Interview with Jean-Marc, General Manager Alterfin

17/12/2021

Alterfin joined Solifin’s network as member in December 2021 and we are really happy to welcome them on board. Jean-Marc Debricon, General Manager, kindly agreed to answer some questions for an interview.

Who are you and what is your role in the company ?

I am a 53 years young European citizen (French born in Italy and dividing my time between Belgium and the UK). I started my professional career as an investment banker in the early 90s and spent 16 years working in the City, working on derivatives and structured products. Whilst this was highly satisfactory from an intellectual point of view, the excesses of the 2008 financial crisis convinced me that the financial system was no longer viable, had failed society as a whole and that I no longer wanted to be a part of it. I quit the industry in 2009 and dedicated my time to setting up and running two charities: Children of the Mekong and Greenshoots foundation, focused on education and transfer of knowledge, primarily in Asia. I joined Alterfin in Jan 2015 as general manager.

What was your motivation in joining Alterfin and what makes it unique ?

In 2014, Alterfin was looking for a new general manager, one who could accompany the growth of the cooperative by professionalising its ways and ensuring better risk management. This was very appealing to me as it provided a fantastic opportunity to use my investment banking experience and skills for a more noble cause. Another appeal was to join a team with a strong attachment to values prioritising sustainability and solidarity over short term profits and selfish interests. When Hugo Coudere launched Alterfin back in 1994, it obeyed to a different model, neither philanthropy nor capitalism, it sat in the middle and one could call it “social capitalism” or “capitalism with a purpose and a conscience”. That was hugely appealing to me and I was determined to drive Alterfin to the next stage of its development.

How does your organisation succeed in its mission so far ?

We manage to produce what is unthinkable based on traditional economic logic. The traditional approach consists in making large enough loans to well establish borrowers so you maximise the use of your resources. We do the opposite – we make relatively small loans to a large number of partners which themselves will finance people who cannot receive loans from traditional actors and we do this in the context of climate change, supporting communities of people who are most exposed to its effects. The main measure of our success is the appreciation by our partners of Alterfin’s additionality, acting as a pioneer, catalyst and supportive even when the going gets tough. We have been doing this since 1994 and have been able to generate a dividend for our cooperative members for 21 years.

What are your main challenges for the years to come ?

COVID occupies all the headlines and has made our role more difficult in the last 2 years and will continue so for the foreseeable future. But it has also made it clear, if there was ever a doubt, that Alterfin is part of the solution and not the problem. Beyond COVID, we are looking at Climate Change and the frightening consequences for the planet and society. Alterfin may be small but it is part of an important ecosystem that has been building long term solutions to restore balance and ensure that society as a whole can enjoy financial, social and environmental sustainability.

Why was it important for you to join Solifin and what are your expectations ?

The silver lining of the COVID pandemic has been the concerted efforts from most impact investors to work more and better together. Conscious of the fact that none of us could possibly consider facing global force majeur events alone, we team up – “l’Union fait la force”. We are grateful to Solifin for accepting us in their midst and we look forward to working with all its members, facing together the challenges set for us tomorrow.