A lever for emancipation
I am Géraldine Georges, chair of the Belgian Investment Company for Developing Countries (BIO).
From a very young age, I was interested In what was happening in the world. In the final year of secondary school, for example, I researched the occupation of the Palestinian territories – still relevant to this day. I also took part in an exchange with Senegal, where I vowed never again to look at the global south through a eurocentric lens.
(I’m happy to see that Belgium has finally started to shed that outdated view, in which countries in the south were somehow considered less-than).
My passion for international relations continued after my studies, and one of my first jobs was with a development cooperation NGO called SOLSOC, where I focused mainly on development education, as it was called at the time. You could say it was education for global citizenship, advocacy and communication. I stayed there for seventeen years, after which I became an advisor in a parliamentary faction on international relations, development cooperation and Europe for members of Parliament.
What has impressed me most over the past two years is the expertise within BIO. BIO would be nothing without its employees. When you have extraordinary teams who are motivated and committed to their work, it's essential to showcase them. I'm very proud to be chair and ambassador of BIO.
We are talking about individuals who work, have projects, dreams and ambitions, and who want to make them a reality.
Individuals with dreams
BIO's approach focuses on the capacities, entrepreneurial spirit and dynamic resources present in our partner countries. We are talking about individuals who work, have projects, dreams and ambitions, and who want to make them a reality. BIO supports these people by providing financial backing for their entrepreneurial projects. This approach is both interesting and "decolonial" because it is not based on a relationship of dependence for the implementation of projects. On the contrary, we work in a balanced partnership where each party has objectives and results to achieve. I very much appreciate this approach, which is based on trust, collaborative work and equal relations – not just between Belgium and the countries in which we operate, but between BIOs investment officers and their entrepreneurial clients.
It is often thought that the role of the private sector is limited to creating wealth. For me, it is first and foremost a lever for emancipation. It helps promote decent work, gender equality, access to social protection and security, as well as the protection of rights, particularly through the representation by trade unions or other organisations. In my view, this takes precedence over mere wealth creation.
Women carry the world
Gender equality is an issue that is particularly close to my heart. Although we’re not quite there yet, gender parity in management positions, boards of directors and other bodies of power is essential. BIO can play an important role in this area by highlighting this issue when drawing up contracts. It is a way for BIO to favour clients who promote gender equality. In addition, we have many examples of women entrepreneurs who have launched business projects supported by BIO, and they are truly exceptional. I strongly support the empowerment of women, because it is a necessity in today’s society.
We are fortunate to have a few leading ladies in the Belgian foreign affairs department. First and foremost, there is Caroline Gennez, as minister for Development Cooperation. The two Belgian bilateral organisations for cooperation are also chaired by women; Delphine Moralis chairs Enabel and I chair BIO. Finally, the administration is also headed by a woman, Heidy Rombouts. The Belgian foreign affairs department is making a huge effort to promote women’s rights. #TeamBelgium
Changes and challenges
When I took over as chair of the board of directors, I was faced with several major challenges.
Firstly, we have been working on very important strategic notes on climate and on decent work. We set put working groups with NGOs to draw up these documents – a ground breaking initiative by BIO, which we are still working on.
Then, there was the negotiation of a new management contract, with a radically different approach, developed through close collaboration between BIO's teams, the minister and the administration. This was a major undertaking, as we are significantly changing our approach by placing sustainable development objectives and the assessment of their impact at the heart of our projects. Development and the human rights approach now take centre stage.
Another challenge was to oversee the recruitment of a new CEO. After working for over 10 years with and for BIO, Luuk Zonneveld is now retiring. We needed to find someone who would accept this challenge; someone who shared the board's vision and could implement the new directions and criteria, particularly those linked to climate, decent work, the vision of development, human rights and soon the question of agriculture. We were able to carry out this research successfully, and we will soon be welcoming a new CEO, Mr Joris Totté.
A fourth challenging change is global. Young people are deeply concerned about climate change and its consequences for their future on this planet. And rightly so. If we look beyond our own country, we see how important it is to have a global vision. Investing in entrepreneurship in the countries of the South is a response to climate change. For BIO, it is essential to respect strict social and environmental standards before entering into any contract. Our absolute priority is to work on the issue of climate change through the private sector. This includes adapting to climate change, promoting new technologies and creating innovations for more environmentally friendly forms of energy.
Géraldine Georges is the chair of the Belgian Investment Company for Developing Countries (BIO).
This is her story.
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