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Young thinkers pit their brains on the circular economy

How can we speed up the transition from large cities to a circular metropolis? This is the question that Leiden students and former students Elsemieke, Fabian and Eveline are getting their teeth into. They and seventeen other young academics are taking part in the National ThinkTank and they have four months to come up with practical solutions for this key issue facing society.

The National ThinkTank is set up every year: a group of twenty new or almost graduates from all kinds of disciplines spend four months focusing on a current theme in society. It is a full-time 'job', where the ThinkTankers carry out research, analyse the problem and come up with practical solutions - and then put those solutions into practice. The idea behind this initiative is that young thinkers have a fresh approach and innovative ideas, and can therefore achieve rapid breakthroughs in tough societal issues.

Eveline Kantor, Fabian Kemps Verhage and Elsemieke Meurs are taking part in the National ThinkTank this year. We talked to them halfway through their term of  membership about their motivation and initial experiences.

Elsemieke Meurs – 28 years old, studied Medicine

‘I applied for the National ThinkTank because I'm very curious and I like getting stuck into new things. This was also a good opportunity to learn new skills that I didn't come across in my study of Medicine, such as how choices are made in society and in the business world, and how you can encourage people to change.'

‘We started in August with a summer school at de Baak in Driebergen. We learned about the theme, including through discussions with experts in the area of the circular economy. They challenged us to think critically about the problem.  We're also guided throughout a large part of the ThinkTank by experienced consultants, who teach us their strategies and techniques. And finally, throughout the ThinkTank, a lot of attention is paid to your personal development. I'm curious to know what ten solutions we will ultimately come up with, and whether we manage to implement them on a large scale. That would be a fantastic achievement.'

‘What I have learned a lot about is making sure you do a lot of comprehensive and solid research, but at the same that you do it very efficiently. That forces you to think critically about whether what you're involved in is actually useful. Working with such a diverse group of people is great. I'm used to having a lot of medics around me who tend to think similarly to me. Being a member of this team has opened up a whole new world for me outside Medicine. It teaches you to look at things from a different perspective.’

Fabian Kemps Verhage – 27 years old, did his bachelor's at Leiden University College

‘I've already learned a lot by taking part in the National ThinkTank. For example, as a young person who is committed to something, you have quick and easy access to companies and government institutions. It's a matter of calling, looking after a case that also interests the other party and then asking a clear question. I've also learned that I can organise my work much more effectively.’

‘I thought it was fantastic to be able to go to all kinds of companies that are associated with the circular economy - who doesn't, in fact? - and to ask them: "If you think about the circular economy, what really angers you?" The answers you get range from outdated legislation, inflexible management, and lack of knowledge among the general population.It teaches you that everyone cares about sustainability. That's really good and it offers a lot of starting points for finding solutions. I and a colleague are going to set up a campaign to make the man in the street aware of the advantages of the circular economy.' 

'The ThinkTank group is very diverse in many respects, in terms of personality and study background, but what participants have in commoon is that they are all ambitious, articulate and analytical people. This is how discussions are conducted at the cutting edge. During my studies I could often steer a discussion in my direction, but I can't get away with that with the ThinkTank!'

Eveline Kantor – 26 years old, is taking the master's in Employment and Organisational Psychology

‘Over the past two months we've done research on the bottlenecks experienced by organisations when they are transitioning towards the circular economy.  We are now formulating and selecting practical solutions for these bottlenecks. It is great that we are finally get around to the solutions. I'm keen to put them into practice, discussing them with external people and getting our message out into the world in a strategtic way.'  

‘The ThinkTank is a kind of train that you step into and that keeps you moving forward for four months. On the one hand, that's great because you get some very valuable experience, you learn a lot and you make a great group of new friends. The downside is that you have little time left for other things you might want to do outside the ThinkTank, and it's even hard to achieve all your ambitions within the ThinkTank. This is where I discovered that I'm not superwoman, unfortunately. It's a good way to learn what's most important for you.' 

‘If I had to explain in one sentence what's so good about taking part in the National ThinkTank, it would have to be that you do a lot in a short time with a great group of people, you're constantly challenged to defend the analyses you make and you have the freedom to organise events yourself.' 

Text: Marieke Epping
Images: Nationale DenkTank
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Leiden University and the National ThinkTank

Leiden University has been a partner in the National ThinkTank since 2008. The University supports the foundation both financially and by making experts and knowledge available. In practical terms, every year students and former students of Leiden take part in the ThinkTank. Students who are interested can apply in the springof 2019 for the next occasion of the National ThinkTank.  

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