Reimagining French politics with Astrid Panosyan
Astrid Panosyan has never conceived of success through the narrow confines of personal career advancement, but rather measures impact by how well she can serve the wider public. “I have always been interested in public service. That is just who I am,” she says. “Whether it has been as part of non-governmental organizations or within the private sector, I have always sought to create a culture of social responsibility because working toward the greater public good is something I have always felt very strongly about.”
A multi-talented and dynamic businesswoman who has held senior executive roles at some of the country’s largest commercial real estate and global insurance companies, Panosyan says it was that mission that led her into national politics four years ago as a member of Cabinet and Economic Advisor to President Emmanuel Macron when he was still Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs. Together with other members who worked closely with the President, Panosyan co-founded En Marche, an unprecedented citizen’s movement that helped sweep Macron to power in May 2017. Conceived as a national conversation with French citizens about their concerns, communities, and hopes for their country, the movement resonated with voters who felt they were being given a genuine voice in the new political model. Unaffiliated with any existing political party and open to anyone who wanted to join, En Marche transformed French politics, and today boasts 400,000 members, more than the other two political parties combined.
In her role as adviser, Panosyan brought business sector and management experience to the Ministry, helping France attract greater international investment and raise its global business profile. She was part of a collective effort to reform France’s notoriously strict labor and business laws, allowing for shops to open on Sundays to the benefit of both tourists and the economy.
Panosyan is also part of a generational wave helping transform the face of French politics in which women were long underrepresented, having only won the right to vote in 1944. In large part due to the efforts of president Macron who actively pushed for more women to run for political office, the current French parliament comprises the most women it has ever had, with 224 women elected out of 577 seats.
Politics is not the only domain where Panosyan has made a significant impact as a highly-skilled manager. She is Chief Resources Officer of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, a premier global developer and operator of flagship shopping destinations and airports. Throughout her career in the private sector, she was also active in a number of charitable causes, serving as Chairwoman of the French NGO Proxite, that provides educational and professional mentorship to 1200 people aged from 12 to 25 living in the disenfranchised suburbs of Paris, Lille, Toulouse, Nice and Rennes.
She remains deeply committed to En Marche, where Panosyan is responsible for international affairs and French members abroad, helping mobilize 28,000 of those living outside France and establish key relationships between the movement and other progressive political parties. Amidst the rise of populism and the extreme far-right in Europe, Trumpism, and Brexit, Panosyan worries about the dangers of increasing political polarization, rising inequality, and the erosion of the traditional social contract. “We are living in a very uncertain global political climate. As individuals and concerned citizens living in democracies we all have to face up to the responsibility before us. France and the European Union are at a critical juncture in history and that is why I entered politics because I felt I had to do something for my country.”
That activist outlook on the world—defined by a determination to never take anything for granted—is rooted in her Armenian heritage. Born to an Armenian father and Norwegian mother, Panosyan did not have a traditional Armenian upbringing attending church and Sunday school. Still she remembers every year joining the march with her father on April 24th, demonstrating in recognition of the Genocide. “It was more about a feeling that I am part of a community that has suffered immensely, people who have worked hard to build for themselves and their families better lives in other countries that eventually became their own. I am grateful to France, the United States, Canada, Australia, Syria, Lebanon and many other countries that welcomed survivors. That was very important to me,” she adds. “I think what I retained is a very strong approach to those who are most vulnerable and a sense of compassion for refugees fleeing war zones and massacres. One of the reasons I felt so strongly we had to do something to help mitigate the refugee crisis as early as 2014 with civilian populations fleeing ISIS in Easter Syria was directly linked to my Armenian heritage.”
Her Armenian roots have always been close to her heart, just as the community has been there for her. After graduating with a Master’s degree from the HEC Paris international business school and a degree in political science from Sciences-Po Paris, Panosyan was selected as a Fulbright scholar to study Public Administration at the renowned Kennedy School at Harvard University. She is particularly grateful to AGBU for the scholarship support the organization also provided to cover the costs of living in Cambridge. “AGBU is such an important organization all around the world, and in particular in the United States and France,” she says, “and I am very fortunate they supported me in my academic endeavors.”
Making her mark in both the private and public sector ever since, Panosyan says government taught her how to drive progress when working with large public organizations and stakeholders resistant to change. “The challenge was being able to listen and respond to stakeholders while maintaining the political vision and momentum which was constantly at risk of being halted by the inertia inherent to many larger organizations.”
She cautions not to get overwhelmed with the small emergencies that inevitably occur, but instead “strive to maintain the proper balance between what is really important while not losing sight of the momentum and agenda on which you have been elected.”
Above any one skill in particular, to succeed in politics Panosyan insists upon having the right motivation as a foundation. “You must be sure you truly want to serve the public good. If you are not in it for the right reasons, it will not be worth it because people are looking for genuine leadership not personal opportunism.”
If more Armenians aspire to careers in elected office throughout the diaspora, she adds they must do so “as full citizens of their country capable of serving a diverse constituent base, as opposed to representatives of any one community.”
As for her own future, Panosyan is as determined as ever to continue to lead by example in politics and business, fulfilling her mission to make a positive impact for her country and in the lives of her fellow citizens.