The ECHO Award raises the visibility of excellent students with a non-Western background: students who are active as world citizens in various areas, who are driven by a social mission and thus help to promote equal opportunities for all. The winners are rewarded with a fully-organised summer course at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). UvA students Zohara Mahmoud, Hasnaa Beni Driss and Leon Lan were in with a chance of winning.
During her work placement at Loyens & Loeff in 2017, Law student Hasnaa Beni Driss had the idea of setting up a study association. After her work placement, she was due to begin a Master’s in Private Law (Commercial Legal Practice) and in Amsterdam there still wasn’t a study association with a focus on corporate law. Together with three other students, she therefore set up the Amsterdam Students Corporate Law Association (Ondernemingsrecht Vereniging Amsterdamse Studenten, OVAS). In addition, she used to work at a legal advice centre in the Bijlmer district of Amsterdam, where students offer free legal assistance, and she still works as a lecturer at the Faculty of Law. Consequently, Marjoleine Zieck of the Faculty of Law felt there were good grounds for recommending her for an ECHO Award.
The main aim in creating OVAS was to attract students. This is why Hasnaa and her colleagues already started organising relevant activities while setting up the association. There were some hitches in the early going, but by seeking collaboration with the faculty umbrella association they were able to become more efficient. This arrangement took care of the management side of things. After planning enough activities for the coming academic year, they recruited four new board members to whom they could pass the baton. Dr J. Roest, Associate Professor of Corporate Law, proved to be an enormous help during the setting up of the association.
Hasnaa has worked hard to get where she is today. She worked her way up from prevocational secondary education through to university. Studying has made a huge contribution to Hasnaa’s development and it has changed her view of the world. Winning the award would mean great recognition and motivation for her. Hasnaa wants to benefit the society that has given her so much. Her social involvement is evident not only from her work at the legal advice centre, but also through the development of an app for refugees who want to start a business and a buddy project that pairs up ‘first-generation’ students (i.e. students with a refugee background) with senior-year students.
Hasnaa came to work in the legal advice centre in the Bijlmer district through a good friend of hers. She found the work illuminating and rewarding because it focused on people with a genuine need, and she worked with a fun group of fellow students. Hasnaa herself grew up in a neighbourhood where financial debts were a common problem, as is the case in the Bijlmer district The Bijlmer legal advice centre has now existed for over 40 years. There is no doubt it has brought benefits and Hasnaa is glad that she has been able to make her own small contribution.
Even if Hasnaa does not win the award, she will not have lost a thing. She has always been interested in the way that law can help to combat injustice in society. As a result of her nomination, she has studied diversity issues in even more depth and she is certain that this theme will continue to occupy her. In the future, she hopes to use her knowledge and abilities to protect weaker groups. Hasnaa would like to help create a more diverse and inclusive commercial sector. The summer school at UCLA would made a good contribution towards this goal. The award would give Hasnaa the opportunity to learn more about diversity in a group of international students.
In the coming year, Hasnaa will complete her Master’s in Private Law and continue to teach at the Faculty of Law. In addition, she will remain involved in the development of the app for refugees and the buddy project. She will also spend a semester studying in Berlin next spring, after which she aims to start a career in the legal profession. Once she has acquired more practical experience and has taught a little more, Hasnaa would like to pursue a doctorate.
‘Her life story and strong will make Hasnaa a worthy winner of the Loyens & Loeff Law & Tax Award. The jury was impressed by the great determination she has shown, despite a difficult home situation, in developing from a pupil in prevocational secondary education to a cum laude university student. Her courage to be herself shows both vulnerability and strength. This combination gives her the necessary ability to tackle issues and to contribute to change.’
Zohara Mahmoud was also a finalist for the ECHO Award. She was recommended for the ECHO Award by Milena Veenis, who worked alongside Zohara on the Programme Committee for Cultural Anthropology. She is taking an Honours programme for both her degree programmes (Cultural Anthropology and Law). In addition, her organisation De Nieuwe Student (The New Student) provides free homework support for children of parents who lack the financial resources to pay for extra tutoring.
Zohara strives for excellence in both the academic and social sectors. In the last three years she has not only pursued her studies, but also set up De Nieuwe Student. She currently works together with two other UvA students to provide homework support in Amsterdam and at the library in Huizen. Zohara started the initiative in Blaricum by offering homework and language support in community centres. She pays for the teaching materials out of her own pocket, so that the services can be offered free of charge. This is because Zohara’s aim is to reach children who, due to their socio-economic background, would be unable to receive any extra support otherwise.
During the selection procedure, Zohara was supported by various people. Dean Ans Rekers provided her with especially useful support and supervision, and Pravini Baboeram of ECHO itself has been very helpful. Winning the ECHO Award will help Zohara to further expand De Nieuwe Student. She aims to use the network that ECHO offers to step up her efforts to achieve a more inclusive society.
The prize of a summer course at UCLA would be very useful. This is because after completing her degree and honours programmes, Zohara would like to spend six months studying in the United States. A summer at UCLA would be a great chance to gain some initial experience. During the summer course, she would like to take courses that will help her in her work and social initiatives in the future. Apart from completing her studies, she would like to further expand De Nieuwe Student so that it can offer homework support at even more locations. After her studies, Zohara sees a future for herself in the legal profession, which will enable her to put her passion for law into practice.
Leon Lan, a Liberal Arts & Sciences student majoring in Mathematics at Amsterdam University College, won the Natural Sciences Award. He declined to be interviewed. There is a piece on Leons win at the AUC website. Want to learn more about Leon and his accomplishments? Visit the AUC website.