exclusive EXCLUSIVE Interview: John Jovanovic On An Increased US Presence In Serbia And How DFC  Plans To Facilitate Economic Cooperation Between Washington And Belgrade 

Adam Boehler’s new appointee, John Jovanovic, sits down with Ksenija Pavlovic Mcateer of The Pavlovic Today to talk about the first permanent overseas office opened by the DFC in Belgrade and an increased US economic presence in Serbia enacted by the Serbia-Kosovo agreement led by Richard Grenell and President Trump. 

John Jovanovic, leader of the DFC’s new permanent office Belgrade ( Photo: Tanjug)

As the implementation of the Serbia-Kosovo Agreement enacted at the White House on September 4, 2020, is on its way, the USG is moving fast with making Serbia and the region of the Western Balkans a priority. 

On September 22, 2020, six US agencies visited Belgrade, marking the largest visit paid to Serbia in recent history as well as the most substantial shift in relations between the two countries. Over the course of the day, which saw numerous meetings at the highest levels of government, the DFC presented John Jovanovic, a Serbian-American, as leader of the DFC’s new permanent office Belgrade, the first of its kind outside the United States. 

Photo: Tanjug

Jovanovic’s background in the private market is just one indicator of the commitment the DFC has towards boosting economic normalization, female entrepreneurship, and investment opportunities in Serbia.

In an interview for The Pavlovic Today, Boehler remarked, “We did not just go and find somebody in the government, who’s been working there for 20 years… that’s gonna be bureaucratic, right? We’re moving quickly.” 

Boehler found Jovanovic through David Penna, Senior Vice President of the Office of Strategic Initiatives for DFC, which has a sharp focus on foreign policy development. The two met due to their mutual backgrounds in the private market, and to that effect, Boehler remarked, “Actually, all of us are the private market. We’re not long-time government people. None of us worked in the government that long, so I think we all share an interest in doing things — thinking about things —a little bit differently. That’s how we found each other.”

Shared identity 

Jovanovic grew up in Chicago, in a community where many of his neighbors were of Balkan descent. “We lived together feeling as though we had a shared identity because we did,” Jovanovic recalled of his formative days.

“We were very focused on what we could build, a future together, and spent no time arguing about the past,” he said, referring to the very complex political arena of former Yugoslavia, something ex-pats are intimately familiar with. Flashing-forward to 2020 and the historic Serbia-Kosovo Agreement, Jovanovic is now transitioning from his career in investment banking to his position as leader of the DFC’s first permanent overseas office in Belgrade, Serbia. 

“To see such an initiative come together... To have what all of our friends and all of these businesses here locally have been asking for for a very long time now, which is an increased U.S. presence in the region economically, first and foremost… This initiative is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Jovanovic shared regarding his prospects for the future of this project. “Forget about me, but for the region, it's a tremendous honor,” he added.

Jovanovic graduated from Princeton, a pristine resume point which he shares with Rachael Batiel, Deputy Chief of Staff to Adam Boehler and head of the DFC’s program 2x, which focuses on promoting women’s empowerment in entrepreneurship and business endeavors of all kinds alongside the forecast economic growth.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic hosts high level meeting with USG delegation in Belgrade

Finding an individual that Boehler, a “very dynamic leader” himself, believed capable of working effectively towards the DFC’s goals, whilst simultaneously engaging the community around him and representing the American people, was the key criteria for hiring. 

“The connection was very clear,” said Raichel Baitel, Deputy Chief of Staff of Adam Boehler. 

"John and I share the fact that we both went to Princeton University. We're both politics majors. So automatically, John, and I got along very well,” Baitel shared. “We think it’s so integral to have that cultural connection,” she added.

After attending business school at Wharton, Jovonavic went on to pursue an impressive career in investment banking and private equity. The last position Jovanovic held was at a company called Mercuria as an investment director. Unbeknownst to Jovanovic, his professional life was about to take a dramatic turn, as Boehler contemplated the perfect person to take up a leadership position at the DFC’s permanent office in Serbia.

“I met with Adam on Wednesday in Washington, right after Labor Day,” Jovanovic revealed. Before he knew it, he found himself on a flight to Serbia, ready to head the DFC efforts in Serbia and the region.

BUILDING PEACE THROUGH THE ECONOMY 

“What we are trying to bring to the table economically is to facilitate more economic cooperation, for confidence-building measures,” Jovanovic explained. This office’s opening renders many curious about the specifics of the plans that will be underway in due time. He revealed, “At the local level, we want to find a way to add more tools to the table to offer, perhaps, some tailwinds to some of the political processes that may still be ongoing.”

Jovanovic will be spending a lot of time in Belgrade. As he continues to build the office from the ground-up, his business acumen and quick-thinking characteristics fostered in the private market will, no doubt, benefit the growth of his office and the overall success of this initiative. 

“We are flying a plane while trying to build it at the same time,” Jovanovic added. He pointed to the importance of “underlining” immediate priorities that emerge in the aftermath of a resolved economic decision process. Vying for his attention are the two most pressing issues: Infrastructure projects looking to invest in the region, and energy diversification projects. 

In partnership with other development banks working in the region, the DFC is looking for ways to move things along efficiently in a cost-effective manner. Bringing not only technical tools but also the help of American companies working with these European development bank partners.

“We are the American Development Bank, which is why I think being a well-resourced, nimble counterpart to them will hopefully only add to the success. A great example is The Peace Highway,” said Jovanovic

John Jovanovic, Adam Boehler and Stewart Acklerly in Belgrade, Serbia

I urged Jovanovic to share what form these milestones will take further down the road, six months to a year from now. How does he envision the matrix being built by this collaborative effort unfolding?

“I think, initially, quickly and efficiently following up on the infrastructure projects and finding ways to offer cheaper, more reliable, or long-term access to capital, problem-solving alongside our European partners,” Jovanovic replied. “A big milestone…  starting to work towards energy diversification,” he added. “These are the key priorities.”

Stewart Ackerly, Adam Boehler’s Chief of Staff, stressed that this initiative’s inclusions will extend far beyond the top-tier of enterprises abroad. Micro-, small-, and medium-sized businesses will be identified as local partners and financed as such. “We actually do it all over the world. We’ll find local partners, we will provide a financing facility to that local partner, put conditions on it, and set some requirements, ” Ackerly explained. In a downstream fashion, enterprises of all sizes will benefit, and the initiative is supported by “on-the-ground knowledge” which will aid in the capital’s efficient distribution.  

“This isn't a model that is new or that we're inventing. It's one that the Europeans are using today, but I really want to bring it to bear quickly and efficiently”, Jovanovic said as DFC continues to stride forward. 


 

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