Claire Bennett (far left, standing) with fellow university Global Voices delegates outside the UN Environment Conference in Nairobi, Kenya.
Claire Bennett (far left, standing) with fellow university Global Voices delegates outside the UN Environment Conference in Nairobi, Kenya.

Macquarie Merit Scholar’s UN experience

Macquarie Merit Scholar Claire Bennett was part of a Global Voices delegation of students to the first UN environment assembly (UNEA) in Kenya. 

During the Semester break, Macquarie Merit Scholar Claire Bennett listened to UN leader Ban Ki-moon urge the world to usher in a new era of climate responsibility at the first United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) as part of the delegation, Global Voices.

Held at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, the UNEA meeting agreed 16 decisions and resolutions that encourage international action on major environmental issues ranging from air pollution and the illegal trade in wildlife, to plastic debris in the oceans, chemicals and waste. All 193 UN member states are part of the UNEA, as well as representatives from major groups and stakeholders.

The delegation from non-for-profit Australian organisation Global Voices was able to participate in proceedings as members of the Major Group of Children and Youth.

Claire, a fourth year Macquarie Bachelor of Arts/Laws student interested in sustainable development and international policy, applied to Global Voices to attend UNEA in Kenya via a Merit Scholar invitation. She has since completed a research paper on the effectiveness of gender quotas in increasing meaningful participation for women in the political processes of Kenya and Australia, which has been presented to politicians Claire and fellow delegates met in Canberra for a briefing session in March, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, Deputy Opposition leader Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water Mark Butler, and Greens leader, Christine Milne. Her accompanying opinion piece will be published in Women’s Agenda in the coming months.

“The GV delegation was made up of five students selected from Australian universities – La Trobe, Charles Sturt, Central Queensland, James Cook University and Macquarie” says Claire. “During the week, we had the chance to meet the Australian Ministerial delegation at UNEA. It was interesting to hear that the informal political dialogue between states was just as important as the more formal conference proceedings, in terms of conducting negotiations and getting things done. A lot of key decisions and allegiances are decided over a coffee in the lunch break!’

“We also spent time helping build a school in Kibera, a slum area of Nairobi. It was a confronting and incredibly humbling experience. At first you think, ‘you are in a slum, this is a novelty. And then you realise that statistically, YOU are the novelty. Most of the world lives in conditions like Kibera and we make up a small, very privileged minority. I thought I was prepared but I came away with some unexpected insights.”

Claire was invited to join the Merit Scholars program based on her high school results and application when she applied to Macquarie. The Merit Scholarship waives tuition fees and provides opportunities including academic mentoring, career workshops and international experiences like the Global Voices delegation. Students who also have a GPA of four after their first year of university are also now invited to the Merit Scholar program.

“I love that Macquarie has quite a relaxed, creative feel,” Claire says of why she chose to study at Macquarie. “The quality of resources and teaching is most certainly still here, but there is not as much of that competitive vibe between students that you sense at other universities. It is about supporting and celebrating others achievements for what they are, rather than for how they compare to your own.”

Macquarie University offers generous international scholarships.

Global Voices will open Semester 1, 2015 delegation opportunities in February 2015.

  • Georgia Scapens

    Great article! And well done to Claire, who was a fantastic ambassador for the Merit Scholars Program during her travels and produced some really outstanding academic work as a result.

    After the success of Claire’s trip, we have awarded two further travel scholarships to Merit Scholars in Session 2 this year; they will travel to the IMF and World Bank Annual meetings in Washington D.C., and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima, Peru.

    Further Merit Scholar travel scholarships will be available in Session 1, 2015. For more information on the Merit Scholars Program, please feel free to check out our website at

    Georgia Scapens
    Merit Scholars Program Coordinator