Student club spotlight: Work, Economy & Social Policy Club

Five people smiling in a five-feed Zoom screenshot on a black background

Curious about what Hertie School students get up to outside the classroom? Passionate about the labour market and social policy? Get to know the Work, Economy & Social Policy Club (WESP) in our interview with co-founder Lucian Plaumann (MPP 2022) and become a member this fall!

Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got started with WESP.

My name is Lucian Plaumann. I’m 28 years old, and I grew up in New Zealand. I’m currently doing the Master of Public Policy as part of the 2022 cohort and am personally really interested in active labour market policy, social policy, and particularly social investment methodologies.

At the end of 2020, I was really feeling like there was a gap at Hertie for a club like WESP. I was attending the social policy research colloquium with my co-founder Tania Lessenska, and I really liked one of the questions she asked. We connected and decided to found WESP at the beginning of this year. Now there are five “founding members”, and everyone has a say on the type of events we hold, our goals for the semester and the strategy that we want to bring to the table moving forward.

What kind of activities does your club organise?

We have a three-pronged approach. First, we have advocacy – we’d like to be part of any space where we can as students be a voice for progressive issues that create equity for people in society. Second is research – so we can not only get experience in research, but also contribute to the topics that we as a club stand for and care about. And lastly, we organise events. It’s really important for us to bring in speakers who reflect the type of public policy we want to see. So far, we’ve brought in academics and thought leaders and also organised student-led, student-oriented events. In May we had an event with Aaron Benanav, an expert on automation and the future of work. Another format we have is the Thesis in a Cup which brings together likeminded first- and second-year students.

Tell us more about your work with Prof. Anke Hassel.

Professor Hassel has been very supportive of the club since day one, and that has been a massive source of inspiration for us. Over the summer, we are engaging in research work as part of her project. It’s extremely generous of Prof. Hassel, and an exciting opportunity to engage in this important work. If we can continue this, it would be a really great avenue for students to broaden their experience in a unique way. Currently, we’ll be working on the governance of work in the digital age. A particular focus is platform companies and how technology – in particular artificial intelligence – is impacting working relationships in platform companies.

What is Thesis in a Cup?

It’s where students can practice talking about their thesis, and others can learn about their research and what it’s like to undertake a thesis. It’s all done with students and among students in an informal and relaxing atmosphere that hopefully fosters conversation in a more informal setting.

Each event has two student speakers who present their thesis for 10 minutes, followed by a Q&A session. Those have been really fruitful discussions because Thesis in a Cup is one of the first times they really present their research methodology and how they went about choosing it.

What do you hope to get out of the club?

The name “Work, Economy and Social Policy” is quite broad – this is to encourage students with many different interests to participate and feel like they can get involved. Our tagline, “Public policy for the many, not just for the wealthy few”, helps drive the types of conversations and debates we want to have about how we can push society in a more equitable direction. This club gives students a platform to initiate and lead those kinds of discussions. Because we’re students, we’re able to walk the line between academia, public policy and colloquial conversation that encourages people to take part, which hopefully encourages more diversity of thought. Ultimately, the club is for students to meet, network and engage with different ways of thinking and new topics.

What kinds of topics are these?

For example, I personally find that the Just Transition is often not included in the climate conversation. We talk a lot about greening economic policy, but I don’t think we talk enough about the impact that’s going to have on jobs. If we look at those trends, what kind of policy perspectives can we bring to the table that can contribute to an equitable transition for those who lose their jobs when certain “dirty industries” no longer exist?

Another topic is the foundational economy – what industries and services are fundamental to a functioning society? We’re talking about bus drivers, train drivers, basic infrastructure services, public health services, etc. These are at the core of our society but are often the most underrepresented, underpaid, and have the least employment protection of all industries. So, we’d like to start a discussion around what we perceive as important in our society and how we can protect that. If it’s not just output, if it’s not just productivity, not just GDP that we want to measure, what is it? And how can we reframe economic systems so that they contribute to the welfare and wellbeing of everyone?

How can future students get involved with WESP, and what are you looking forward to next semester?

To join the club, you can go to our website. If you click on the membership button, you’ll find a link to our WhatsApp chat. So becoming a member of the club is as easy as joining the chat and following events. Anyone who wants to have an event can contact us, and we can help them set it up and distribute the information to all the students. Before the winter holidays we will also likely recruit new members for the core team who will take over the club once we graduate.

Next semester in September, I am looking forward to an event with Professor Guy Standing of SOAS University of London about the corruption of capitalism. This is quite a provocative title but I think that the club is the perfect place to be able to host an event and discussion around that in a really thought-provoking and respectful way. I look forward to having future students involved!