WashingtonExec Annual Greater Washington GovCon Awards Finalist Series
The clock is ticking. With just a few hours away from the “Oscars of the Government Contracting Community,” the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and the Professional Services Council will both share the winners of the 13th annual Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards.
As we count down to the grand event at The Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner, WashingtonExec is interviewing “Executive of the Year” and “Contractor of the Year” finalists about how they’re setting their businesses apart in the government contracting arena, and how they’re attracting a new generation of workers to implement their mission.
WashingtonExec interviewed Democracy International President, Co-Founder and Principal Eric Bjornlund. The organization is a finalist for Contractor of the Year for company’s worth up to $25 million.
WashingtonExec: What is your organization’s plan for growth during the next three to five years?
Eric Bjornlund: Democracy International will continue to grow and diversify during the next five years in three ways. First, DI expects to expand its portfolio with traditional funding partners such as USAID and the State Department to include more implementation of projects in the rule of law, peace and resilience, human rights and governance programming. Second, we are expanding the scope of our analytical work to address the full-range of development programs, beyond our base in democracy and governance. Third, DI is working to expand its base of funders and/or significantly increase funding from international partners such as the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), the United Nations and the European Union.
WashingtonExec: What was your organization’s largest accomplishment in the last 12-18 months?
Eric Bjornlund: Democracy International’s expanded leadership role in the democracy, human rights and governance (DRG) sector has been the organization’s most significant accomplishment in the last year. Central to this has been DI’s role in launching the Advancing Democratic Elections and Political Transitions (ADEPT) joint venture, which unites DI with five leading organizations in the DRG sector: The Asia Foundation, The Carter Center, Freedom House, IREX and World Learning. ADEPT brings together some of the world’s leading experts on democratic transitions and provides integrated organizational capacities and high-quality international support for elections and political transitions. Through ventures such as ADEPT, DI is promoting cross-functional leadership and innovative collaboration in a field facing increasingly complex challenges worldwide.
WashingtonExec: What are the largest challenges that you predict your business will face in the next five years?
Eric Bjornlund: Democracy International must overcome two major challenges in the next five years. Internationally, we face a democratic rollback in a variety of regions and must operate within a continually closing space for civic engagement. The authoritarian reaction to the Arab Spring and the “color revolutions” in Europe and Eurasia has been well documented and requires DI to continually innovate to better support civil society actors — including activists, NGOs and journalists — who find themselves increasingly under threat for promoting democracy, human rights, transparency and the rule of law. Domestically, we face a shrinking competitive space for DRG funding. Despite the importance of the work of DI and its partners, funding has been increasingly channeled through less competitive mechanisms designed for larger organizations. Not only has this been to the detriment of smaller implementers like DI, it has come at the cost of innovation within the sector.
WashingtonExec: How does your organization maintain engagement with all levels of employees?
Eric Bjornlund: DI has a strong corporate culture that empowers thought leadership, promotes entrepreneurship and inspires innovation. Our employees collaborate and share the results of their work regularly, ensuring that everyone understands how their contributions assist co-workers, the U.S. government and other funders, and our host-country partners. At DI, employees of all levels and all teams lead and collaborate on professional development and educational opportunities. DI employees, for example, regularly host brown bag lunches to discuss emerging practices to empower citizens in the world’s poorest nations. These sessions are employee-generated and open to all staff members and interns. As a testament to our mission-driven, trusting, and supportive corporate culture, DI has consistently demonstrated an ability to retain highly qualified personnel in high-stress, high-performance roles in difficult environments such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt and South Sudan.
WashingtonExec: How is your business involved in the community?
Eric Bjornlund: At DI, we view our community as global. We are a company made up of committed individuals who care deeply about the state of the world. We have made it our mission and our life’s work to promote democracy, fundamental freedoms and citizen engagement worldwide. At the same time, we also work at home and outside our regular programs to educate people about democracy and citizenship.
DI worked, for example, with James Madison’s Montpelier to teach emerging African leaders about constitutionalism and democratic transitions as part of President Obama’s flagship Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) program. Similarly, our staff members regularly meet with international visitors participating in exchange programs. DI staff members recently provided the initial briefing on civil society in the U.S. for political and educational leaders from Indonesia, for example. DI’s senior leadership teach as adjunct professors in the master’s program in democracy and governance at Georgetown University and have advised and mentored many students there on careers in development and related issues. We have hired and mentored many college and graduate students as interns and research assistants. Moreover, as a mission-driven organization, DI conducts most of its programs without profit or fee under cooperative agreements with USAID and the State Department and partners with a range of nonprofit international development organizations based the U.S. and around the world.