Guest Post: How to Save the Future of Model UN

by erik on August 10, 2016

This Guest Article was provided by Yuji Develle. Yuji is the Former Media Chair of the United Kingdom at Best Delegate and President of King’s College London United Nations Association. Next year, he will remain active around the European MUN circuit and as a member of the LSE United Nations Society.

The purpose of this article is to provide some food for thought in the community regarding the direction that MUN is taking in the next five years. Hopefully it will initiate a few conversations between Mods and before socials at conferences beyond just the U.K.

MUN is a bubble. It’s the kind of bubble that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside during a conference. It’s the bubble that bursts when any delegate returns to their local university or job after an intense and exciting conference. When done right, this unique extra-curricular activity has it all: a social mission, a demanding academic challenge, an opportunity to travel, a strong and youthful community. But have you ever tried explaining MUN to a non-MUNer?

Let’s face it. Most of the time they’re skeptical, and you find yourself trying to paint a picture of what MUN is to you, what it means to society or education. Of course, people are skeptical, they are never “excited” by the prospect of novelty (especially something like debating for an entire weekend). My theory is that it actually runs deeper than this; Model UN’s reputation is often built by delegates/chairs/organisers who misunderstand what MUN is and could be for society.

There have been countless posts in the community about ways in which MUN (especially outside the United States) could be interpreted as a game for rich kids in suits. While in the past five years Model UN experienced the fastest growth in developing MUN-regions such as India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Eastern Europe, and South America, the high-school scene is especially notorious for its socially exclusive appearance. THIMUN (The Hague) and HMUN (Harvard), two of the largest high school MUNs, have – due to their international nature and the need for flights and hotels – high costs of attendance for schools that do not receive financial aid. They have however worked tirelessly to franchise the THIMUN and Harvard names internationally by creating affiliated conferences in new communities, while other conferences such as LIMUN try to increase accessibility by waiving fees for local students in London. 

However, these commendable efforts seem on the whole negated by the damaging culture promoted at conferences like “Lavish MUN”, a conference held in Romania and New York City aimed at immersing students in the luxurious life of a diplomat, where they can “party in castles and skyscrapers”. Okay, while I have nothing against parties in castles and skyscrapers, UN diplomats do not (and should not) spend their days partying it up in “five-star hotels”. How is this the right venue to discuss social/political/economic affairs? Shouldn’t MUN be about leading by example and focusing on the real mission of the United Nations, rather than the occasional perks of an ambassador’s (not diplomat) lifestyle?

Returning to the topic of franchises, the Harvard, Yale, GMUN and The Hague systems have a unique responsibility. Hosting multiple conferences around the world and some of the largest conferences out there (WorldMUN, HMUN, HNMUN, GMUN, THIMUN, etc.), they have the opportunity to set standards and best practices for the rest of the community to follow.  One issue that’s received traction was whether conferences misunderstand what “diplomacy” actually means. Is this a willingness to reach compromise, be nice and collaborate at all costs? Or is this a desire to remain true to state policy, loyal to conflict and professional? See Sam Povey’s excellent article on the issue. The truth is, that it’s going to be somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. One cannot be diplomatic without being professional. One cannot achieve country policy without making some compromises.

4 Missions of MUN

Conference organisers have a central role to play. Small decisions related to Awards Policy (Best-Outstanding-Honorable Mention, Diplomacy Awards, No Awards?), choice of Socials Venues, selection of Keynote Speakers, etc. have important long-term effects on MUN culture. Oftentimes asking oneself a simple question is sufficient; What is our mission? Will the conference be educational? Is it primarily aimed at creating realistic and professional resolutions (academic)? Is it a celebration of the UN and its humanitarian values (thus requiring some leadership and charity by example)?

In this article, I hoped to clarify the cultural problems that arise from a lack of clarity in MUN’s societal mission. While these four missions all hold their merit, I personally believe that should MUN really make a difference and justify its place in society + academia, MUNs really have three possible options.

  1. Education-Skills-Business: Mantra: MUN gives you the skills for ____. Following the growing trend of corporate sponsorships/scholarships and high-profile industrial speakers (especially from the Legal and Consulting worlds), this MUN future would fully embrace the educational aspect of MUNs. MUN gives you soft skills like rhetoric, negotiation and networking, that can be leveraged in the university and business-world. Awards would mostly a recognition of a combination of factors, including management and practical thinking. Spirit Committee: UNGA + Board of Directors Crisis
  2. Think Tank: Mantra: Realism or nothing. Usually those conferences using UN-rules of procedure or other academically-rigorous ROPs, these MUNs value the strength and realism of delegates posing as policy-makers for their country and the UN. Professionalism is key, but this leaves the door opened for luxurious socials and political speakers. Just keep it tasteful. Spirit Committee: UN Sixth Committee (Legal)
  3. Social/Networking: Mantra: MUN is about making friends and having a good time. The reason why I don’t think this is a priority for conference organisers is that, put simply, MUN when done well is fun. The reason why most university level delegates go to MUNs is to have an authentic/unique experience. Whether this experience aligns more with points 1, 2, or 3, is up to the preference of the delegate proper. Nonetheless, a conference without great socials, fun people and ample networking opportunities is a conference that falls short of expectations. Spirit Conference: Any conference that puts the party first.
  4. Philanthropy: Mantra: Think Globally, Act Locally. With a humanitarian objective to lead the conference by example towards the ideals espoused by the United Nations, conferences become celebrations of the UN. Most committees are UN committees, and awards are given on the merit of delegates and committees that create the greatest (realistic) change. Spirit Conference: The COP21 Paris Conference.

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