Many Are Cold, but Few Are Frozen

David Lawrence's personal blog

Leaving IFC

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I'd like to say that I joined the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in order to fight poverty through private sector development. But that wouldn't be true. I joined IFC because I wanted to move to Ukraine, where I had met a fabulous girl on the Kiev-Odessa train during a holiday. I had no idea that this would be a life-changing event, or that it would make private sector development the focus of my career.

At the time, IFC was looking for a U.S. citizen with business experience who could work in Russian for a USAID-funded project in Sumy, a small, bleak town in north-eastern Ukraine. I fit the bill. But I wasn't too excited about the location: Train Girl lived somewhere in the south of the country, but came to Kiev fairly often. But my initial contract was for only six months, so I figured I could go to Sumy and figure out things from there.

IFC snatched me up and and sent me directly to my post. I did not pass Go. I didn't have an orientation; it wasn't until later that I learned IFC was part of the World Bank Group or that its main business was private sector investment. In those days, the Internet was only just beginning to blossom and in Armenia, where I was living when I was recruited, I didn't have access to it.

My six-month contract stretched to nearly 14 years. I ended up managing the project from Kiev, then opening IFC's first offices in Georgia and Armenia. Then I had a harrowing few years in Moscow and Kiev as we formalized IFC's advisory services operations throughout the former Soviet Union. After that, I had a four-year stint in Washington before going to Aceh, Indonesia, where IFC ran a post-disaster/post-conflict program. And finally, I worked in Mongolia, where we built up our advisory services program to what it is today.

Most of the time I've enjoyed the work. Right now IFC's advisory services are settling into established business lines, but what we were really good at was figuring out how to develop the private sector in remote, frontier places and then designing and launching top-notch programs. And critically, getting donors and other organizations on board. This was especially true in Eastern Europe in the wild 90s, after the collapse of communism there. Many of IFC's global products were developed in the former Soviet Union, such as corporate governance, supply-chain development or business inspections reform. It was a wild, fun ride and I will never regret my part in it.

The end of my IFC career, like the beginning, is intertwined with a Ukrainian woman. I don't mean Train Girl ­­– not long after I relocated to Ukraine she told me she was already married ­­– but my wife, who worked as a policy analyst on my first IFC project in Kiev. After being dragged to Moscow, Washington, Banda Aceh and finally Ulaanbaatar, she wanted to go home. Since Kiev is not a bad place, and because after 14 years a major change in life is a good thing, I agreed.

So today I move to Ukraine, which will be my base for short-term consulting work. It will take a few months to get the family settled, but after that, anything will be possible.

It's a little scary, but also very exciting.