The Model United Nations as a specific format of debate has been in existence since the 1950s. This simulation of the actual UN has emerged in the last 10 years to become one of the major debating platforms in Pakistan. Where there were very few such opportunities previously, the calendar year is now full with these conferences being held in every metropolitan city. It is true that this had led to the commercialization of the MUN debating format. There are too many conferences, in the same cities, attended, managed, and judged by more or less the same people, so much that the MUN has lost its former glory. It is also true that most conferences cannot boast about the quality of debate, and have to make do with the quality of social events, which have become an important feature of MUNs. However, one cannot deny the usefulness of the MUNs on these basis. I make my case below.
MUN conferences attract people from the age bracket of 16 to 24 years, with majority of participants coming from high schools and colleges. Several universities are also involved in organizing and participating in these local debates. These are students coming in from privileged backgrounds, who hold interest in current affairs and global issues, and are interested in debating about them. They follow international debates about the matters of interest, and aspire to look out to resolve worldwide conflicts. Many of them develop this interest to the extent where they even pursue this as a course of study. While it may seem superficial to present ourselves in a crisp, black suit with gleaming shoes and a matching wristwatch at 9 am on a Saturday morning to eagerly debate UN’s intervention in South Sudan, it is not the topic of discussion that matters. It is the environment, and the substantial personality and skill development that follows.
“When a person is thrust in a room full of eager, enthusiastic, well-researched people, it becomes an opportunity to exert one’s best persuasive speaking skills to steer the conversation in their favor.-Izna Naseem
When a person is thrust in a room full of eager, enthusiastic, well-researched people, and is forced to convince others about his/her opinion about the said discussion, it becomes an opportunity to exert one’s best persuasive speaking skills to steer the conversation in their favor. The fact that each participant represents a country, and in recent innovations of the committee formats, a famous personality, gives them the opportunity to learn how to maintain, and ground their stance firmly. It provides a useful lesson in negotiation, where you may or may not have leverage.
Most importantly, one learns to listen to what the other party has to say – instead of becoming a nuisance and ignoring other stakeholders in the discussion. Participants develop Public Speaking skills. They learn the importance of a well researched argument, of how one can control the flow of debate if they have the required information. The Model UN environment becomes not a simulation of the UN but a simulation of the corporate world – where people are given the choice to either call the shots on a decision, or become the silent observer, the unimportant person. The MUN thus becomes a great opportunity for those who want to develop these imperative skills which are useful in all walks of life.
As for the debate surrounding the uselessness or inability of the United Nations to take action, it is something that we might not control today, but may be able to control tomorrow. If there is anything the MUNs are doing, it is creating awareness. Awareness and education at this level can lead to new unexplored paths for those who are committed to bring about change. Dare I say that, a MUN-er today could be a diplomat walking the halls of the United Nations tomorrow. There, I said it. The fact of the matter remains that the Model UN format in its essence is full of opportunity and use forthose who understand and value it. Unfortunately, the sudden supply of Model UN conferences hasdiluted its essence, which is why its value has been called into question.
But what about the international MUN conferences? These take exposure and skill development to the next level, where one interacts with people from other countries and cultures. Students from a few universities in Pakistan participate in international MUNs, and come back with Outstanding Diplomacy and Best Delegate awards. They are able to portray a positive, believable, and constructive image of Pakistan at the international level and take their locally hosted conferences international as a result of it. Hence, it must be said that the Model UN conference is a useful debate and discussion format, not for its topics of discussion, but for the skills it imparts in its participants over the few days they are to be in character.
I rest my case.
(Disclaimer: This article is reflective of the author’s personal opinions. They do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of SUBLOG.)
MUNIK VI Photograph courtesy: Black Ink Studio