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Nathalie Dijkman, herself at the helm of a Ugandan start-up, is the project manager of the new Start-up Incubator programme at the Law Hub. “I find myself inspired by young leaders who devote themselves to matters of justice.”

Nathalie Dijkman in Uganda next to a police officer

The Start-up Incubator Programme of the Amsterdam Law School aims to provide professional support to students, staff, and alumni who hope to make a success of their law and legal services start-ups. Start-ups of all shapes and sizes can take part, but the main focus is on businesses that aim to make a social impact by creating access to justice for a broad target audience. The start-up programme at the Law Hub operates under the umbrella of the Amsterdam Law Practice – the educational programme that the Faculty hopes will build a bridge to the community.

Project manager Nathalie Dijkman: “I am a social entrepreneur with a background in human rights, development assistance, and entrepreneurship. After studying criminology, I founded SEMA, a social enterprise that provides citizens in the east of Africa with a platform for the evaluation of public services. ‘Sema’, as it happens, is also a word in Swahili that roughly translates as ‘Speak up!’ I currently employ 12 people, most of whom are Ugandan university students. I developed SEMA as an evaluation tool that allows citizens to have a say in the quality of public services.

We are currently in the midst of a pilot project with the police, with the endorsement of the Minister of Justice. Machines with smiley faces have been installed at police stations – after a visit to the police, citizens can give anonymous feedback by pressing either the smiley or frown button, depending on how they feel about their experiences there. It was quite challenging to come up with a tool that all Ugandan citizens could use. Many people lack access to the internet or are illiterate; the fact that 40 different languages are spoken also created an inevitable language barrier. We supplement the results provided by the tool with qualitative interviews with the citizens who visit police stations. This has given us a great deal of rich data to work with. About fifteen thousand people have given feedback since March 2018, and we can already observe that services are improving. Women are being helped more speedily, for instance, and police are requesting fewer bribes to investigate cases. 

With SEMA, our aim is to supply services to the government, be a reliable evaluation services provider. I developed an interest in the improvement of legal systems during my criminology studies. I cultivated a range of contacts at the Ministry of Justice while doing research and working in Uganda. This was an enormous help in building trust. As the project manager of the start-up programme at the ALS, I hope to help students and staff with innovative ideas with all aspects of embarking on a start-up in the legal sector. While I was lucky to have contacts in Uganda, nobody knows better than I do how difficult it can be to raise funds and gain the trust of potential clients. You can forget about enjoying weekends for the first few months of your new business.

I hope that students and staff will find inspiration in their own experiences of (in)justice when setting up new initiatives and that, for instance, international students will also be inspired to think about making improvements to the legal systems in their home countries. I believe in the potential of entrepreneurship to facilitate – creative – solutions to social issues and I find myself profoundly inspired by young leaders who devote themselves to matters of justice – both in the Netherlands and abroad.”

Start-up Challenge

The start-up programme at the Hub gets off to a grand start with the Justice Challenge!