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Alumnus Simone participating in National ThinkTank: ‘A good imagination is essential’

Say biodiversity loss, and then say humanities. These two terms may not seem an obvious combination, but alumnus Simone Scholte explains that her Film and Literary Studies degree actually offers a unique perspective on the problem. She is therefore one of the 20 students participating in this year’s National ThinkTank.

Simone Scholte
Simone Scholte

Simone sees herself as someone who has always been societally engaged. ‘I’ve always been interested in politics, and in questions of legitimacy, power and authority and what’s happening on the world stage. That’s why I chose to study International Relations and Organisations, because that’s how I thought I could really make a difference later,’ she says. Although her studies were going very well, Simone wasn’t feeling a burning passion. After much deliberation, she decided to do another study programme as well: Film and Literary Studies.

Simone says that she really flourished there. ‘I found everything genuinely interesting. But in the end I realised that two bachelor’s programmes and an honours programme, combined with my social life and work, were just too much. So then I decided to focus completely on Film and Literary Studies.’

Contributing to the world

She looks back on her time in Leiden with gratitude. ‘When I came here, I was still quite uncertain about my place in the world. Where am I going to make a difference in the future? I had the drive to contribute to the world around me, but I was still very much searching,’ says Simone. During her studies, she gradually found her niche. ‘I thought the study programme was fantastic. I had a good connection with the lecturers and I was also on the programme committee and then on the programme board. My time in Leiden gave me not only the academic development but also the personal growth that ultimately brought me to the National ThinkTank.’

After seeing an appeal for participants in the University’s newsletter, Simone contacted the National ThinkTank. ‘Once again, I had the feeling of being inadequate: this is way too ambitious for me, because it’s for people with a master’s or even a PhD, and I ‘only’ have a bachelor’s. But I felt that I shouldn’t be put off by that insecure inner voice, and I also wanted to show that Film and Literary Studies makes an important contribution to our society. So I went ahead and applied anyway.’

It was a long application process, with three different rounds designed to show whether she could meet the challenge. For instance, in the last round, all the candidates had to prepare a pitch on-the-spot and do a group assignment. ‘At the time, I thought I wasn’t going to get through because I didn’t think I had the right skills,’ Simone admits. But nothing could be further from the truth: she eventually received the news that she was one of the 20 lucky ones. She was still nervous, but right from day one Simone could see that she was actually in the right place. ‘I was with like-minded people who enjoy knowing more and asking further questions. That gave me a big confidence boost,’ she says.

Good imagination

The theme of the National ThinkTank this year is biodiversity loss. This isn’t a topic you immediately connect with humanities, but Simone says her degree has given her a unique perspective. ‘A good imagination is essential for changing society. I think the biggest problem in today’s Dutch landscape is that people can’t imagine that things could be different than now. Literature and film have a reflective and playful nature, and have therefore shown me what’s possible in the world,’ she says.

Telling success stories

So she has plenty of ideas about tackling biodiversity loss, but there’s still a lot of work to be done, says Simone. ‘There isn’t enough sense of urgency and people who do actually want to do something encounter too many barriers. We can see that the government isn’t well organised to tackle a problem like biodiversity, because the issue falls under all the different ministries. It involves infrastructure and agriculture, but also food quality, education and housing. This fragmentation needs to be addressed, of course, but we’re focusing on much more than that. We get straight to work on what’s possible right now.’

This is why Simone is working with the National ThinkTank on developing concrete solutions, in the form of policy proposals, campaigns and foundations or startups. ‘While we were interviewing people on the street, some of them said they see nature as a thing of the past. But we need everyone in the Netherlands to be with us in order to initiate change in the public and private sectors. So we’re now working on solutions in both areas. For example, I’m working on a mobile biodiversity museum, and a colleague is working on a policy proposal to facilitate nature-inclusive construction. For that policy proposal to catch on, you need support. And we’re creating that, in turn, with the mobile museum. So you see: it’s stories that get the ball rolling to inspire citizens, public authorities and organisations to take action.’

The National ThinkTank’s aim is to bring science closer to society. Every year, 20 young people with different academic backgrounds address a current societal problem. The theme for this year is biodiversity loss.

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