This is a translated version of the original article on The Rijkste Belgen.
In March 2020, Alexia Bertrand and her husband Amand-Benoît D’Hondt, together with François de Borchgrave, [co-founder of KOIS], Édouard Janssen and Thomas Van Waeyenberge, founded the non-profit organization ‘Medical Equipment for Belgium’. Their objective: To get FFP2 mouth masks and other medical equipment from China to Belgium during these corona times. The network they bring is already impressive, as are the 10 million € in sponsor funds that they were able to collect very quickly, from a number of the richest Belgian families, such as the Boël , Janssen , D’Ieteren , Delen , Van Waeyenberge, Ackermans and Duco Sickinghe families. Despite these impressive references, the search for mouth masks in China was difficult. Even to the extent that the project’s continuity is hard to guarantee.
Alexia Bertrand is faction leader of the liberal group in the Brussels parliament. But she is also the daughter of Luc Bertrand, the strong man of the family holding company Ackermans & van Haaren, which in turn is, among other things, a reference shareholder of the dredging group Deme. Her husband is an investment manager at AG Real Estate, the real estate arm of the insurance group Ageas. The holding company De Eik of the Van Waeyenberge family, on the other hand, is tried and tested in the worldwide trading of, among other things, food products. Thomas Van Waeyenberge is also married to an emergency doctor. Edouard Janssen represents the reference shareholders of the multinationals UCB and Solvay. Finally, François de Borchgrave is the driving force behind KOIS, an investment fund that wants to connect the profit sector to the non-profit sector. De Borchgrave founded KOIS in 2010 together with Charles-Antoine Janssen, and KOIS took care of the financing for MEB.
Despite the broad professional network on which the initiators can rely, their project remained a challenge. MEB had to send 35 Chinese companies over the test bench. But the worldwide market is competitive and expensive. The United States currently has the most capacity. And the pressure on the kettle attracts all kinds of adventurers looking for quick money gain. However, in the past weeks, the non-profit organization managed to import 130,000 high-quality FFP2 masks, 500,000 surgical masks, 226,000 pairs of gloves and 50,000 scrubs. “Still, we’d think twice before we start over” say the initiators in the newspaper L’Echo. They are now considering how to proceed with their non-profit organization in the light of the evolution of the pandemic, while 500,000 masks are still on the road from China to Belgium.