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‘A week feels like a month at the National Think Tank’

In the National Think Tank (NDT) 20 young academics spend four months reflecting on how to solve a societal problem. Four participants from Leiden told us about their experience.

Bjarny van der Linden

Bjarny van der Linden (25) did a bachelor’s degree in Psychology in Leiden and is currently doing a master’s degree in Organisations, Change and Management in Utrecht.

Why did you decide to take part in the NDT?

‘I love a challenge and think it is important to contribute to society. During my degree I was looking to link theory to practice and wanted to learn more about consultancy work. These are all elements of the NDT, so deciding to apply was the obvious thing to do.’

What are your first experiences?

‘The NDT feels like an express train! A week at the NDT is like a month of everyday life. It’s fast-paced, which it has to be if you’re trying to tackle such a big problem in such a short space of time, but it also means a mega-steep learning curve. I’ve learned a lot from the sessions with experts and theme partners. But you also develop loads of new personal and professional skills, and you experience what it’s like to work with a large and diverse group of people.’

Which societal issue are you tacking?

‘The Dutch middle classes have faced increasing pressure in various areas in recent years, and are the focus of this year’s NDT. In the analysis phase, we mapped out the problems faced by the middle classes within four different areas: job market, housing market, money management and social unrest. We’re now transitioning to the solution phase where we work together on ten solutions.’

How will your new skills benefit your future career?

‘To be honest I don’t have a ready-made plan, although consultancy work within the public or semi-public sector definitely appeals. And the knowledge I’ve acquired will come in useful there. I think that all the lessons from this experience are relevant to your career because you’re developing so much as a person. And you always bring yourself along to your future workplace!’

Godelieve Verburg

Godelieve Verburg (24) completed a bachelor’s degree in International Business Law and the Law Honours College and has almost finished her master’s degree in Company Law. She was chair of the Feather Foundation for a year between her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Why did you decide to take part in the NDT??

‘I think it’s important to be socially active. The NDT gives me and a group of 20 extremely ambitious students the opportunity to think about how we can do our bit to solve a big societal challenge. The NDT also gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the work of a consultant and offers plenty of room for personal development. These are the three reasons why I wanted to take part!’

What are your first experiences?

‘I’m realising it’s a very difficult, challenging and unique programme. Working in a group of students with completely different disciplinary backgrounds is teaching me a lot about how to view a problem from different perspectives. That’s hugely inspiring. The NDT is a pressure cooker: you’re expected to acquire a lot of knowledge about the theme within a short space of time and to be able to get right to the root of the problem. It’s surprised me how fast we can work.’

Which societal issue are you going to tackle?

‘Over the past few weeks I’ve been researching the problems that the Dutch middle classes face on the housing market. Very few affordable homes are available to this group. There’s hardly anything for first-time buyers and people in the mid-range segment who are looking to rent. We’ve all but completed the research into the bottlenecks and are now going to brainstorm how best to solve the problems: more about this will definitely follow!’

How will your new skills benefit your future career?

‘The NDT has taught me how to quickly gather information about a topic that isn’t necessarily my thing. I don’t yet know how exactly I’ll use what I’ve learned in my future career, but I do know that I will benefit for years from the many valuable lessons.’

Sebastian Lučic

Sebastian Lučic (28) completed the double bachelor’s degree in Physics and Mathematics at Leiden University in 2016. After the NDT he’s going to finish his master’s degree in Mathematics at UvA.

Why did you decide to take part in the NDT?

‘I wanted to take part in the NDT because it’s a great opportunity to step outside the university bubble and to do my bit for society. It’s very different from maths, and that appealed to me too.’

What are your first experiences?

‘Being part of a diverse group and setting to work on such a complex problem that is so important for the Netherlands is interesting and a learning experience. Everything is that bit faster-paced than at university, where your prime concern is to include everything in your research and do everything in detail. At the NDT you have to quickly get to the root of the problem and be able to see the big picture.’

Which societal issue are you going to tackle?

‘In the analysis phase I was on the Housing & Living Environment team. We looked at aspects of the housing market that are obstacles for this group. We also looked at which aspects of the living environment play the biggest role. The next step is to come up with and work out solutions. The main thing is that the solutions are scalable.’

How will your new skills benefit your future career?

‘I’m not sure yet. It’s a process where you learn a lot not only about yourself and how you work, but also about how certain things work in society, and that’s valuable regardless. If I work on a solution that really does offer some perspectives, anything can happen.’

Djuanti Dafne Tamsma

Djuanti Dafne Tamsma (25) is studying Financial Law & Political Perspectives on Politics and the Economy at Leiden University.

Why did you decide to take part in the NDT?

‘I want to contribute to a societal challenge with knowledge from academia, business and government. It’s nice to be able to combine concrete solutions, societal impact and the power of young thinkers in one project. Together with 20 like-minded people I get to throw myself into solving a problem that also has a strong political-economic slant. And we’re working from many different disciplines.’

What are your first experiences?

‘I’ve learned a lot about not only the topic but also my own interaction with others. I’m learning so much from working with people from other disciplines because everyone has their own working methods and personal values. And we’ve had a lot of discussions with the people who are facing the problems that we’re trying to solve, which is different from only analysing from a distance.’

Which societal issue are you going to tackle?

‘I was in the Money Management team. We’ve identified the key bottlenecks and are now looking at how to come up with an achievable solution that has a great deal of impact.’

How will your new skills benefit your future career?

‘I hope to be able to contribute to human prosperity in my career, in both the economic and broader sense. It’s hugely important not to lose sight of human dignity. With the knowledge that I acquire at the NDT I hope to be able to make a greater contribution to the political-economic arena and to find methods to preserve this dignity.’

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