Nicole Gorris grew up in an entrepreneurial family and, after studying human rights and criminology, worked for TNT Post, the World Food Program and Vluchtelingenwerk, among others. Now she makes impact every day as an impact investor and with her work at We Are Stewards. For Nicole climate comes first, but equal opportunity and education are a close second.
How has your background shaped you?
My parents both came from farming families where hard work was everything. My sister and I learned a lot from them, and from my father's way of doing business. It shaped our values. As daughters of a family business, the question of succession naturally arose some time ago, but we both felt, for different reasons, that we were not the right people to continue the business. So we decided to sell the company to someone who agreed to maintain our core values. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way with the private equity company that took over. I had a hard time with this at first, but now I look back on it as an experience that led me to my current work.
How and why did you start impact investing?
After we sold the family business, we turned to an asset-managing firm for advice. They did not seem to consider anything beyond the goal of maximum financial profit, without taking sustainability aspects or geopolitical challenges into account. That didn't work for me at all. I’ve had a great sense of responsibility all my life, so wanting impact came early and naturally. My father worried about this, he still does, but I’ve always been a little Greta. As a 12-year-old, I wrote a paper for school about the damage winter sports inflict on the Alps. Surely my investments had to echo my desire for change. Fortunately, someone introduced me to Pymwymic, and it was the first time I felt that my values could be part of my investment choices. Soon after, I made our first impact investment through Pymwymic.
How did your journey continue?
I started further investigating how I could use my assets in the most meaningful way. Could I make an impact on the stock exchange, or perhaps through an impact fund? In a fund, people often hope or aim for a unicorn: one big hit that gives you the return to make up for all the rest. The focus is again on an exit. Then I came across We Are Stewards, who were looking for an advisor. I had never heard of steward ownership before, but I immediately felt it was something I wanted to help people have access to. We certainly would have loved to have had this option with our company.
What is Steward Ownership?
Steward Ownership is a different way of looking at business ownership; companies become ‘of their own’, safeguarding their mission above all else. As such, voting rights and financial rights become disconnected from each other. This is not a new concept and many companies in the world are already set up this way. In Denmark, the majority of listed capital belongs to steward-owned companies. Carlsberg is a great example. And of course Patagonia in America. In Germany, steward-owned Bosch is one of the largest donors in equal opportunity. It's fantastic to see companies serving society, driven by their mission, rather than their shareholders.
How would you describe your investment style?
I am quite dogmatic about impact but I am trusting my feelings as an investor more now. So in the end I’m an intuitive investor, but not thoughtlessly. I invest in people and the specific way in which those people do their work. And I like discussing projects with peers, so having a network like PYM is very valuable to me.
How has impact investing changed your daily life?
We sold our second car. We don't fly anymore and we don't waste food. I have personally connected supermarkets in my neighbourhood to social initiatives, so they could use all leftover products at the end of the day for cooking. As a family, we have become members of the Heren Boeren cooperative, and together with 200 other members, we support a farm with 2 farmers. We collect the harvest every Saturday. I am committed to consuming less, so as not to waste Mother Earth’s precious energy.
What advice would you give others who want to make an impact?
I host an impact circle for PYM, together with Frank van Beuningen, where I share my impact journey and hope to reach and inspire others with my own experience. In my work I advise family businesses and start-ups to focus on the long term by, for example, not immediately giving in to the demands of investors.
I think it is good to ask yourself what specific impact you can make within your circle of influence. You can make a positive impact on a micro level at home, with your time as well as with your financial assets. In my experience, it is best to lead by example rather than telling others how it 'should' be done. And that is certainly true when it comes to my teenagers!
What is your hope for the next generation?
I hope there will be a big system change. For example, I wish for a system that better appreciates and remunerates those who significantly contribute to society, such as those in the education, health and police sectors.
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