This article was originally written by Utsav Rai, the Secretary-General for the 2013 iteration of the Cornell International Affairs Conference.
Ever since I was introduced to Model UN in high school, I have noticed that we, as delegates and students, often forget that Model UN is a lot more than heated debates, clever politicking, and targeted networking. Some of the truly memorable experiences associated with a Model United Nations conference lie outside of the committee – and no, I’m not talking about the social events that everyone loves. Chairing or crisis directing a committee at a Model UN conference can add value to the skill-set that you acquire through your high school and college careers. Through this article, I’ll show you how Model UN can effectively serve as a creative outlet that enables you to think out of the box, steer your committee at any point in time, and accommodate everyone’s needs while doing so.
I joined the Model UN team at Cornell my freshman year and was drawn into the world of international relations and politics. My first real attempt at being behind the scenes of an Model UN conference came at the Cornell International Affairs Conference (CIAC) that year. I was incredibly lucky to be chosen as the crisis director for the 1492 College of the Cardinals committee. Having minimal crisis experience in high school, I was definitely nervous. Yet the experience taught me a lot and I have been involved with CIAC ever since, as an Under Secretary-General and now as the Secretary-General. As I recount what I learned from this experience, it will be evident that MUN really prepares you to use your creativity.
1. Thinking outside the box
I think the most essential attribute of a good crisis director is being able to push yourself to the limits of your ability to be creative. No committee idea is tailor-made for crisis and it is the job of the crisis director to turn a mundane committee idea into an exciting crisis committee. I have seen some miraculous conversions of ideas one would never associate with crisis committees, such as the Iroquois Confederacy and the FIFA World Cup host selection committees. The first step in doing so is research as it is impossible to stretch the limits of the committee idea without knowing it thoroughly. Once you have completed your research try to organize all the data into different topic streams. For example, when I was crisis directing the College of Cardinals, I identified the following themes: military strategy and battle plans, economic considerations, religion and papacy, personalities and other personal considerations. Identifying these themes helps you push the committee idea into parallel crisis tracks that can be played into the committee simultaneously to provide delegates with complete and complex crises.
2. Ensuring delegate involvement in shaping crises
I think this is one of the most underrated yet important traits that a crisis director needs to incorporate into his/her planning. The ultimate goal of a committee is to provide delegates with a memorable experience and something to take away with them, and the best way to do this is to ensure that they get the feeling that their actions are changing the direction of the committee; this keeps them interested and involved throughout the four days of the conference while also easing the pressure off the dais. It is important to have a very general plan and layout for the committee over the four days. After you have created the general layout, fill in the first few blanks by creating a few crises that you can open up with during the Thursday session. Some crisis directors do prefer to plan out a little more than just the first few crises, but as long as there is scope for delegates to change the course of events, any method works.
3. Employing various forms of introducing crises
What excites delegates most in terms of crises is variety and it’s important to incorporate different forms of crisis. You could use new articles, videos and news shows, live enacting of crises or even sending someone into the committee to address the delegates to name a few. For example, when I was crisis directing an Arab League committee, many of the crises were introduced through press releases or newspaper articles, but I did introduce a video footage of a hostage reading out her demands for release, a live attack on the delegates with one of them being kidnapped, and sent in many representatives to answer questions that delegates had and stir up the crisis. This variety ensures that your delegates are never bored and leave the conference with memorable crisis experiences.
4. Immersing delegates into the committee theme
Lastly, I think the best part about being a delegate in a crisis committee is leaving behind the real world and stepping into the virtual world of your committee and as the Crisis Director, it is your job to create this experience for the delegates. Setting the theme and the backdrop is also important to ensure delegates take the committee seriously and actually enjoy it. Dyeing paper brown and using it to make scrolls for historic committees, or procuring costumes to effectively stage crises, or even using a voice scrambler to send encrypted messages can make your crises more realistic and entertaining.
Directing a crisis committee really shows you the creative side of Model UN. There is so much to learn from planning such a committee, and the skills that you take away from such an experience are often overlooked. Creativity, spontaneity and the ability to accommodate everyone are essential skills that can be employed in your personal and professional life. My experience with creative crisis committees has been eye-opening and inspirational and I ensure that in all my involvements in planning Model UN conferences, I encourage my fellow staffers to be creative and deliver successful committees.