Dia Martin is Managing Director of Social Enterprise Finance and heads DFC’s Portfolio for Impact and Innovation (PI2) program which provides support for early-stage ventures that offer promise for significant development impact, but may be particularly challenged to access financing.
How did you first become interested in development and working at DFC?
I studied finance as an undergrad and in graduate school and I was interested in using finance to empower people who have been underserved. I remember when I was applying to graduate school, I had to write an essay about where I saw myself in the future. I wrote about flying to Africa to work to complete a financing transaction. It was always my goal to invest in a way that had a positive social impact.
At DFC you’ve led efforts to launch and expand the PI2 program to support early-stage businesses. Why are young businesses so critical to advancing global development?
Many of these projects focus on providing a service or a solution to underserved communities such as women, small businesses, youth, and rural populations and they have a vision for having a strong impact. They have great potential to grow but they are in a place in the market where there is not a strong financing structure in place. If we can connect with them earlier, we can reap the benefits developmentally and financially.
Can you describe a PI2 project that’s achieved a strong impact?
There are several. In Cameroon we supported a hospital that provides affordable cataract surgery, which is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness. I remember visiting the clinic on a due diligence trip and meeting a young child and family that was being served by the hospital. It is so gratifying to see the direct impact of our investments. It has been three years since we first supported that project and I am so proud that we have helped it perform thousands of cataract surgeries to people who otherwise would not have been able to afford the procedure. In India, we were one of the first institutional lenders to support Greenlight Planet, which provides off-grid solar lighting to rural communities. In addition to bringing electricity to these communities, our support has helped create jobs for local residents, and helped Greenlight Planet expand further. After repaying our loan, the company has gone on to raise $90 million from other lenders.