Here in Cambridge we’re lucky enough to be home to the UK’s largest and leading student think tank- The Wilberforce society. The society was founded in 2009 by first year Cambridge students Tom Davenport and Ben Watts in response to the lack of a university-wide forum where students could discuss policy issues in a non-partisan way. The politically independent nature of the think tank is the primary reason it takes its name from Cambridge alumnus William Wilberforce. He too sought to cast off the constraints of politics in order to focus on what really mattered in society. In this vein, the Wilberforce society provides students with a means with which they can tackle real-world issues and give them “the opportunity to become involved with policy conception and analysis with the possibility of genuine impact.”
Recent examples of projects that the society has been involved with highlight the extent to which their world really does have a wide-ranging impact. In collaboration with several other organisations they helped to produce The Cambridge Brexit Report, which discussed the impact of Brexit on Universities, the economy, human rights and other important areas of British life. It focused on the need to eliminate the underlying uncertainty currently prevalent in society about what is going to happen after the 20th of March 2019. It was presented at the European Parliament to help influence ongoing Brexit negotiations.
Another notable project in which the society enabled students to get involved was the drafting of a new constitutional framework for the Republic of Tunisia, which was presented at a TEDx event in 2013. This provided students with the opportunity to use their scholarship to influence real-life political events. The framework produced helped to outline both the extensive political choices faced by the Tunisian people whilst also helping to recommend measures to facilitate the creation of ‘constitutional permanence and flexibility’.
The society is currently working on a number of exciting projects, all of which students can get involved with. These include a paper on the financing of political parties in developing countries, commissioned by the National Labour Party in Mongolia. This will investigate the best practices for facilitating free and fair electoral participation and will have an immediate influence on policy in Mongolia. The society is also conducting a comparative study of crime in Chicago and London, examining similarities and differences in policing, race relations and gun laws. A final project involves the formulation of a paper on sexual assault policy and investigations at the university, with a focus on lowering the burden of proof. All of these are not only fascinating and unequalled opportunities for students to get involved in policy formation, but also a chance for us to have a real impact on some of the most crucial issues facing our world today.
In the year to come, the society will focus on a range of issues, from the challenges of inequality, political tensions and shifting global power dynamics, to the threats posed by technology and the mental health epidemic. Students can be active in both discussing these challenges and in formulating solutions to them in a wide variety of ways- whether that be through writing blog posts on current issues, helping to formulate policy or even proposing their own papers. Ultimately, there are few other societies which offer students the ability to have such a big impact on pressing global issues.