Myleen Verstraete is co-founder and board member of the PYM Foundation, and spearheads PYM’s work in Belgium, where she paves the way for Belgian impact investing. Currently she is working together with Belgian banks and a group of prominent female CEO’s, to transform the investment and finance narrative, into a force for good.
In this introductory interview, Myleen speaks about her journey to impact investing and why she believes in the collective as the most effective.
Where did your impact story begin?
Intimated by most financial conversations, I used to leave the financials to my husband and my banker, and didn’t get (emotionally) involved. This changed overnight, when in 2015, I was introduced to impact investing at the Pymwymic Impact Days. I suddenly came to understand that money could have a good impact, beyond a return on investment. This prompted my journey of becoming an avid impact investor and active philanthropist. Now, it is my fulltime commitment to be a change maker.
What was your first impact decision?
At the 2015 Impact Days, I met Waste2Wear - my first big investment. Together we started a women’s brand, based on 70% high end sustainable fabric from recycled plastic bottles. It was a high-risk venture to embark on as a novice, because it was revolutionary for the market and a direct investment. Today, things have changed; I am still a proud ambassador of Waste2Wear, but I have shifted my investment strategy to investing through funds. My goal is to create a 100% impact portfolio; generating positive, measurable social and environmental impact around the world, alongside a financial return.
How has impact investing changed your day to day life? Do you look at things differently?
Impact has been an all-round positive movement in my life. In my day to day, I think the biggest change has been embracing the art of reduction. I buy quality instead of quantity. I walk more and drive electric. I lowered the heating at home, stopped drinking bottled water and eat more consciously. I shop without waste and have established a zero-plastic policy at the office. Reducing waste to me, means tackling the problem from both sides: less consumption and better management. Currently, only 20% of plastic is recycled. If we continue this way, in 2050, there will be 5 times more plastic in the oceans than fish. This is why I changed my daily habits, and why I am still such a fan of Waste2Wear: it transforms waste into a resource, supplying innovative textiles made from recycled plastics with block chain technology.
Which impact trends are you excited about?
In line with Pymwymic’s focus and global trends, I am particularly excited about disrupting the food industry. There is a huge shift happening in this industry, as we are starting to understand the need for an earth-inclusive approach, built for the long term. For example, I believe initiatives like regenerative farming will yield incredible returns with time. There is so much untapped potential in this field.
What is your impression of the current Belgian impact investing scene?
Belgians are quite conservative and Belgian banks have started proposing impact portfolios to their clients. They need to move faster though. Business as usual (for me) is dead, yet so many people are waiting on ‘legitimacy’ to move ahead. I think we need to remind banks as well as investors that there is no such thing as ‘security’. The future is always unknown, so instead of blindly making more money with our money, why not see our capital as a wonderful responsibility to invest in something greater?
Belgian banks are starting to propose impact portfolios to their clients, but they need to move much faster.
How do you see the future?
I think the Covid crisis has inadvertently positively affected impact investing. In my generation, everything was created for short term comfort, but recently there has been more awareness, we have gone further inwards and we are reconsidering out priorities and goals. I think technology has and will assist us hugely in establishing and measuring value in this greater context. Politically, Europe especially, is starting to be more active with THE GREEN DEAL, but there are still a lot of people who close their eyes to the planet’s problems, because it confronts their way of life. Personally, I talk to my children about the state of the earth every day. I want to raise my children with consciousness, and I want to be able to look them in the eyes, knowing that I made a difference for their future. I believe we can move capital for good and change our direction, if and when we collaborate. We are all in this together.
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