In October 2017, Bensolo came to Cambridge to undertake an MPhil in Conservation Leadership, having been awarded a Commonwealth Shared Scholarship by the Cambridge Trust and the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission. Talking about the course he was to undertake, directed by Dr. Chris Sandbrook, a University Senior Lecturer and Fellow of Darwin College, Bensolo commented “I believe that taking this course will further strengthen my understanding of the myriad of conservation challenges including threats to biodiversity loss and that it will enable me to design sound approaches and play a proactive role in supporting conservation in a fast-changing economy such as that in Papua New Guinea”.
Bensolo studied at the University of Papua New Guinea for his BSc Hons in Biology (Biological Sciences Division) gaining a distinction in 2008.
Following graduation, Bensolo worked with Papua New Guinea’s Climate Office for a year before taking up post as Policy Officer for the Wildlife Conservation Society, a US-based non-governmental organisation with a programme being undertaken in Papua New Guinea, where he spent 7 years working with a particular interest in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, including activities which enhance carbon stocks (‘REDD+’). His duties included supporting national, provincial and local level governments on the review and development of policy measures on environmental management, with a particular focus on climate change.
Speaking about his role, Bensolo said “I view the REDD+ mechanism as a vehicle which could potentially drive biodiversity conservation whilst meeting local and national needs, maintaining forest integrity and helping to mitigate climate change. There is still more work to be done but it looks promising, especially in actively addressing drivers of forest loss”.
This work experience was essential in Bensolo applying for the Master’s course in Conservation Leadership at the University of Cambridge; the course is aimed at graduates of leadership potential who must have three to five years of relevant professional experience, and aims to train students to address the challenges of biodiversity conservation in an integrated and interdisciplinary manner.
The first event Bensolo attended following his arrival was the Cambridge Trust’s welcome event for the 430 newly-arrived students to whom it awarded scholarships for the academic year 2017-18.
Speaking about his arrival, Bensolo said “whilst I was excited about arriving in Cambridge, it was a little daunting to be in a completely new environment, climate and culture, and with so many new challenges. But I was made to feel welcome by my College, Hughes Hall, by the staff of the Trust and by teaching staff and course colleagues”.
During his studies at Cambridge, Bensolo undertook a period of fieldwork in Papua New Guinea as part of a Professional Placement with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a leading international conservation organization. His placement project explored the feasibility of IUCN’s Green List Standard of Protected and Conserved Areas in Papua New Guinea, his home country.
About his time in Cambridge, Bensolo said “since coming to study here, I have developed critical thinking skills and have a much broader perspective on conservation than before I began the course. The course is intense, but very interesting and unique because it places leadership as the fundamental underpinning for effective conservation through a multi-disciplinary approach that reconciles conservation action by all sectors and not just a science-led field”. He added “I have much appreciated the support of so many here in Cambridge: the course director Dr. Chris Sandbrook, my College tutor, Dr. Carole Sargent, my academic supervisor, Dr Evangelia Apostolopoulou and the Cambridge Trust/Commonwealth Scholarship Commission who provided my scholarship’”.
Bensolo is now undertaking a three month internship with The Biodiversity Consultancy, spending one month in Cambridge and two months back in Papua New Guinea. He will be looking at topics ranging from stacking biodiversity offset credits and carbon credits, effective protected area outcomes and costs in Papua New Guinea, and defining an appropriate free, prior and informed consent model for biodiversity offsets work in the country.
Bensolo is expected to make a real difference to wildlife conservation in Papua New Guinea; in his words “I intend to utilise the knowledge, skills and experience gained while at Cambridge to further advance conservation and influence sustainable development approaches and action at local, regional and national levels”.
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Bensolo and for his country.