exclusive Interview With Rachael Baitel: Implementation Of The Serbia-Kosovo Agreement Puts Spotlight On Women’s Role In New Era Of US-Serbia Relations

Rachael Baitel, Deputy Chief of Staff to DFC’s CEO (Adam Boehler), tells Ksenija Pavlovic Mcateer the goals of a new female entrepreneurship program titled 2X, which takes after Ivanka Trump’s own WGDP initiative. Baitel predicts “prosperity and progress across the board” for women in this new stage of US-Serbia relations, forged by the historic Serbia-Kosovo agreement signed at the White House just two weeks ago. 

Rachel Baitel, Deputy Chief of Staff to DFC’s CEO Adam Boehler

Today, Serbia is indubitably taking up space on the world stage, supported by the keen interests of U.S. government officials. Rachel Baitel, a member of the delegation composed of six US government agencies that visited Belgrade, reveals how Serbian women will benefit from this extension of the WGDP initiative. Architected by Ivanka Trump, fostering women’s success across the world is this initiative’s goal. 

Baitel shared her appreciation for Belgrade and its citizens, remarking “What a beautiful city, and what a welcoming group of people!” She continued,  “the country embraces development and increases women’s empowerment, which is wonderful; and the people here seem to also equally embrace it.”

At the Development Finance Corporation (DFC), Rachel Baitel serves as the Deputy Chief of Staff to CEO Adam Boehler. Their female entrepreneurship program is aligned with Ivanka Trump’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (WGDP) initiative. DFC’s iteration of this initiative is a program called 2X.  The title of the program is derived from an observed “multiplier effect” resulting from investment in and engagement of women.

“We know that women are less risk-averse, which makes them, oftentimes, a lot better at thinking about investments, and a lot safer in many ways.” She  explained that women have displayed “incredible capabilities when it comes to leadership, and having women in leadership positions.” In fact, there is a statistic showing companies with a larger number of women in leadership positions receive higher net profits. “We’re excited to be able to invest in projects in infrastructure and technology as various sectors that will empower women and lift their spirit,” she revealed.

lifting up communities

Empowering women in Serbia to pursue their own projects will be a major priority of the female entrepreneurship initiative 2X. Within DFC’s permanent office in Belgrade, the focus will be on lifting up communities, as well as on projects that empower women to prosper. Their priority will be to see these investments in women. “It’s really important to see those decisions that are being made actually realized,” Baitel noted. This initiative aspires to not only encourage current female entrepreneurs but also to inspire more women to enter the formal economy through business practices. 

Baitel, who formerly served on Ivanka Trump’s staff at the White House, is very familiar with Ivanka’s thought process regarding women’s economic empowerment globally. “In my experience, I do think that the entire US government is focused on women's economic empowerment globally. As we find regions that are important, not only because of development opportunities but also for national security, we see that investing in women and helping empower women in those regions is critical to achieving that goal”, said Baitel.

WGDP was announced as one component included in the national security strategy of the United States. President Trump has said that empowering women is critical to national security, peace, and stability. As economic normalization forges greater economic ties regionally, it is recognized that women will occupy an imperative role. 

economic normalization is open for business

Within two weeks of Serbia and Kosovo leaders making the historic agreement in Washington, DC, economic normalization is open for business. “For us, I know that effective and efficient action] will be a priority, and we will probably develop a strategy around how we’re going to empower women, specifically here. But I think there’s more to come on that,” Baitel remarked, describing action-oriented and expeditious timelines for the various projects.

The head of the DFC’s permanent office in Serbia, John Jovanovic, is a newly-appointed, Ivy-League-educated, Serbian-American who, before he was hired by Adam Boehler, was an investment banker at Mercuria.

John Jovanovic a newly appointed director of DFC's permanent office in Belgrade, Serbia

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 Baitel.

"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 quipped. 

“We think it’s so integral to have that cultural connection,” Baitel mentioned, discussing the volume of local support the U.S. government typically gives to its projects across the board. She shared, “For us and the DFC, we also feel that same desire and mission to really help the local culture inform the work that we’re doing.”

With a strong U.S. presence in Serbia, US-Serbia relations are opening up, and these early stages will determine the historical significance of the Serbia-Kosovo Agreement for decades to come.   

An influx of hope

The U.S. delegation visit provides an influx of hope for Serbia and the Western Balkans amidst the hardships being sincerely felt across the globe, especially those created by the COVID19 pandemic. Indicating a deep U.S. commitment to the region, this delegation brought together these six government agencies to propel the agreement forward: DFC, USAID, the Energy Department, the Export/Import Bank, and the White House National Security Council. 

Rachel Baitel: We take words, and we turn them into action. That's what President Trump ultimately is all about. I hope that that's what we're able to demonstrate to the population in Serbia because we want all the people to see us as good partners to know that we're here.

President Trump said that the Serbia-Kosovo agreement was on his policy agenda in the early days of his administration, a foreign policy challenge that many had unsuccessfully tried to tackle over the past two decades. 

“What we know about this administration is we don’t shy away from any challenge. And so, when we’re presented with a challenge, we approach it differently,” Baitel said, referring to the increased focus on economic normalization pioneered by the Trump administration. “We bring to the table a lot of the business acumen and ingenuity of the people that serve in the government in the United States… We really bring that to show a new way of building peace, a new way of building stability and bringing prosperity to peoples around the region.”

Pay It Forward

Baitel’s interest in the development and economic prosperity is driven by her upbringing in Panama. This region of Central America gave her a firm understanding of post-conflict dynamics within a country, including how communities are impacted and then uplifted, as well as the myriad ways empowered women are able to contribute to that subsequent growth and prosperity. Throughout her career, she has derived inspiration from her role models, and, in many ways, she is leading by example for others who will hopefully, in turn, help others as she was supported along the way.  

Photo by D. Myles Cullen

“I’ve been very lucky to have the most incredible female role models and mentors. And so I really think that has inspired me to pay it forward.” Baitel’s work with Ivanka Trump and Dina Powell taught her “to use my voice to help other women to really address some of the challenges that women face in the economy.”

Baitel’s passion for this project emanates from her desire to help economies across the world grow, enabling communities to reenter a prosperous environment in which women can flourish. 

Baitel’s first visit to Belgrade leaves her with eyes wide open, invigorated by the enormous opportunities for female entrepreneurship that lay ahead. 

“I’m very excited to see what our pipeline of projects will be, coming in, and how we’ll see women participate as part of the workplace,” Baitel shared, predicting new entrepreneurial opportunities for women in businesses. The third pillar of WGDP, Baitel explained, is focused on “ensuring that the legal and regulatory conditions” are conducive for women entering the business world. Working towards a “greater legal environment for women to prosper” within, Baitel is “excited to see prosperity and progress across the board,” she concluded in an optimistic tone.


 

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