My name is Joris Totté.

I started out my career at Oxfam Magasins du Monde / Wereldwinkels, looking at the private sector through a development lens. But I yearned for an international career, so I became a diplomat. After four years in Washington, DC, I was posted to Jordan as a deputy head of mission, where I focused on humanitarian issues.

That’s where the complexity of development cooperation struck me. It involves many aspects: political, humanitarian, financial, social, and societal. These all need to be aligned to create the right context, within which government policies can then attempt to provide solutions and help channel the required financial means. The way Jordan absorbed thousands of refugees and transformed its economy away from Iraqi oil was an eye-opener for me.

After Jordan, I focused on supply chain due diligence and private sector development for the Belgian ministry of Foreign Affairs. I was specifically involved in the Kimberley Process, an international certification scheme that oversees the trade of rough diamonds. Its primary goal is to prevent the circulation of conflict diamonds, commonly known as blood diamonds, which are used by rebel groups to fund armed conflicts against legitimate governments. My role was to liaise with the different stakeholders, ranging from NGOs to the Antwerp diamond traders, to defend Belgian interests and to develop a Belgian policy on this issue.

Don't shy away from the grey

Development cooperation involves many aspects: political, humanitarian, financial, social, and societal.

Joris Totté


Every year, I invest 1% of my income in impact projects. But every year, I ask myself the same question: where would my money have the biggest impact? I always give some to humanitarian aid, because it saves lives. Development aid impacts the daily livelihoods and the survival of people in distress. But many projects are limited in scope, be it in time, location or funding. Considering the longer term and the scalability of impact, I started looking into private sector development. It is a great way to have scalable, long-term impact, especially with respect to climate change.

Do you have a loan?

I recently visited some of BIO’s clients in India. What struck me most was the diversity of our investment portfolio. Our projects range between education related companies, microfinance institutions, agribusinesses, and climate related infrastructure projects. Some of these investments were direct, others had been made through funds.

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Take, for example, Annapurna Finance, a microfinance institution that provides loans to people who otherwise would have been left out of the financial system. Having access to banking is not self-evident for everyone. I made a post on LinkedIn asking: “Do you have a loan?”, to which most Europeans would answer “Of course”. They have loans from established financial institutions that they can trust not to run off with the money, and not to charge them insane interest rates.

However, this is not necessarily the case in other parts of the world. Financial institutions will refuse to deal with people with little to no collateral, or will charge unreasonable interest rates. People are dependent on loan sharks or other shady characters to get the money they need for school supplies, their children’s wedding, or stock for their shop.

Institutions like Annapurna bridge that gap by providing very small loans, giving opportunities to people who otherwise could not afford it. It gets around the lack of decent collateral by implementing group loans – very small loans of only a few hundred dollars to a group of people. These groups are composed of local women, who are collectively responsible for the repayment of the entire loan. This provides Annapurna with a level of security which is generally missing for this type of unsecured loan.

A client of Annapurna, a clothing manufacturer, used their EUR 2,500 loan to expand their business, increase their production, and raise their staff to 25 employees. Other clients have a dairy farm, or a mom-and-pop shop. These small entrepreneurs have a huge impact on decent work and economic growth in a country. I was very impressed how far BIO’s USD 5,500,000 equity investment was able to reach, impacting these small business owners and villages.

Management contract

BIO is governed by a management contract which defines the relationship with its shareholder, the Belgian State. In December 2023, a new contract for the period 2024-2028 was negotiated with the minister of Development Cooperation, Caroline Gennez.

It defines ten concrete impact targets based on the Sustainable Development Goals. Three of these deal with economic growth and decent work, three with the reduction of inequalities within and between countries, three with climate action, mitigation and adaption, nature and biodiversity; and one with SDG 17: partnerships.

A second change is the switch to a human rights based approach in our investments, not only to better guide us to do the right thing, but also to help us when things – inevitably – go wrong. It can’t be avoided in the best of circumstances, let alone in the very challenging, complex environments in which we work. BIO is faced with coups, wars, devaluations, and unexpected climate disasters. So what do we do when the chips are down? How do we decide what our level of responsibility is? How do we give people access to a remedy or - at the very least - the opportunity to lodge a complaint?

Word of advice

My word of advice to anyone interested in a career in development is: “don’t shy away from the grey.” Many people see cooperation as something either black or white. Things are good or bad. But, in the world of development, there are only shades of grey.

A lot of things need to go well in a country before it can develop sustainably. Stakeholders have diverging interests. Businesses too. The education system needs to be aligned, and everyone needs money. On top of that, there are often societal, political, and religious fissures in a country. It's not a simple thing.

In this job, you need more skills than any one person can master. So to achieve results, we all need to cooperate, and use our talents and mandates. That is what makes development finance so interesting. And when you finally do see the impact on the ground, ours is probably the best job in the world.

CVE 2024 01 18 Bio 0178

My name is Joris Totté. I am the incoming CEO of BIO.

This is my story.

Annapurna Microfinance Pvt. Ltd

  • Equity € 1,942,313.00 (2017)
    Asia, India

  • Equity € 3,459,250.00 (2014)
    Asia, India

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