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Utopa donation creates room for research

From a stunning building right in the city centre, Leiden psychologists conduct research into financial behaviour. They share their knowledge widely because the aim is to improve people’s financial literacy and to reduce inequality. This is all possible thanks to a generous donation.

The Knowledge Centre for Psychology and Economic Behaviour (KCPEG) conducts research into three themes: financial literacy, sustainability and social cohesion. It is linked to the Institute of Psychology but operates independently, from a former orphanage on Hooglandse Kerkgracht. This premises is thanks to the same man who made the centre itself possible: Loek Dijkman. This former director of packaging giant Topa gives a large part of the money that he amassed as an entrepreneur back to society. One of the themes that is close to his heart is inequality. ‘There is so much inequality in the world, for women, in terms of work, you name it. We should be working on this all the time.’ Back in 1988 Dijkman subsumed his assets into the Utopa Foundation to enable his business to play a bigger role than providing employment and making a profit alone.

Breathing space

‘The knowledge centre’s themes are a good fit for the foundation,’ says Dijkman. ‘We give knowledge back to society.’ With his donation of 2.5 million euros, Dijkman wants to create a space of five years. ‘Space for research and sharing knowledge. And for once, space for things to go wrong. That too is the essence of research.’

Professor Eric van Dijk, chair of the Social, Economic and Organisation Psychology department at Leiden University, can confirm that this works. ‘We conduct research and teach, and we also share knowledge with society from the centre. The Utopa donation won’t just contribute to the centre, but will give the whole section breathing space. This will enable us to step up a gear in all areas and use our knowledge to bridge the gap with society.’

‘It gives me great satisfaction’

Loek Dijkman (1942) spent 50 years working for the Topa Group family business. He started out as a salesman in 1963, became a co-director in 1969 and took the business over from his father in 1974.

Dijkman retired as director in 2013. Back in 1988 he subsumed his companies into the Utopa Foundation. This idealistic and philanthropic entrepreneur didn’t want to pay out the ‘surplus profit’ to shareholders but wanted to give it back to the society that the business had profited from. The foundation is situated in the former Leiden orphanage that Dijkman bought at the turn of the century and had completely restored. He is clear about what he wants to achieve: ‘It gives me great satisfaction to improve people’s development opportunities in society,’ he says.

Questions from outside

Is there sufficient demand for this kind of knowledge? ‘Absolutely!’ says Wilco van Dijk, a professor by special appointment and director of the knowledge centre. ‘We are approached from all over the place.’ DUO, for instance, has asked the knowledge centre to evaluate new ideas for a loans system. And they are working on a saving tool to help make homes more sustainable. Alongside its own research the centre therefore receives research questions from outside. ‘Utopa enables us to say to people: “Call us if you have any questions.” We can work on solutions without having to charge them for this.’ 

Eric van Dijk adds, ‘This means we can remain fully independent.’ Two other focal points of the knowledge centre are giving lectures and courses, and advising on statements of conduct and how behaviour can be changed.

‘Utopa enables us to say to people: “Call us if you have any questions.”

The centre’s work mainly focuses on professionals and policymakers, but the aim is also to reach the general public. ‘This spot is a great place for that – once we can reopen,’ says Wilco van Dijk. 

Talking of which, it was an odd first year, says Dijkman. ‘Everything was on hold.’ The benefactor doesn’t interfere with the centre’s activities, but he is involved. He has regular updates and is developing a long-term vision with the professors. ‘Because this is for the long term. Five years is too short really to think about rules, equality and changing behaviour. And if you do want to change things, you have to think further down the line because how do you get politicians to listen to what is said here?’

If you would like to contribute to the research and teaching at Leiden University and also give voice to your own passion? With a named fund you decide what your gift will be used for. More information? Juliette van Nieuwland is happy to inform you about the options. You can contact her at nieuwland@LUF.leidenuniv.nl or 071 527 3327.

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