7 January 2020

Citizen detective Robert Helder and "Legalist" founder Waleed Mahmoud win Societal Impact Award

Robert Helder
Robert Helder at the New Years reception of the LEG faculty, together with colleagues from the Dutch police.

Law student Waleed Mahmoud is the winner of the Societal Impact Award 2019 for his project The Legalist, in which he develops educational content for law students and young lawyers in countries in the Middle East. Robert Helder, a teacher of notary law, is the winner in the staff category for his volunteer work for the police as a citizen detective, fighting money laundering and other financial crimes.

The faculty of Law, Economics and Governance handed out it's annual Societal Impact Award on the facultys new years reception on January 7 in the Geertekerk in Utrecht. A jury assessed projects of students and staff that demonstrably contributed to the tackling societal issues, linked to the faculty’s teaching or research activities. 

Student award: Waleed Mahmoud

The jury decided that one of the more internationally oriented projects is the winner of this year’s Societal Impact Award for Students. Waleed Mahmoud is a Legal Research Master's student, orginially from Egypt. His project The Legalist consists of a YouTube channel, with weekly videos on law, legal career building and legal skills, a Facebook page, and a website, with blog and journals. This is all for free, as it is established as an alternative means for gaining knowledge, instead of expensive (and often ineffective) private courses which are widespread in the Middle-east. 

The Legalist
Waleed Mahmoud, student in the Legal Research Master's programme of Utrecht University

All of this is done with great enthusiasm and conviction, if not passion, as professor Janneke Gerards – dean of the Legal Research Master –, stressed when she nominated this project. The jury agreed and declared Waleed Mahmoud the student winner of the LEG Societal Impact Award 2019. 

Staff award: Robert Helder

The winner in the staff category was Robert Helder, a teacher of notary law, that supports the Dutch police as a financial detective, as a volunteer. In fact, Helder became the first citizen detective in 2018.  He participates in big investigations into money laundering and fraud, for example, in which his notarial expertise has added value. He analyses notarial documents, in order to trace suspicious matters.

Robert Helder en Mirko Noordegraaf
Robert Helder (left) and the faculty's vice dean of Societal Impact Mirko Noordegraaf.

In addition, he answers questions from policemen, who want or need to know things about transactions, wills, or financial authorisations during house searches. He has taken an oath, and can access police documents. Helder also trains detectives, and links law students to the police, something which implies new expertise for the police and career prospects for our students.   

The jury of the impact award is convinced of the fact that ‘embedded’ impact work can be accompanied by the upholding of academic values, whilst at the same contributing to tackling societal problems, especially when it is consciously and carefully organised and made accountable.

The jury panel

This years jury panel consisted of:

  • Professor Mirko Noordegraaf, Vice-Dean, Chair
  • Rebecca van Musscher, Faculty project leader, Secretary
  • Anne-Wil Dijkstra, Choco Co-Captain, Tony's Chocolonely, Member
  • Professor Elisabetta Manunza, School of Law, Member
  • Dr. Hein Roelfsema, School of Economics, Member
  • Professor Maarten van Bottenburg, School of Governance, Member
  • Michelle Kleine Deters, student of Law and winner of the 2018 Award, Member
New Years reception LEG Faculty
The new years reception 2020 of the faculty of Law, Economics and Governance, in the Geertekerk in Utrecht.
Janneke Plantenga, dean of the faculty of Law, Economics and Governance.
Sybe de Vries, Thibault Schrepel and Mira Scholten of the faculty of Law, Economics and Governance.
Students of the faculty of Law, Economics and Governance.

All photographs in this article are made by Robert Oosterbroek.