BFP: What do you do?
LW: I am a Private Sector Development Adviser for the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). In my previous position I was closely involved in the development of two of DFID’s private sector-focused initiatives, the Business Call to Action (now managed by UNDP) and the Business Innovation Facility. In January, a new Private Sector Department was created within DFID, and I now work in that department in the Investment and Finance team.
Within this team, my focus is on impact investment – investment that deploys capital in ventures that have the potential to generate social returns in terms of lives impacted, additional capital leveraged and innovative goods and services that serve the poor at scale and are sustainable in the long run. We are currently in the process of scoping out DFID’s work in this relatively new area: identifying key players, challenges and opportunities. DFID wants to catalyse the impact investment market in and for developing countries in order to maximize its development impact, among other things by increasing access to and affordability of basic goods and services that improve the standard of living for people at the base of the pyramid, such as food, shelter, healthcare, education, clean water and energy; accelerating wealth creation and asset accumulation; and increasing access for SMEs to capital, domestic and international markets, technology, know-how and information.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
LW: I love the opportunity to be creative and innovative in finding new ways to use DFID’s funding in order to leverage further investment from others and achieve scale. There is a real chance to have a wide impact and to bring positive benefits to many people’s lives – not many jobs offer that possibility!
BFP: What has been your greatest challenge?
LW: Shifting mindsets away from conventional views is an ongoing challenge. In some donor and government circles people still tend to view the private sector with some suspicion, and question their role in advancing the development agenda. DFID has moved a long way from those traditional views, as is clear from the creation of the Private Sector Department.
BFP: How have you overcome these challenges? What has been the secret of your success?
LW: I really believe in the importance of showing results – the best way to change mindsets is to demonstrate a measurable impact and to show how you can achieve scale. This will persuade others to follow suit.
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?
LW: Personally, I always knew that I wanted to work in development. I did a degree in International Economics and applied to the civil service. I started in the Treasury Department where I acquired many useful skills for engaging with the private sector, worked on development finance and trade issues and then after a few years moved across to DFID. However, although I started off in the civil service, I would advise anyone wanting to work in this field to get some private sector experience as it is really useful to be able to engage with business from a position of understanding and experience.
BFP: Finally: what do you hope to get out of being part of this community?
LW: I get a lot of value out of BFP’s events in London. I also find it a very useful source of information about what is going on in other parts of the donor community.
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For more information about DFID’s approach to private sector development and working with the private sector, please see:
Thank you to Liz Winton for taking the time to do this interview.
Read previous Member of the Week interviews here.