New Year message from Piet Colruyt - long version

Yesterday evening, in our little family bubble, together with my 17 & 19 year old children, we watched The social Dilemma on Netflix. Silicon Valley pioneers of Facebook, Google,… explaining the ethical dilemmas they experienced. After having built those successful social media platforms, some of them forbid their own teenagers to use them. The documentary touches many pressing societal challenges and shows how they are interconnected: burnouts, polarization, climate change, brexit, black lives matter, presidential elections, fake news, financial pressure, short-termism….

As an example, the documentary explains how the “like” button, intended to promote positive feedback, became a stress-factor in the lives of too many young adults, destroying their self-esteem, leading to highest suicide numbers. The documentary talks about polarization and how the same algorithms used to provide you with the news, articles, products, movies of your preference, can be used for political campaigns in elections or to organize the climate denial lobby.

Fake news articles are more trending than real scientific papers.The totally different digital news feed per bubble leads to polarization in the real world. For me, well educated in Western Europe, it was difficult to understand that a racist, sexist, narcissistic liar still gets almost 50% of the votes. This ape in the white house not accepting the victory of a democrat, shouting about fraud without any evidence, is a real danger to the democracy (& belongs in jail – in my humble opinion).

There is a link between climate deniers, anti-vaxers, trump-voters & the articles they like & the products they prefer to buy. Since the business model of those giants is based on the click-rates, it is directly linked to the time we spend on this media,… those algorithms use our weak spots, our vulnerabilities, our unconscious, maladjusted deficiencies in our brains, to make us addicts, checking our mails hundred times, even before (or during) our first pee in the morning.

The more we are online, the more they know about us, the more accurate their predictive advertising models, the higher the turnover, the bigger the profit, the higher the shareprice… As long as investors only look at the bottom line, these mechanisms will continue to damage our health, our planet, our democracies.

For me the conclusion is this: it all starts with the way investors use their money.

That is what the Impact House is about: Promoting social innovation & impact investing in Belgium. Let’s change the way Belgians use their money: the very nice stories of social entrepreneurs (Be-Impact) are a means. The end goal is: changing the investment world. That’s why we are not focusing on one particular issue: If we wanted to help to solve the climate problem, we’d better stop supporting job-seekers (BeCode & Duo for a Job), experimenting with new models around inclusion and diversity (ASATT & Capital) investing in social housing (Inclusio & LivingStones), promoting purposefull podcasts and documentaries (ZIGO & The Decade of Action), trying to tackle poverty (ArmenTeKort & Faircasso),

supporting innovations in stakeholder engagement (G1000 & De Grote Verbouwing), providing loans to sustainable agriculture alternatives (Herenboeren & Willems Perlite). We could probably have more impact in the area of climate, by narrowing down even further this climate focus: maybe only energy, in stead of also planting trees (Hommes&Terre & Kinomé) or launching petitions or court case (Sign for My Future & Klimaatzaak). If our focus was on climate, we could have focused on renewable energy, in stead of also investing in reduction of energy consumption (DeltaQ & Wattson) We could focus on windenergy (Virya & Eoly Cooperatie),…

Probably, if I measure my impact, this would be the best way to reduce carbon emissions. But we choose not to focus on one particular societal challenge. Climate, wellbeing, democracy, inclusion, poverty,… all are interconnected. Our focus is on the root cause.  And that’s the way investors invest today.

By experimenting with new ‘Impact First’ models (Social Impact Bonds (SIB’s), crowdfunding like LITA), I want to inspire my peers. And not only the wealthy next gens, but all professional investors. Not only the family offices, banks & pension funds, also the crowd. 

Everyone can be a change maker (thank you, Ashoka).

Ask your bank to change or make the change yourself and change banks. Ask your pension fund why they still invest in fossil fuels while this is not really futureproof, isn’t it? For me this was the real conclusion of “The social dilemma”…: the investors should change and accept only “businesses for good”. This is the reason why I accepted to become chairman of Solifin from 2021 on.

Our goal is to change the Belgian landscape of investors. All investors should become impact investors, looking for the triple bottom line: People, Planet, Prosperity. When investors go for the benefit of all, for the long term, for the common good, we maybe even can change those giant social media platforms and use them as fantastic tools. They can be used for the common good.  They should.


PS my children (almost) didn’t check their smartphones while watching it