Meet Dirk Van der Stede, new chairman of our Board of Directors


After 13 years, we say goodbye to Dirk Vyncke and welcome Dirk Van der Stede at the helm of our Board of Directors. With a broad international background in computer science and environmental applications, Dirk is the perfect chairman. But who is he exactly?

Hi Dirk, can you tell us a bit more about yourself?

I have always been an entrepreneur and have founded a number of companies operating internationally during my career. I often worked with governments on IT and environmental issues, but after a while the focus of my work became more and more about water. For example, we provided software to predict water quality worldwide. That led to a lot of global experience, with local activities in Morocco, South Africa, Malaysia, China, Australia, etc. In this international cooperation, my starting point was always 'We come to share our experience and are not here to tell you what and how to do it'. Listening and responding to local needs is of course very important.

Apart from this, I am also very active in Flanders on a socio-economic level. At Unizo I sit on the national advisory council, I am involved with the OECD in the water governance initiative and with Water (beyond) Europe. In these last two initiatives there was of course a certain focus on the international aspect and I came into contact with a number of countries that are also in Exchange's field of activity. Finally, I am also still active as an independent consultant, helping bodies like Vito and POM West Flanders to set up transition stories.

Why did you decide to become chairman of Exchange’s Board of Directors?

Danny Van Assche, deputy director of Unizo, consulted with his colleague Thomas Pirard - a member of the Board of Directors of Exchange - about succeeding Dirk Vyncke and ended up with me. I thought about it for a long time and tried to form a picture of the stakeholder context within which Exchange works. I know quite a few people within that network and it already felt familiar, but in the end it was mainly the challenge and the social commitment that were the deciding factors for me. It is a tough challenge to fill Dirk Vyncke's big shoes, but one I don't shy away from. Losing is not in my vocabulary.

What do you want to achieve as chairman?

In the first months, my main aim is to listen carefully and get to know the people of Exchange. I want to set clear and achievable objectives that the whole organisation can rally behind, so that everyone can measure his or her impact. With measurable strategic and operational objectives, that we can use to bring people together. As I once learned from an American VP: 'You can win all the technical arguments, and still lose the business'. The non-technical aspects in Exchange's environment are so important that it is necessary to pay attention to them. One of the key points for me is the stakeholder analysis, which should lead to everyone being able to share their views and to finding a common denominator with appropriate communications and initiatives. In any case, my commitment can be counted on.

Do you have a connection with Africa?

It will certainly be a happy reunion with some countries for me. South Africa is the birthplace of water purification - a sector in which I have spent much of my career - and I have also had very good contacts in Morocco. I'm looking forward to being actively involved in Africa and figuring out how we can have the greatest possible impact with Exchange.

What keeps you busy outside working hours?

After work, I mainly try to keep moving, by going for lots of walks and, of course, some cycling in the summer. This gives you the opportunity to see things up close, which gives you a new perspective on the world.