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CPL Director Emmely Benschop: 'It’s sciences' responsibility to keep people on track'

Emmely Benschop (41) has been working as the new director of the Centre for Professional Learning (CPL) in The Hague for several months now. She sees significant growth potential.

In April you started as director of CPL, what is your impression now?

'I’ve had a very warm welcome; the colleagues are positive, friendly, constructive, and supportive. The training sessions are all very interesting, I would like to sit in on all of them. We have four thematic working groups: Security, Politics and Governance, Public Leadership, and Diversity and Inclusion. They all work in their own way and do it well. However, I do think more collaboration is possible. There's a lot to learn from each other.'

How will you do that?

'We recently had a strategy day with the whole team. The outcome was that we need to work towards becoming a strong, learning organisation. That is what we will be focusing on in the coming period. From this base, we aim to keep on growing. We see various possibilities, and colleagues from the faculty are also coming up with good ideas. There is a lot of energy to get started together.'

How did you get here and what did you do before?

'Before this, I was the deputy director at The Hague Academy for Local Governance, an international training institute with the mission to strengthen local governance worldwide. I worked there for fifteen years. I helped to establish it and I was able to completely shape and structure it. The themes there were similar to those at CPL. I conducted training on anti-corruption, peacebuilding, and decentralisation, just to name a few. It was a fantastic job and it has given me so much. I loved working with people from all over the world. But it was steady and running smoothly, as a result of which it was time to take on a new challenge.'

And you knew CPL, you even studied there.

'Yes, as part of the Dutch government traineeship (Rijkstraineeship), I took a course there. It was rather an introduction to public administration. Which is very interesting and useful for a starting policymaker. As an organisational psychologist, I appreciated gaining such a public administration framework.

What makes your background as an organisational psychologist useful now?

'In psychology, you learn to listen well, which is a very important trait to have for a leader. You also learn to reflect on your own behaviour. A self-critical attitude is always useful in your career; it helps you to develop yourself further. Leading an organisation means you are constantly dealing with change. The best outcome is when you and your team stand behind a certain course of action. This is also something I have taken from organisational psychology. It’s about inviting people to contribute their thoughts, participation, and to make use of the knowledge and talents within your team.'

You are currently reading 'How the world really works' by Vaclav Smil. How do you think the world works?

'To link it to the university: in this world there's a lot of information to process, and everything is going fast. Which requires quick decisions. One-liners can get you far, as we see in politics. But that's not how the world really works, in reality it's more nuanced. We often rush to solutions, tripping over each other. There's a lot of groupthink; everyone runs in a certain direction without thinking for themselves. The university world has a role to bring nuance back into the debate. To be able to say: that sounds great, but does your argument actually hold up? The book  'how the world really works' touches on sustainability debates and solutions we're all chasing after, like wind farms. But do we truly know how many resources are needed to produce one wind turbine? Or, for example, an electric car? And what about the emissions of toxic gases released during production? There's a responsibility for science to keep people grounded and convey these truths.'

Do you feel like you're contributing to this now?

'Yes‘. The CPL aims to translate scientific research into practice. We communicate that in our training sessions, it's our core mission. We understand the challenges our clients face in practice. How can we bridge that gap? Even scientists that teach in our programmes benefit from this process, as they receive direct input from practical experience. This also sharpens the thinking of our educators.

Wat is je visie voor CPL?

'What I think is important is that we as CPL are an integral part of the faculty of Governance and Global Affairs. There is so much knowledge that we can use to make an impact if we share it with professionals. Leiden University is leading and CPL also wants to be that in the form of a training institute in, broadly put, public administration. We strive to do so in the Netherlands, and preferably also in Europe. That is what we are working towards.'

Text and photograph: Magali van Wieren

'Beach walks with my family'

'In my spare time, I enjoy going to the beach, swimming, surfing, diving, and taking walks with my family. I also go for runs, play tennis, and I like to read. Currently, I'm reading 'How the world really works' by Vaclav Smil, which is very interesting and highly recommended! Just so you know, I'm always open to book recommendations.'

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