Niche Conferences, Part 1: Their Benefits to Delegates

by KFC on December 4, 2008

Model United Nations conferences traditionally feature a balanced lineup of General Assembly, ECOSOC, Specialized, and Crisis committees. One would notice that at the college level though that there are many well-attended conferences that have committee lineups that look nothing at all like the traditional conference lineup. Instead, these conferences focus on creative committees, specialized committees, and crisis simulation, with the committees generally being small in size. Examples of such lineups can be found at conferences hosted by:

Yale: SCSY
Georgetown: NCSC
University of Chicago: ChoMUN
University of Virginia: VICS
Princeton: PicSIM
Columbia: CMMUNY

These conferences can be referred to as niche conferences. But why are niche conferences more prevalent in the college circuit than they are in the high school circuit? This post will explore three reasons from a delegate’s perspective, and a future second post will offer explanations as to why the niche committee lineup is a smart choice for certain conference organizers.

From a delegate’s perspective, these are college students majoring in international relations, political science, or other relevant majors, or at least have a strong interest in international affairs. Furthermore, most have developed their leadership, negotiation, public speaking, and debate skills at the high school level either from Model UN, speech and debate, Mock Trial, JSA, leadership, or other related activities. College delegates therefore desire a more quick and intense debate where they can challenge each other’s knowledge and viewpoints as well as sharpen their delegate skills, and smaller or crisis-oriented committees can provide that. Veteran delegates who seek a refreshing Model UN experience will also find this in creative and crisis-oriented committees.

College delegates also realize the networking potential of Model UN; many of these like-minded individuals will enter similar career fields: law, international relations, government, business, non-profit, etc. Networking (a topic that will be explored in a future blog post) is much easier to do in smaller committees. One of the biggest differences between college and high school Model UN is that college delegates, who may be participating in smaller-sized committees, usually introduce themselves with the country they are representing and with their name, whereas in high school using your personal name is often discouraged. At the very least, college students are also mature enough to establish friendships or even long-distance romantic relationships with delegates from other schools. My personal example of the networking benefits of Model UN is this summer when I backpacked Western Europe with three friends who I met from three different Model UN programs and visited friends in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Singapore who I also met through Model UN. Never would I have imagined visiting Bosnia if it weren’t for Model UN!

Finally, many college Model UN delegates are career-oriented and will find committees that match their career interests very appealing. United Nations diplomats are not the only people who influence foreign policy these days, and diplomacy is not the only career field that requires Model UN skills. A presidential cabinet, a corporate board of directors or a sporting organization can influence world issues too, and corresponding simulations such as Barack Obama’s Cabinet, Google Management Team, and International Olympic Committee provide experience and insight into these diverse players. Experience in such committees can even provide a resume boost; I know one Model UN friend who had to do research on Google’s policies and partially attributes that experience to her being hired by Google.

Niche conferences are beneficial for delegates who have advanced knowledge and skills, are able to take advantage of the smaller size for networking (although you should be networking to some extent regardless of the size of your committee), and can participate in committees that match their career interests. These committees are actually very fun and I would highly encourage experienced delegates, particularly those at the college level, to try them once they have some traditional Model UN experience under the belt.

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