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Elizabeth Serlemitsos

Director, Breakthrough ACTION

Elizabeth Serlemitsos directs Breakthrough ACTION, a five-year, $300 million initiative funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development to lead its social and behavior change programs around the world.

Elizabeth has worked in the field of international development and public health for more than 30 years, 26 of those while residing in Africa. She has served as chief of party of two USAID-funded projects in Zambia, team leader of a DFID-funded project, and regional director for the Center for Communication Programs’ Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3) Ebola Program in the Mano River Region.

In addition to her leadership skills, Elizabeth has a strong technical foundation, having lead the strategic design and implementation of innumerable strategic communication campaigns and other interventions.

During her 24 years at CCP, Elizabeth has worked on a diverse and fascinating range of projects, but by far her most professionally enriching experience was working on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014 and 2015.

This task drew upon the management skills acquired during her master of business administration program at Yale University. In particular, she played a big role in coordination and networking, ensuring that accurate health information was quickly relayed to the citizens of West Africa in order to help slow the spread of the disease. The Ebola response also proved how invaluable the basic public health tools were as well: epidemiology, biostatistics, health systems, service delivery and health communication.  She acquired these tools and skills while completing her master of public health at Boston University.

Prior to and during her work on Ebola, her approach has a consistent theme: helping create a new generation of African health communication professionals. In her previous work, she built the capacity of individuals through the “by the youth for the youth” HEART campaign which, launched 15 years ago in Zambia, which remains a part of the vocabulary of Zambian youth today. She also mentored Zambian youth through the formation of three local NGOs. Serlemitsos reflects that many of the young people she worked with and nurtured on those early campaigns and supported in their NGO initiatives are now respected professionals operating at an international level.

Elizabeth comes most recently from her role as senior technical advisor-capacity building for the Tanzania Capacity and Communication Project (TCCP). TCCP designed and launched an innovative mentoring program, helped Muhimbili University to create a master’s degree in health communication, designed and implemented a radio distance learning program for community volunteers and rolled out a Tanzanian adaptation of the Leadership in Strategic Health Communication course to regional and district health managers across the country.