A bright green background in different shades with a spherical group of interconnecting lines in the foreground.

Development Works Here with B. James Soukamneuth

| 4 Minute Read
Economic Growth and Trade | Environmental and Climate Risk Management | Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development
Innovation | Private Sector Engagement | Inclusive Economic Growth

We’re thrilled to welcome B. James Soukamneuth! James is the Senior Finance & Investment Advisor for our Private Sector Engagement practice and a strategic and analytical professional with more than 20 years of experience in economic development. His technical expertise spans trade, investment, concessional development and blended finance, gender lens investing, impact investing, ESG standards, statistical evaluation, and credit analysis. In this short interview, James shares more about his background, his views on engaging the private sector for more effective development interventions, and recommendations to foster collaboration for transformative change that drives global growth. James is one reason #DevelopmentWorksHere.

1. What is your professional background and what drew you to work with private sector engagement for international development?

I am a proud Returned Peace Corps Volunteer in Savè, Benin, where I served as a high school math teacher. The experience shaped my worldview about charity and the limits to aid. I have since become a life-long student of international development, with master’s and doctoral degrees in international planning and political economy. Spanning the public and private sectors, my long career has focused on economics, trade, and investment across the Asia Pacific, West Africa, and North America. My interest in the intersection of public and private sectors began during my time as a Private Enterprise Officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development, with assignments at missions in the Philippines, West Africa, and Nigeria. Much of the effective economic growth programming that I led included strong elements of private sector engagement and market-based solutions. Eventually, this passion led me to the field of impact investing, which provides an important development tool to address global challenges and improve aid effectiveness.  

2. As you mention above, you have ample experience with gender lens investing and impact investing for economic growth in Asia. Can you tell us more about these approaches and how they foster economic empowerment for local partners?

Urgent action is also needed to mobilize, redirect, and unlock the transformative power of trillions of dollars of private resources to deliver on sustainable development outcomes. Impact investing promises to balance financial returns for gains in social and environmental impacts. Unless more private resources can be brought to bear, international efforts to address such pressing concerns as climate change, health crises, or socio-economic inequality can result in only incremental improvements. Gender lens investing refers to investment strategies that seek to create improved gender outcomes. Lack of access to, control over, and ownership of productive assets constitute key impediments to women’s economic empowerment, especially for undercapitalized women entrepreneurs. In my prior work, I have developed blended finance structures that de-risked investments into women-owned and women-led small and medium-sized enterprises or SMEs, while also incentivizing investors to crowd in more investments. Closing the gender credit gap can translate into economic dividends, driving global growth.

3. There is currently a big focus on private sector engagement in the development community because of the impact it can have in promoting inclusive economic growth and advancing the Sustainable Development Goals. How can we best leverage partnerships with the private sector to effectively achieve these aims?

Key elements of effective partnerships look to strengthen shared value, which reconnects business success with social progress. Traditional development dynamics are shifting rapidly from a donor-recipient aid relationship to mutually beneficial partnerships involving public sector, private actors, stakeholders, constituents, and various other vested interests. Compelled towards collective action, such partnerships typically promote common goals and align their interests for effective international action to tackle shared concerns. 

4. From your experience, what are the biggest recommendations you can give for successful collaboration between the public and private sectors?

A larger role for the private sector promises an entrepreneurial spirit of innovation, measured risk-taking, and fresh perspectives to drive productivity gains, broad-based and inclusive economic growth, and job creation. From my experience in the past decade, a fine line separates effective private sector engagement from corporate welfare. Development funding is a scarce and precious resource that should be optimized to unlock private capital directed towards development outcomes. When properly structured, private sector engagement can complement existing donor approaches to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of development interventions. Such market-based approaches strive to ensure additionality, address market deficiencies, catalyze resources, advance new ideas, and produce lasting results while limiting concessions to private firms and mitigating market distortions.

5. You have had a wide-ranging career in global development. What got you interested in joining Chemonics?

I’m a strong advocate of investing in local communities and a proponent of aid effectiveness through business management principles. Chemonics has an industry reputation of effective project management, as reinforced by its tagline Development Works Here. The firm has a long history of partnering creatively and strategically with the private sector, especially in mobilizing investments for shared development outcomes. I’m part of the Private Sector Engagement Practice at Chemonics, and the team is driving new, exciting initiatives to advance impact investing and deploy catalytic capital for untapped market segments.

Posts on the blog represent the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Chemonics.

About B. James Soukamneuth

B. James Soukamneuth is a strategic and analytical professional with more than 20 years of experience working across the private and public sectors in North America, Southeast Asia, Australia, and West Africa. He brings experience in economics, trade, investment, concessional development and blended finance, gender lens investing, impact investing, ESG standards, statistical evaluation, and credit…