Portfolio vs. Personal Powers in Model UN Crisis Committees

by Rose Jacobs on November 8, 2016

Portfolio vs. Personal Powers


The world of crisis has become vast and ever-reaching. From traditional, present-day United States cabinets to simulations of human’s first attempts to colonize Mars in the year 2100, these fast-paced, specialized committees have become the newest staple of the Model UN circuit.

One of the most unique aspects of crisis committees is the opportunity to represent a person, rather than a country. While countries have their own motivations, whether it be economic growth or positive representation in the international community, people (especially the people represented on crisis committees) have different types of individualized needs. These run the gamut from wanting to gain power of their own to protecting members of their families and communities, and are different for each person you could represent. The possibilities are endless.

When representing various positions and ministers in crisis committees, a large emphasis is placed on portfolio powers. Portfolio powers are when you use your character’s governmental position or job description to move forward the simulation, most often relating to the crisis at hand. An example of this would be a Minister for Defense mobilizing troops or a Minister for Science & Technology commissioning new types of research. However, the positions represented in crisis committees have an entirely different set of motivations outside of their job, and they have an entirely different set of connections that are not related to their ministry or career. Personal powers are the actions your character can take and the influence it can wield outside of your committee’s more traditional, governmental structure. Examples of these would be utilizing your character’s money and power to start a secret, underground organization, or their family connections to gain extra information on the situation at hand not available to the rest of the committee. Both of these types of actions can be used to help your character achieve their goals.

The Importance of Portfolio Powers

Personal powers are important because they offer another way to use character motivation — why your character is acting a certain way, or in this case, is advocating for certain positions in committee — to help achieve your position’s goals. Realistically, if a person in a position of power wants to accomplish something, they are going to look beyond traditional methods within limiting, bureaucratic government structures to gain power and influence. If your character is taking a side on an issue for important personal gains, they are likely to take action outside of what their government sanctions because it is more difficult to pull off otherwise nefarious or illegal activities when working under a supervisory body. In essence, personal powers allow you to expand the set of actions your character can take to help increase their power and achieve their aims.

Also, let’s say your character is in a position of relative unimportance (or one that is generally perceived this way in your traditional crisis committee) such as Minister for Women and Children or Minister for Health. Your character could even be a non-voting or non-ministerial position on the committee, there to offer advice, but without control over a ministry. Personal powers give you means to gain power in committee through alternative, creative routes. Deputy ministers could use their own, outside resources to assassinate their superior. Representatives from community groups could rally protestors to influence their cabinet to take a certain stance on an issue. The goal here is to view your position as an opportunity, rather than a limitation.

Tips for Using Personal Powers

First things first, how do you even determine what your personal powers are? The answer is research. Unlike portfolio powers, personal powers are not as obvious upon simply looking at the title of your position. For example, it is reasonable to infer that a Minister for Intelligence has control over various governmental espionage organizations and can use their power to investigate threats through methods of surveillance and spying. However, upon a closer examination, it could be revealed that the character is secretly part of a fringe political organization or has a mother that is the police chief of an important area. These facts are important towards understanding this particular minister’s motivations and outside resources, but are not obvious upon first glance. To find this information, you must take the time to research personal information about your character that could provide additional resources and motive. This can include anything family members and friends they can use for information or to perform favors to participation in leader of certain political parties, organizations, or affiliations, including fringe groups. The main point of action is to get a sense of your character’s life beyond their name and occupation.

The next step comes when you are actually applying all this research into the crisis notes you send during committee. Use your personal powers to give your character personality. When you send crisis notes to the staff, address them to a certain person your character has had past connections with that you know your character can trust. Freely reference important things you’ve researched about your character’s past associations that you are using in your crisis notes to show to depth of the knowledge you’ve acquired. Use these resources you’ve uncovered during your research to help you in gaining an upper hand in the grand scheme of committee. Use your connections for favors and for information to accomplish tasks beyond the scope of your ministry’s powers. Above all, be creative! Think outside the thinly-drawn box of mobilizing troops and sending spies places.

Finally, each and every action you take should be in support of your character’s motive, and the purpose of the action should be to achieve your character’s goals. What does your character want from participating in this committee? More money? More power? Access to a super-cool new weapon? To bring about the destruction of a certain person and/or society? These motives all need to be considered when you develop your crisis arcs; they should all be developed with a specific end goal in mind. Your actions will be much less effective if they are taken without a purpose — if you are laundering money, it should be to spend on something that will seriously impact your character’s stance in committee.

Plans can last beyond a single note; think of arcs you can develop that require multiple notes to come to fruition. Your actions should be paced like a novel — the action starts at a low-level, then rises and rises until it hits a climax. Just because you have uncovered all these awesome resources does not mean you have to use each and every one in the first committee session. Be sensible. Pick and choose your actions carefully for maximum impact, and before you send each crisis note in, ask yourself: “is this something my chair is likely to approve?” Most chairs will not approve your character sending an atomic bomb to Washington D.C. on the first day of committee, especially if that action is completely unrelated to your topic. Think about how your notes relate to the overall arc of committee and their purpose in both the short and the long term, and for the most part, keep everything relevant to the discussion your chair has pinpointed in the background guide.


Personal powers are opportunities for you, as a delegate, to show off your:

  1. Depth of research;
  2. Creativity.

They can consist of a wide variety of unilateral actions that involve resources found outside your ministry and utilize their more personal connections.

The use of personal powers should be structured around your character’s motivations to achieve your character’s goal.

And finally, remember to be creative and to have fun with all your crisis arcs!

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