Phill Venice served as Secretary-General of the 2012 Ivy League Model United Nations Conference (ILMUNC) this past January. I met Phill over the summer while we were at the WEMUN Expo in China and I happened to be holding an informal roundtable discussion with the Secretaries-General of several of the top conferences in the United States. I immediately noticed that Phill had a sharp understanding of the larger trends in Model UN and I made sure to catch up with Phill to get his insights.
In this interview, I asked Phill to discuss several topics related to the future growth of Model United Nations through his experience as Secretary-General of ILMUNC and as a member of the University of Pennsylvania’s International Affairs Association (Penn IAA): the significant growth of ILMUNC, growth through outreach programs, novice committees at large conferences, bringing Model UN to underserved regions, and international expansion.
ILMUNC grew significantly from 2200 delegates last year to 3000 this year. What did ILMUNC do to grow their number of participants and where did you see this growth coming from?
We made it a top priority this year to expand our conference, and we’re definitely happy with the results. I think a lot of factors were at play in helping us achieve this. For one, we had our highest retention rate in years, with many schools deciding to continue attending our conference as part of their spring travel schedule. Additionally, we saw a very high percentage of new schools attending the conference; these schools came from all over the world – we welcomed new schools from as close as Philadelphia to schools from India, Brazil, and Colombia. I would say that the bulk of our growth came from domestic schools, but the number of international schools we added this year was significant in helping us reach 3,000 attendees.
We took a lot of steps to grow the conference, but among the most successful efforts were the phone calls we made and brochures we sent to prospective attendees. We also dramatically expanded our financial aid program, which allowed new schools to attend. So I think hosting a high quality conference that delegates will want to continue attending, aggressive pre-conference promotion, and a robust financial aid program are responsible for helping us grow this year, and I know we’ll continue these and other efforts in the future.
Penn IAA does outreach to West Philadelphia and hosts the PIRC conference for those participants. What are the takeaways for other MUN programs who may want to be more active in conducting outreach?
PIRC is an initiative that we in the IAA are particularly proud of. Each year, we invite hundreds of Philadelphia students to participate in an international relations conference free of charge. Each year, we choose a thematic regional focus for the conference, invite distinguished speakers and Penn professors to speak on the subject, and then host simulations to allow attendees the opportunity to learn about international relations while applying what they’ve learned from the weekend’s speakers. PIRC has grown since its inception three years ago, and we’re excited to continue developing and allowing this conference to grow in the future.
We see this as part of a larger effort to reach out to the Philadelphia community and we have undertaken a few successful initiatives to this end. For example, we began reaching out to local high schools to help them develop their Model U.N. programs in the past, and it’s been really rewarding to see those schools attend ILMUNC in recent years. I think the big takeaway from these initiatives is the value that organizations like ours can have in reaching out to their local community; it allows us to impact Philadelphia in a meaningful way while also giving high school students a forum to debate important issues facing the international community.
ILMUNC included a novice committee in its conference and I personally thought it was a good idea to bring the large conference experience to a newer delegate. Do you think ILMUNC will continue to offer novice committee(s) in the future?
Novice committees are something we’re excited to have at ILMUNC. We invite students that are new to Model U.N. to participate in this committee to help them learn basic skills in a more comfortable, relaxed environment. We have found that this kind of setting is helpful for these students, and it was one of the best-reviewed aspects of our conference this year; students often comment on the helpfulness of the dais in helping them understand what’s happening in the committee and providing constructive feedback on their performance. We encourage each of the students involved in this kind of committee to make sure they speak at least once throughout the course of the weekend, and most do. A committee environment in which all of the delegates are new to the committee allows delegates to feel more comfortable speaking at conference and engaging with other delegates on the issues.
That’s why I think that the novice committee is something we’ll continue to offer in the future given its success – it’s very useful for delegates wishing to get involved in Model U.N. without feeling overwhelmed by the size of their committee at conference.
You’re from St. Louis and you know first-hand that there are not as many MUN opportunities available in the Midwest as there are in other regions. What do you think can be done to grow Model UN in underserved regions?
When I came to Penn and started getting to know other members of our IAA, I was shocked at the disparity between the Model U.N. opportunities offered on the East Coast when compared to those offered in the Midwest. An important part of the reasoning for this is the lack of medium-to-large sized conferences in the Midwest when compared to those offered on the coasts. There are many opportunities for delegates to debate at these kinds of forums in places like California and the northeast, while only a few conferences are within reasonable travelling distance for schools in places like Missouri.
This is not to say that large conferences like ILMUNC are the only ways for students to get involved in Model U.N., but rather that these conferences tend to encourage regional high schools to start shorter, local conferences for training and fundraising purposes. It’s encouraging to see the movement towards these kinds of conferences being started, and I think we’ll continue to see high schools developing their Model U.N. programs like this. I also think that the rise in size and diversity of conferences like ILMUNC means that the demand for Model U.N. opportunities is definitely going up, and this is a trend that I hope local universities and organizations in places like the Midwest will take notice of.
This demand is something we have been looking at from the large conference perspective, and we’ve reached out to schools in these underserved regions. I think that’s partly responsible for the conference growth we’ve seen, but there are some difficulties associated with bringing these schools to our conference every year. We sought to address that this year by dramatically expanding our financial aid program, since schools in the Midwest often have trouble affording the trip to Philadelphia. I think we’ll continue to offer and expand our financial aid program to allow these students to attend our conference, and I hope that other conferences who have financial aid programs will continue to offer aid to students in need as they grow.
ILMUNC just expanded to China with ILMUNC China. What do you think international growth of MUN will look like in the next few years and what will be driving this growth?
ILMUNC-China is something the IAA was really excited to be able to do this year. Our organization’s expansion into the Chinese Model U.N. market is something we’ve wanted to do for a long time, going back to the first time we participated in the WEMUN-Expo four years ago. The conference was a huge success, and we welcomed over 500 Chinese delegates in our first year. I think this is something we’ll look to continue in the future, and we may look to expand to other countries going forward.
We’ve learned that the rising demand we’re seeing in the United States is a global trend. Like other schools that have begun hosting conferences abroad, Penn has seen that there are students around the world who want to be involved in Model U.N., and American and European universities and organizations are making an effort to provide them with this opportunity. Besides continuing to welcome international schools to their primary conferences, I think we’ll see these schools and organizations continue to start small-to-medium sized international conferences in various different countries. I also think we’ll continue to see large international events like the WEMUN Expo in Beijing bring a group of universities together to host a conference with over 2,000 delegates. This is a model that has worked really well for the Expo in the past, and I think it’s possible that other organizations around the world will try to do this elsewhere in the future.