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.
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).
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.
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.
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.