Interview with Dia Martin by Inspirational Women Series
Dia Martin, CFA is a Managing Director on the Social Enterprise Finance team in the Small and Medium Enterprise Finance department of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) in Washington, D.C. OPIC is the U.S. Government’s development finance institution; it mobilizes private capital to help solve development challenges and advances U.S. foreign policy. With OPIC, Dia is responsible for providing financing to projects and funds active in microfinance, SME and other impact investment sectors. Dia also leads the Portfolio for Impact program, which is focused on financing scalable, earlier stage projects that are highly developmental. Before OPIC, Dia worked in Germany for three years as a Risk Manager with Finance in Motion GmbH and a recipient of the Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship in 2007-2008 with a focus on development finance. She also previously held positions with Citigroup’s Public Finance department and with Moody’s Investors Service covering the healthcare sector. Dia holds a MA in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and a MBA in Finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She received her B.S. in Finance from Hampton University.
How did you first become interested in public finance and how did these interests lead to your career at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)?
I interned at OPIC while I was in graduate school and became very interested in working with OPIC over the longer term. My interest in OPIC and public finance is a part of my long-term desire to work in finance to support the development of communities, particularly through OPIC and development finance in the private sector.
For example, one of the deals that I am very proud of underwriting at OPIC is Medical Credit Fund. It is a social impact fund that enables small and medium healthcare enterprises in sub-Saharan Africa to access affordable finance in order to improve the quality of healthcare.
Can you tell us more about your role on the Social Enterprise Finance team at OPIC and some initiatives you have led?
As a Managing Director on the Social Enterprise Finance team, I underwrite transactions ranging from $1 to $250 million in high impact sectors, including healthcare, access to finance, education, and agriculture. I also lead the management of the Portfolio for Impact program, an innovative program that was launched in 2014 at OPIC to provide high developmental earlier stage companies with debt capital to needed to scale.
Going forward, what are some challenges and opportunities you see for international development?
I believe the main challenge is to pursue development in a way that alleviates or eliminates issues related to poverty and to provide opportunities. With this in mind, I think it is important, although more difficult, to structure solutions and interventions to be sustainable and have a long-term, measurable impact. This can be difficult as these types of solutions can take more time and resources upfront and require a level of commitment and risk that may not be ideal for sponsors that face limits imposed by regulatory, political or strategic planning timelines.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your work, and how did you seek to overcome them?
There are two major challenges that I have faced. Like many women, I sometimes doubt myself. It can be challenging when working in different cultures and new environments where business protocol is not necessarily the same. This challenge has forced me to work harder to change my mindset, practice new skills and be open to seek the education I need to grow professionally. The second challenge relates to external obstacles in my path. When faced with external obstacles, I am pushed to think creatively on how to reach my goals through a path that may not be as direct. I have also found that it is extremely helpful to shift my focus to the long-term when I face external challenges to stay motivated and ensure that I stay on track.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
My mother and grandmothers have had an enormous impact on my life. Although the three of us have come of age in different time periods and embarked on very different professional careers and journeys, for example, my mother pursued a career in academia. I have learned some valuable lessons from them on the importance of having a strong will and positive outlook. This has enabled me to pursue my passions without regrets and identify opportunities where others may only see challenges.
What advice do you have for future professionals who hope o work in international trade development?
My advice is to stay focused, continue to refine your interests after each experience, and take time to reflect on what is and isn’t important to you. Pursue your passion even if it seems more difficult or the results are less tangible. I find that the most exciting and rewarding opportunities often require one to go against the crowd or make the less obvious decision.
What are some best ways to learn more about international trade, financial institutions and economic development?
I try to read and stay abreast of as much information as possible in my field and in other areas of interest. I think it is important to read articles, books and blogs that offer different perspectives and disciplines. A balanced approach with films, websites and books that is based purely on personal interest helps make connections and offers a unique perspective from others that you can bring into your professional environment. This is important because I feel some of the best ideas come from being able to link unrelated topics or ideas to come up with new solutions.