Dr Kate Harrison Brennan 
(Brennan, 2000)

Young Alumnae Award: Social Welfare and Impact

Kate Brennan completed a BA (Hons. I) / LLB (Hons I) at the University of Sydney. During her student years, her engagement in social justice went from strength to strength. Kate was a volunteer paralegal at the Aboriginal Legal Service in Redfern and in Katherine in the Northern Territory. Following her time in Katherine, Kate worked with a community in East Arnhem Land to develop a swimming and public health program and was named 2006 Young Australian of the Year for NSW as a consequence. Kate then focused increasingly on community development work and, during her last year of Law School, whilst on exchange at the University of Melbourne, became the Assistant Director of The Oaktree Foundation, Australia’s first entirely youth run aid and development organisation. Having rowed for the University of Sydney, Kate continued to row for Ormond College in Melbourne and was a residential tutor in law and politics.

Kate was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship for NSW in 2007 which enabled her to study international development at Oxford University. At Oxford, Kate completed an M.Phil (Distinction) and attained first place in her year. She represented Oxford University in the modern pentathlon, and Magdalen College in rowing. Magdalen College awarded Kate a visiting fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, where she completed the final year of her D.Phil in Politics. Subsequently, Kate held the role of Director of Global Affairs and Strategic Communications at the Australian Consulate-General in New York.

Kate returned to Australia from New York to be Advisor to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, for whom she had worked previously in the portfolio of social inclusion. Following her time in Canberra, Kate founded Global & Smart as a digital storytelling platform and agency for 'the story behind the good' – products made responsibly and sustainably. Her edited volume, Making Global Institutions Work, was published by Routledge in 2015.

For the past five years, Kate has been the CEO of Anglican Deaconess Ministries, a 127-year-old Christian women’s foundation, where Kate works to reimagine the vision of the organisation and re-establish their work in public and practical engagement. In this time, she took part in Micah Australia's work, including in a Christian women leaders' delegation to Parliament House in Canberra and she continues to serve as a Director of the Bible Society Australia. Following the birth of her second child, Kate will begin a new role in July this year at the Paul Ramsay Foundation, tackling social disadvantage in Australia.

Kate received the MLC School Medal for the highest UAI in Year 12 2000 (99.90). She was an MLC School all-rounder. Kate competed in the 1998 Commonwealth Games Trials for swimming and represented MLC School in both swimming and cross-country. Kate also represented MLC School at the National Youth Science Forum. She was a member of the Choir, student co-ordinator of the MLC School Walk for Reconciliation, UNIFEM and Crusader Union.

Reflections

What would you say are your three proudest achievements?

I'm most proud of the track record I have for standing up for what I believe is right and just: whether giving advice in official roles I've held in government, advocating for those who need to be heard, or providing counsel. And for sticking at it when it's been tough. I'm proud that my commitment to do so has governed my decisions about whom to serve and, by extension, whom not to serve. One of the greatest privileges of my life is to have served Australia's first female Prime Minister. I would like to think that at the end of my career, I can be proud that I was true to my calling and that my character was forged in the process.

How did an MLC School education play a role in your life?

Coming to MLC School in Year 9, from a selective co-educational school, was absolutely pivotal for me. I was suddenly surrounded by other girls who were confident in their own abilities, celebrated one another's differences, expected excellence, and revelled in the joy of an integrated life. It was absolutely life-giving. And such a relief. The school leadership was strong enough to give us the freedom we needed to explore, challenge tradition and disagree, make mistakes, and learn. Teachers brought us into the sheer joy of their subjects, and gave us the opportunities to develop virtue. When I was later at Oxford with a classmate, Joanna Howe (Mascerenhas, 2000), who had also received a Rhodes scholarship, it caused me to reflect on the classroom and extracurricular experiences we had at MLC School. It was at MLC School that we were taught to be straightforwardly confident in our own voices and abilities. Something which, very sadly, is not so straightforward for women normally. In turn, this has allowed us to use our voices and abilities in difficult circumstances and situations, in the service of others, when they are most needed.