Edmond Hilhorst worked for a Dutch bank all over the world for many years, until he became an entrepreneur himself and founded 'Independer', a comparison site for insurers. After selling his share in the company, he decided to support other entrepreneurs, but only if they also wanted to make an impact. He became an avid impact investor and was on the board of Pymwymic as well as on the Advisory Board of Goodwell, various healthcare companies, and APG. Edmond was recently asked to be chairman of the Board at Carbon Equity and, alongside Rutger Bregman and his team, is starting a movement around Moral Ambition.
How did your Impact Journey start?
It actually started at the end of 1999, when I was still completely unfamiliar with the concept of impact. I had had wonderful jobs at ABN Amro abroad, but it was only when I became a director in Amsterdam that I realised we were also selling financial products that I would not recommend to any of my friends and family. I wanted to make financial products fair and transparent, so I started a business supporting that vision. As such, Independer actually became an impact company without me or my co-founder ever even knowing the term.
After selling my stake in this company I naturally started helping other entrepreneurs who wanted to contribute to a better world. So impact was something I intuitively moved towards. Later I came into contact with other impact investors and impact networks, such as TONIIC and PYM, who made me realise I was not alone in this mission. But ultimately it was Rockstart Impact, at the time an incubator with a focus on Nepal, where I had the big Aha moment. There were fantastic entrepreneurs but no money to fund them. With Willem Grimmink from OnetoWatch and other mentors, I started investing in local entrepreneurs. It was pure impact on so many levels!
Impact investing is often a family business. Is that also the case for you?
Definitely! The first few years I did most of it myself, but then I invited my family to join me in Nepal. I wanted to show them the country I so strongly believed in, but also where and why I was taking so many risks. Fortunately, my family immediately saw what our money could accomplish there. Since then both my daughters have been involved in all of our investments and our personal investment method was explored for an impact investment podcast. As a family, we have also decided to move towards a 100% impact investment portfolio.
What do you focus on in your investments?
In Nepal, the focus is on sustainable energy. We’ve also invested a lot in healthcare, for example, I recently invested in an AI avatar that aims to help young people with their mental health. In terms of funds, there is now more focus on climate, sustainable food and regenerative agriculture. This is partly due to Toniic and Pymwymic being leaders in these fields of impact.
You are also working on making impact investing more accessible to more people together with Carbon Equity. Why is this so important to you?
Until now, impact investing has often been a rich person’s game and that is not surprising, considering the major barriers to entry. For example, it often requires at least €100,000 - €1.000,000 to even participate and it is still quite complicated for anyone to partake.
I think Carbon Equity is a great initiative because its mission is to democratise impact investing. Making impact investing accessible to many more people will be such an important development for all investors and investing in general. It will affect everyone, including the more fortunate, because in every family there are naysayers, but with more accessibility, it becomes far easier to convince people to at least try it. And this increase in participation will lead to a better spread of several well-selected impact funds. This in turn reduces the risk, allowing more people to deploy a larger part of their assets towards impact. This will make a huge difference in our efforts to solve climate and biodiversity problems.
What does the future look like?
We are destroying our environment at a rapid pace and that must change, but I do believe in the problem-solving capacity of people, especially top talent. So when I heard about Rutger Bregman's new book on Moral Ambition everything fell into place. And now I am helping Rutger turn this into a movement.
Wasted talent is such a huge loss for everyone. Currently, 20% of Dutch people consider their job bullshit. It is evident that we must inspire people to use their talent for good, for theirs and our sake. Rutger's book contains many wonderful examples of people who are indeed making a difference with their talent. And luckily, there is a fantastic team ready to share these stories widely and globally.
The goal is to change our definition of success; from a financial one to a moral one. I think that is the future.
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