From 'chopping block' to 'starting block': David Bohigian on his time at OPIC

David Bohigian speaks with Devex about building the new U.S. development finance institution and what's next as he steps down as the acting president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Photo by: OPIC

WASHINGTON — David Bohigian, who served as the acting president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and oversaw its transformation into the new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, has left the agency.

Bohigian had been with OPIC since August 2017, when he was confirmed as the executive vice president, and took over the top job in March. Since then, he’s led a complex process to stand up the new U.S. development finance institution.

“What I'm proud of over the last couple of years is: When we got there, OPIC was on the chopping block, and now the Development Finance Corporation is in the starting block,” Bohigian told Devex in an interview shortly before his departure.

“Over the long term, I believe in order to have the development impact and the foreign policy impact, it's going to require more resources for the Development Finance Corporation.”

— David Bohigian, former acting president and CEO, OPIC

The US DFC was supposed to launch Oct. 1, but Congress has yet to pass a budget for fiscal year 2020. As a result, the agency has not had a budget and has been unable to open its doors. But the new DFC does have a CEO — Adam Boehler took up that role in early October.

Several development experts who have worked with OPIC told Devex they had hoped Bohigian would get the nod for the top job of the new agency, but it became clear in July when Boehler was nominated that this would not come to pass.

On the eve of his departure, Bohigian spoke with Devex about the process of standing up US DFC, which he said should be an example of how government reorganization can work, and about the present status of the agency as it waits in budget limbo.

Change management

Even before he took the top job at OPIC, Bohigian was put in charge of standing up the new DFC, and he took a unique approach.

While many government reorganization efforts rely on consulting firms to come in and help lead the process, OPIC did not go that route, Bohigian said.

“Instead, we had stakeholders that deeply cared about providing us best practices and operational improvements and policy-thinking that allowed us to tap into a really networked effect of consulting, where people were able to help us spot different opportunities and challenges that we had,” he said.

The consultations led to 51 internal working groups at the agency, each dealing with different parts of the reorganization. They helped generate a Gantt chart of 800 line items, with tasks ranging from the design of the new logo to thinking through how to deploy equity. In total, nearly 300 people participated in the change-management process.

Overseeing this process entailed juggling the needs of a broad group of stakeholders — from the board, which includes the U.S. Treasury, USAID, and the State Department, to the White House, Congress, and NGOs. The agency also convened roundtables with the development community, the foreign policy community, and the impact-investing community.

Working through the interagency process is always a challenge, and Bohigian said he laid out three principles to guide the policy decision-making: a focus on development outcomes, growth from a $25 billion to a $60 billion portfolio, and flexibility.

“Clearly, development finance has become a larger part of our foreign policy toolkit, and it's appropriate to have debates about what our policies and our strategies are. But at the end of the day, we express those development outcomes through transactions ... and we needed to continue to make sure that we maintain the flexibility that we had,” Bohigian said.

Preparation

The outcome of the agency’s broad change-management process is a new impact measurement framework and a number of new systems that have been set up. The new US DFC may not be able to open its doors yet, but everything is ready to go for when the agency can begin operations, Bohigian said.

While there are still unknowns about funding levels for the new agency, the planning process has taken into account a number of different scenarios and is prepared for whatever is decided, he said.

One of the key debates in budgeting for US DFC has been how Congress will fund the new equity authority and how that funding will be scored for budget purposes. The House of Representatives proposed providing $50 million for equity investments in year one, which would be scored similar to a grant; the Senate version allocated $150 million scored the same way.

Many US DFC advocates are disappointed in the modest amount Congress is considering for equity and how it is scored — they had wanted equity investments to be treated similarly to other investments the agency makes, which would allow it to leverage a smaller amount of appropriated money to make a greater amount of investments. The BUILD Act capped the agency’s equity investments at 30% of the $60 billion it can invest.

Bohigian said that the current scoring may be partly because Congress and other stakeholders don’t have a full understanding of OPIC’s track record of investing in private equity funds. In the past 30 years or so, OPIC has invested debt in almost 100 equity funds, and when it assessed that portfolio, it made money for U.S. taxpayers. If the U.S. had invested in equity in those same funds, it would have made more money, Bohigian said.

“We've prepared for equity on a sliding scale, and I'd encourage our stakeholders to be thinking about meeting the intent of the BUILD Act to be able to do that scale,” he said.

In addition to planning for equity, the agency has a pipeline of projects to support with technical assistance and feasibility studies when it launches and is working through how it will provide local currency loans. The agency is also considering how it will deploy funds to projects that don’t have a U.S. nexus — in the past, OPIC could only lend money to projects that had a U.S. connection. It is also looking at a system in which the more development or foreign policy impact a transaction might have, the more the agency would be willing to accept a relatively minor U.S. connection, Bohigian said.

“Ensuring that the Development Finance Corporation continues OPIC’s tradition of innovation and impact is crucially important to the development goals and foreign policy goals of the United States in the years ahead.”

— David Bohigian, former acting president and CEO, OPIC

OPIC has developed a new impact-measurement system for US DFC that will be used to screen investments and measure their impact, though it cannot be officially adopted until a chief development officer is in place. Today, investments are being evaluated using both the OPIC standards and the new impact-measurement system until it is approved, Bohigian said.

“We're working in parallel systems right now. There's no reason not to use the best thinking that we had,” he said.

As the agency looks to utilize all the new authorities and ramp up its investments, several development finance experts say it will need more staff, though the current appropriations bills don’t provide funding to grow the team in the first year. In the short term, collaboration with other U.S. government agencies is helping to fill the gap.

“Over the long term, I believe in order to have the development impact and the foreign policy impact, it's going to require more resources for the Development Finance Corporation,” Bohigian said.

What’s next

Having built the foundations for US DFC, Bohigian is now moving on. And while he doesn’t know exactly what he will be doing next, he said it’s likely to be in impact investment.

“The crossroads of money and meaning is something where you can make real systemic change in the world. So I want to operate at both the transactional level and the systems-change level in order to help solve the world's largest problems,” he told Devex.

As for the agency he helped construct, Bohigian said he’s confident in the team that he collaborated with to carry things forward.

He had some final words of advice for Boehler, who will take on the implementation of this work.

“The DFC is poised to be one of the most important forces in development, and the entire team there is phenomenal,” Bohigian said. “And ensuring that the Development Finance Corporation continues OPIC’s tradition of innovation and impact is crucially important to the development goals and foreign policy goals of the United States in the years ahead.”

About the author

  • Saldiner adva

    Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.