History

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.

DAI's FoundersThe founders: from left, Charlie Sweet, long-time CEO Don Mickelwait, and John Buck.

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 people improve their lives. We envision a world in which communities and societies become more prosperous, fairer and better governed, safer, healthier, and environmentally more sustainable.

Photo of DAI field staff

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.

Tony Barclay, a Ph.D. anthropologist who did his field work in Kenya, joined the firm in 1977 to help implement the North Shaba program, and quickly rose through the ranks. He became company President in 1990 and served as CEO from 1999 to 2008. In his last year as CEO, Barclay was named Executive of the Year at the annual Government Contractor Awards.

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 would go on to give DAI what is now a thriving presence as an implementing partner for British and European clients.

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 Afghanistan, a country where we worked as early as 1977. Similarly, after the fall of 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.

The middle years of the decade also saw the company innovating in the health arena. As avian influenza (AI) emerged as a pandemic threat, we launched an AI practice at the intersection of our work in animal health, agriculture, community engagement, HIV/AIDS, and crisis response. The firm won USAID’s flagship AI control program, STOP AI, then RESPOND—a broader program that built the capacity of institutions in developing nations to respond to pandemic threats—Strategies Against Flu Emergence (SAFE), the global Preparedness & Response project, and the U.K.-funded Tackling Deadly Diseases in Africa Programme.

With the emergence of COVID-19, DAI brought this expertise to bear as part of the pandemic response across its worldwide portfolio.

A Global Development Company

DAI Project Map

At the start of 2009, Jim Boomgard became DAI’s new CEO. The next year DAI celebrated its 40th birthday by publishing a 40 year retrospective.

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.”

In 2013, DAI joined forces with the distinguished British consultancy HTSPE Ltd., in a combination that yielded enhanced capabilities and offered greater value for money to global—and especially European—development clients. Based out of our office in Apsley, Hertfordshire, DAI quickly became a top supplier in the United Kingdom, and we subsequently launched an office in Brussels to bring us closer to European clients.

We further expanded our European footprint in 2019 with the integration of Human Dynamics, a pre-eminent supplier of international development services in the European Commission market. Human Dynamics is headquartered in Vienna, Austria, but also operates out of Bulgaria, Serbia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.

Over the past few years, we have had success serving commercial clients, getting a significant boost with the acquisition of Local Content Solutions and culminating in the launch of our Sustainable Business Group in 2017.

And we are steadily expanding our presence in the health arena, guided by a vision of tech-enabled, data-centric services to address the health and development challenges of the 21st century. In line with this vision, we have made strategic investments in digital health startups—ThinkMD, MobileODT, and ClickMedix—and we welcomed Health Partners International to the DAI team in June 2017. Just three months later, we announced a groundbreaking affiliation with the Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based IntraHealth International.

DAI TimelineView the DAI timeline

DAI’s global employee owners celebrated the firm’s 50th anniversary in 2020. As a global development company, we continue looking for ways to connect with customers across sectors and geographies, learn from them in ways that inform our work across clients and disciplines, and enhance our value as a global resource for diverse development actors.

“DAI is the only company in the world that can credibly claim to be a top-3 supplier in the USAID, DFID, and EC marketplace for development services,” wrote Boomgard in 2019, in his annual end-of-year letter to staff. “That prospect was inconceivable 50 years ago and improbable as recently as 15 years ago….Today it is reality.”

x

RELATED CONTENT:

Read the latest issue of Developments

Developments is DAI’s newsletter. News and feature articles, opinion pieces, and interviews highlight DAI projects and offer insight into global development issues of the day.

Read More