Netwerk Vlaanderen has been dealing critically with money for 25 years. The organisation was set up after a call in the television ‘Ommekaar’. Not long after this, the finance network for innovative initiatives in Flanders came into existence. In 2008 Netwerk Vlaanderen has grown into an organisation. At both the national and international level it moves people to deal with money in a way that benefits people and the environment. Netwerk Vlaanderen strives for a fair and just society.

The beginning

In 1982 the Flemish BRT television programme ‘Ommekaar’ broadcast a programme about the Netzwerk Selbsthilfe Berlin. Organisations that due to their critical vision of society, and innovative character did not manage to get money from a bank could approach Netzwerk Selbsthilfe Berlin for help. The broadcast ended with a call to start similar initiatives in the region. A number of enthusiastic people seized their chance, and not long after, the Netwerk Zelfhulp Vlaanderen (Network Selfhelp Flanders), came into being.

Money for pioneering work

If the possibilities for subsidies had been exhausted and there were no other sources of income, organisations could always approach Netwerk Vlaanderen. Netwerk provided loans and donations for social and ecological organisations. They were projects that did not aim for maximum profit, but which made a contribution to a better society. For the first time a different approach to money was being put into practice in Flanders.

In 1990 the first ethical banking agency opened its doors in Belgium: the ASLK office at Netwerk. This bank invested all the savings of its customers in an ethical manner. There were also sustainable products developed by the agency, including the Krekelsparen. This product was offered jointly by ASLK (later Fortis Bank) and Netwerk Vlaanderen, and brought financial support to social and ecological projects.

Volunteers gave Netwerk Vlaanderen an important presence in the region. They dealt with and evaluated the regional requests for credit, and promoted the Krekelsparen.

After heavy discussion over the future of Netwerk Vlaanderen, the General Meeting in 1995 decided to give up the direction of the financial institution that had grown strongly in the intervening years. Netwerk Vlaanderen became a social movement, that posed critical questions regarding the role of money in society.

The start of the weapon campaign

In 2003 Netwerk Vlaanderen launched its first campaign dossier, focused on the investments of banks in the weapons industry. The campaign was based on thorough research and creative actions, as well as artistic interventions, debates and training. The campaign was named 'My Money. Clear Conscience?' and brought into question not only the policy of the banks but also the role and the power of the bank customer.

2004 saw the birth of Netwerk Rentevrij, with Netwerk Vlaanderen, the Kringloopfonds and Ethias as the founders of the company. Netwerk Rentevrij was established to give a chance to projects with a social character, and offers interest free loans to enable companies to start or expend.

In 2005 the campaign added a new dimension. As well as the investment in the arms industry, the financing of activities that seriously damaged human rights was also addressed. ACE Bank gave the campaign international exposure. This fictional bank opened an office in Brussels and promised astronomical profits. ACE Bank was entirely transparent over its investments in the arms trade or companies that damaged the environment. For a time, the press, public and the financial world were convinced that his bank existed. Eventually Netwerk Vlaanderen admitted to being behind the project.

In 2007 Netwerk Vlaanderen launched the interactive website www.banksecrets.be. The site links the controversial flows of money to a world map. A number of problematic investments of ABN Amro, AXA, Citibank, Deutsche Bank, Dexia, ING and KBC are made public.

In 2008 Netwerk continues to put the banks under pressure, and keep the focus on 'sustainable saving and investment'. Netwerk Vlaanderen will primarily promote small scale investments, as these initiatives generally find it more difficult to find investments than companies listed on the stock market. Netwerk Vlaanderen is also researching investments made by and for the government in energy-efficiency and renewable energy.