DFI was founded in 1992 by Diane M. Willkens. Building on previous international business development work, Ms. Willkens realized that many US corporations lacked the networks and know-how to leverage opportunities of the World Bank, regional development banks, and other US export and investment promotion agencies. At the time, relevant information was difficult to locate so local presence and established institutional contacts were the only viable way to secure support from these organizations. Equipped with the necessary knowledge, networks, and influence at its outset, DFI was formed and quickly attracted an initial cohort of best-in-class US-based multinational corporations seeking to accelerate emerging market growth and development.
It was not long before DFI extended its product line to make greater use of an expanding portfolio of capabilities:
- Solid understanding of international finance organizations
- Exceptional experience in emerging business development
- Wide-ranging networks in the international development community
- Extensive base of partners to expand DFI's reach, expertise and capabilities
This diversification led DFI to play more proactive and engaged roles in the development and launch of clients’ global emerging market strategies, including targeted relationship-building with international development agencies around the globe – such as the Inter-American, Asian, and African Development Banks, bilateral donors throughout the developed world, and select agencies of the United Nations agencies.
At the same time, another hurdle that clients needed to overcome was in emerging countries themselves. For emerging market programs to succeed and be sustained, more work was needed at the country level. As a result, DFI began advocacy programs, aimed at stimulating demand for client offerings – both in the international financing organizations as well as in-country - through the development of public-private partnerships (PPPs), and the cultivation of alternative (non-private) channels. This success with PPPs has in turn led to DFI's expanded focus and success in corporate social responsibility.
As client needs have become more sophisticated, so have DFI's information management tools. The ATL2ASTM toolbox contains relational database systems to help manage the overabundance of information – often conflicting, unclear, and out-of-date – and to ensure that information is distilled out in a way that allows our client decision makers to make the strategic choices about, for example, project pursuit efforts or advocacy efforts. Gone are the days of too little information – the race today is to distill a vast array of information into intelligence and action before a competitor does.
Today, DFI is a global concern, with representation in four continents and successes in over 80 countries. It has grown, over time, responding to clients needs, trends in international development assistance, and development information flow and availability. DFI has honed its business processes, fine-tuned its database management tools, and expanded services across IT, agriculture, health, education, climate change, transportation, infrastructure, and natural disaster management. Above all, DFI has and will continue to offer a hands-on, personal and flexible approach to clients across all sectors.