. Basnight found her way to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, served in the Army, and later went on to become the first lawyer in her family, practicing at a New York City firm.

Woman standing with two other co-workers at the American Red Cross
Basnight (right) in Philadelphia for a supply chain site visit, September 2019

Hoping to meld her legal expertise with strong policy skills, Basnight attended Harvard Kennedy School on a Zuckerman Fellowship, which enables talented people from the fields of medicine, law, and business to pursue a public service–related degree at Harvard. After completing her studies, she served in various roles, including in White House political appointments, in the private sector, and now at the American Red Cross.

In a sense, Basnight’s current job has brought her full circle. She recalls donating blood at West Point: “That was a part of me being able to give back to our country through my blood donation.” Now she spends her days thinking through and managing a complex supply chain for the American Red Cross. The organization is responsible for more than 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply; it collects more than 4.6 million blood donations and nearly one million platelet donations from millions of volunteers each year. Storing the blood, processing it, and then getting it to the hospitals and patients that need it requires many teams to work together smoothly. “It’s an ecosystem,” Basnight explains.

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Our mission is to help alleviate suffering during emergencies, and that’s exactly what we continue to do.

Elisa Basnight MC/MPA 2007

With COVID-19 posing a threat to supply chains in all sectors, Basnight is focusing on safety while ensuring that the organization’s essential work can continue seamlessly. “The American Red Cross is doing everything it can to keep people safe and healthy during this pandemic,” she says. “Our mission is to help alleviate suffering during emergencies, and that’s exactly what we continue to do.” In response to the pandemic, and with ensuring people’s safety as the top priority, Basnight established a COVID-19 command center to provide a guiding framework for operations of her 7,000-member nationwide team and strengthen communications within the organization. “COVID-19 served as, and continues to be, an accelerant of change,” she says.

Although Basnight recognizes that there are many unknowns with the continuing trajectory of COVID-19, she has appreciated learning lessons and adapting on the fly over the past year. “My team inspires me,” she says. “I feel very blessed with the opportunity to be a part of this amazing organization and leading change in a big way.”

Photos by Fred Walker and courtesy of Elisa Basnight

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