DAI was founded in 1970 by three graduates of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government intent on providing a more dynamic and effective brand of development assistance. This entrepreneurial approach would look beyond traditional philanthropy to embrace the virtues of the private sector, and build a company that delivers social and economic development on a competitive, cost-effective, best-value basis—a social enterprise that is self-sustaining because it is profitable.
Employee-owned DAI is now a global development company with a record of delivering results in 160 countries. But it remains today what it was as a start-up: innovative, alert, self-critical, and forward-looking—and driven by a powerful sense of corporate purpose. Our mission remains essentially unchanged from the days of the founders.
A Consistent Mission
DAI’s mission is to make a lasting difference in the world by helping developing nations become more prosperous, fairer and more just, cleaner, safer, healthier, more stable, more efficient, and better governed.
In all our efforts to shape a more livable world, we adhere to six core values:
- People: We hire and strive to retain the very best people. We want DAI to be a great place to work for a great group of people.
- Accountability: When we don’t get it right we own up, fix it, and get it right the next time.
- Quality: We demand of ourselves the highest attainable standards.
- Integrity: We have an unwavering commitment to civility, ethics, and integrity.
- Profitability: If we succeed as a business, we will secure the future for employee owners and build the resources to invest in DAI as an engine of global development.
- Independence: Employee ownership is a leading edge of our competitive advantage. We have a personal stake in the success of our projects and our company.
Incorporated in 1970 as Development Alternatives, Inc., DAI made its earliest mark through a series of analytical studies. In 1973, we won a contract to analyze 36 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) projects in Latin America and Africa.
The resulting study, Strategies for Small Farmer Development, cemented the firm’s growing reputation, and we built on this momentum to seek more substantial assignments implementing projects in the field. Our first major project was to revitalize the agricultural economy in the North Shaba region of Zaire. Other implementation initiatives in rural and agricultural development followed in Sudan and elsewhere.
Among a new generation of DAI employees joining the firm in the 1980s was current CEO Jim Boomgard, a Ph.D. agricultural economist who played a key role in developing an approach to small business promotion in developing countries and managed a landmark multicountry study called Growth and Equity through Micro-enterprise Investments and Institutions (GEMINI).
Responding to Global Transformations
At the start of the 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union led to enterprise development, privatization, and governance projects for DAI in Eastern Europe. DAI also added a banking and financial services unit around this time. In 1995, we invested in London, U.K.-based Graham Bannock & Partners Ltd., which as the now wholly-owned DAI Europe would go on to give DAI a thriving presence as an implementing partner for European clients. In South Africa, DAI launched the firm now known as ECIAfrica, which now serves public and private sector clients throughout southern Africa.
Following the 9/11 attacks of 2001 and the subsequent U.S. military actions, DAI was called on to lead a variety of challenging development projects in the midst of the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, a country where we worked as early as 1977. Similarly, after the United States toppled the Iraqi regime in 2003, DAI won a project to help provide legitimate governance in the country. Other assignments in Iraq covered agriculture and, famously, the restoration of the Iraqi Marshlands. We solidified our footprint in the Middle East with the creation of DAI Palestine in 2004.
The middle years of the decade also saw the company innovating in the health arena. As avian influenza assumed the dimensions of an emerging threat, we launched an AI practice at the intersection of our existing work in sanitary and phytosanitary standards (essentially animal and plant health), agricultural economics, community engagement, HIV/AIDS, and crisis response. The firm won USAID’s flagship AI control program, STOP AI, and subsequently a broader program called RESPOND, which builds the capacity of institutions in developing nations to respond to emerging infectious diseases and pandemic threats.
A Global Development Company
At the start of 2009, Jim Boomgard became DAI’s new CEO, and we launched new offices in Amman, Mexico City, and Islamabad. The next year, Julian Lob-Levyt—formerly CEO of the GAVI Alliance—joined the firm to lead our international operations from the London office, and DAI celebrated its 40th birthday by publishing The First 40: A History of DAI.
"The next 10 years will determine whether we can make an American success story into a global success story,” wrote Boomgard in his foreword to the book. “Over the next 10 years, we’ll execute a new strategy designed to bring our strengths, our experience, and our commitment to a changing and in many ways expanding landscape of international development—a landscape that will see more development driven from the ground up, more decision making in countries that have traditionally been the recipients of donor assistance, and a more diverse and influential array of local actors in the development arena.”