Liveblog: The Harvard MUN Conference 2010

by Ryan on January 30, 2010

It’s been an eventful day at the Harvard MUN Conference! I’ve been tweeting updates throughout the day, but I finally have a chance to sit down and write an actual post. I’m going to focus on what happened, and in future posts I’ll put up entire interviews and pictures, as well as provide more of an analysis.

My morning started with meeting HMUN’s Secretary-General, Daniel Robinson, and getting his thoughts on how the conference was going. He actually had a lot of questions for Aldrin and me about how Yale’s conferences are organized. We compared notes and then agreed to do a more formal interview in the afternoon.

Aldrin and I then went into a small room to study the conference guide and figure out our plan of attack for the day, what to check out, whom to interview, etc. Then a delegate walked into the room and kindly interrupted us, asking very politely if he could have the room so he could pray (it was around noon at this time). We of course acquiesced to his request, and he was also willing to answer a few questions before we left. He was representing an Eastern bloc country in the Historical General Assembly, which was discussing the 1960 Congo crisis. I asked whether winning an award mattered to him, and he said it was the last thing on his mind; he does MUN for the experience, and because it’s fun.

We then ran into some students gathered around a piano, taking turns playing. One was from Nepal and was having a little too much fun static-shocking other delegates. Another student started singing pop songs and he had a good voice, which made nearby delegates stop to check him out.

Aldrin and I then met a pair of students from WEMUN, an organization that sends Chinese students to conferences in America and also gets American students to help run conferences in China. They came to HMUN to practice their English, and also to check out other American universities.

We then sat down at a random table. Delegates kept coming up to Aldrin and me asking when we would start selling T-shirts and roses; they all thought we were part of HMUN’s merchandise-selling operation! It was lunch time, so we told them to come back when committee session started back up again.

Aldrin had to leave to take care of some errands, and so I became a one-man wolf pack. I took a seat in the lobby and overheard a few delegates talking about their committee with their advisor. They were complaining about other delegates being off-policy, which was frustrating because they had prepared their own roles expecting certain delegates to take opposing positions.

I also happened to be sitting near a couple of advisors that allowed me to interview them. They were from a school that was just starting up its MUN club, and HMUN was their second conference in two years. We talked about the challenges of starting a new MUN club, particularly how to prepare students for a conference when they don’t know yet what to expect.

Lunch was ending around this time, so I checked out a few committees and listened to some speeches. One delegate gave a speech as a representative of Greenpeace and then mentioned that she was leaving to go speak in other committees. I asked her a few questions out in the hall and found out that students can apply to represent NGOs instead of countries. They can’t vote, but they visit different committees to lobby delegates to pass resolutions that promote the NGO’s agenda. This student was excited to represent Greenpeace because she also works on environmental issues in New Jersey.

I then got a chance to interview HMUN’s Secretary-General and Director-General, Jeff Phaneuf, together. We talked about what it takes to put on a conference like HMUN. One challenge they discussed was moving the conference dates from early December to late January, on the same weekend as the Ivy League MUN Conference and McGill MUN Conference. The switch was due to Harvard changing its academic calendar so that final exams took place before Winter Break instead of after it, which would have conflicted with conference preparation efforts. As a result of moving the dates, final preparations for HMUN had to be done during Winter Break and over the phone.

We also touched about the meaning of MUN and how they would take the skills they’ve learned as delegates and conference organizers into the real world after graduating from Harvard. “Someday a history will be written on MUN, recognizing the values this activity has instilled in young leaders,” Jeff said. “My experience as a delegate has taught me more than any class.”

After finishing up our interview, Dan showed me to their crisis room. The crisis staff was using a green screen to shoot their videos, and they debated the prospect of Quebec’s secession with a committee over Skype.

Finally, I checked out the World Bank, which was discussing how to help developing countries in the wake of the financial crisis. I immediately took an interest, given my own background working in finance, and I introduced myself to the chairs, who invited me to give a guest speech. I assumed a role as JPMorgan’s Global Head of Research and spoke on the history of the financial crisis–subprime mortgages, asset-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, ratings agencies, Bear Stearns, Lehman, AIG, TARP, etc. I tried to explain how the risks of the housing market had been spread throughout the financial system, and the crisis was a result of misunderstanding and mismanaging this risk.

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