With an extensive background in the nonprofit sector, Katie Suarez understood the value that foreign aid can provide to communities, but also knew that aid itself wasn’t enough. Naturally, she decided to do something about it. “This summer,” she tells us, “I was looking for opportunities to build those public/private partnerships, increase private capital investment in emerging markets, and to really help emerging economies grow from within.” As an intern on the Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s (OPIC) Small and Medium Enterprise Finance Team, Katie and her team are focused on evaluating loan proposals that range from $1 million to $140 million, for projects in emerging markets with a specific emphasis on impact. We talk about what brought her to OPIC, being back in the beltway, and more in her summer profile.
What areas of public policy interest you?
There are definitely a lot of areas that interest me, but the main one is the role that the private sector can play in driving growth and development. Prior to starting at Wharton, I lived in Rwanda, serving as a Global Health Corps Fellow working for Partners in Health in a strategy role, so I’ve seen the value that foreign aid can provide. However, I think that a country’s long term development is going to also require investment in capital and people; providing local entrepreneurs with the opportunity to build up their communities and address local needs.
What does a typical day in DC look like for you?
Since I’m living at home, I try to row on the Potomac or run in the morning before taking the metro into the city. I usually get into the office a little before 9 am and immediately go through my emails to see if anything really pressing popped up overnight. I then start to work through what’s on my to-do list for the day. My boss comes in a little bit later, so I like to have any questions written out so that we can both hit the ground running. Then there are usually meetings throughout the day, whether they’re talking to organizations to determine whether or not they are a good potential investment, diligence calls to assess deals we’re already considering, or internal meetings to prepare materials for investment committee.
There’s a group of OPIC interns that get lunch together: the best days for that being Tuesdays, when there’s the farmer’s market right by our office. We’ll take a slightly longer lunch and talk about what we’re each working on across the firm, from the insurance side to the funds side. In the afternoon, I tend to spend the majority of my time working on credit papers and reviewing models to move deals forward. After work, I like to head out to a happy hour, either with fellow OPIC interns or with friends from high school and college who are in DC.
Have there been any surprises regarding living and working as an intern in DC?
The backgrounds of OPIC interns was a bit surprising. I figured a lot of interns would be coming from a business background, since it’s more finance focused, but there’s a good mix of undergrads, MBA interns and people in policy schools, as well as a number of law students. OPIC does a great job bringing in people with different backgrounds and ways of approaching OPIC’s work, which creates a really exciting environment.
Another surprising thing is that at OPIC, like other government agencies, the majority of the staff are civil servants who have been there for five, ten, twenty years. Seeing how things continue to work no matters who’s in the office is really interesting. Plus, in the finance setting, you have a lot of people who previously worked in investment banking or private equity and chose to give up that lifestyle and income to do something that they found to be more impactful, which I find to be quite inspiring.
Name one object that you brought with you to DC that reflects your personality.
One thing that I’ve worn to the office everyday is a bracelet that I got in Bhutan right before I started my internship. I was visiting a friend, and we saw a procession of all the Bhutanese monks where they handed out the bracelets blessed by the country’s highest monk. It looks like just a piece of string, but having visited the country and seen the ceremony and its importance to the people, I wear it as a reminder of the different cultures around the world. I think it helps keep me grounded, especially when working with emerging markets and cultures that can be very different from our own.
In 10 years, what will you remember about living and working in DC?
I hope that ten years from now I remember the value and the impact that a small group can create. OPIC is only a couple hundred people, and they have an annual investment cap of $29 billion, so the power that individuals can make given the scale is just really impressive. I hope I never lose sight of the impact that a few can make, whether with an organization like OPIC or as an individual, in driving development and growth around the world.
Give an example of an experience that signifies why you came to DC.
Throughout undergrad, I worked and volunteered at a nonprofit called Grassroot Soccer in Cape Town, South Africa, which is an HIV-prevention sport-for-development organization. Working for Grassroot Soccer, and later for Partners in Health, I saw the impact and value of nonprofits as well as their limitations. Living in the communities we served I was able to see the power that entrepreneurs and local business owners could have in helping communities develop and grow. I became interested in public/private partnerships, and the impact that an influx of private capital into emerging markets as a loan, not as grants, could have. That’s what led me to look for internship opportunities in development finance, and led me to OPIC.
What is one tourist attraction or thing outside of work that you are excited about?
One thing I was looking to start doing this summer was rowing on the Potomac. My brother and my dad row, so it’s something I’ve grown up around but never did myself. At the start of the summer I took a sculling certification course, and now I row a couple of mornings a week before work. There’s nothing better than starting your day out on the water!
What does being an intern in DC mean to you?
I think being an intern in DC is an example of the younger generation saying that no matter what’s going on at the higher levels of politics, we are active and invested in what our government does. So while the extra packed metro can be annoying at times, it’s motivating to see the number of people who choose to come and work here in DC for the summer out of their commitment to public service.