So you want to change the world?
Everyone dreams of change in some form or another. Whether it’s political stability, economic disparities, social welfare, or even the more micro issue of loadshedding, most people have ideas on how the world would be a better place. Some are more idealistic about it and strive to make a difference. Others are more pragmatic. Some just cocoon in their own shells.
I first started Model United Nations back in 2007. It was packaged as excellent training for “the leaders of today”, a phrase that is almost clichéd now. After all, a program focused on conflict resolution, lobbying and negotiation, debate, writing and other life skills could only be useful. Simulating bodies of the United Nations and beyond, MUN aims to educate on global policies, among other things. However, by the end of most sessions, delegates soon realize that most resolutions in the real world may only suggest policies. Actually solving crises is a lot messier. So does that make Model UN obsolete? No. The tools you learn through this activity are more practical. Realistically only a tiny portion of students will go on to become real diplomats in the future. However, it is important that they apply the skills they learn in the most efficient of ways.
In my five years of Model UN and other youth organizations, I have noticed that the phrase “youth leaders” is much too liberally used. You don’t automatically become a leader if you win the best delegate award or if you volunteer one summer. In fact, though MUN, debate and similar activities are essential tools in real life, it depends on how you use your skills and opportunities. If you go beyond selfish interests and apply your skills and knowledge, you take baby steps to leadership. Model UN in Pakistan continues to expand internationally. Delegations travel to Boston, Istanbul, Munich and beyond, and host students from other countries as well. But while the international exposure is essential to broadening students’ minds and looking at the world as global citizens, in its expansion, Model UN continues to feed elitism in Pakistan. There are widening disparities between rural and urban students, and from different social backgrounds etc. Often while elite students get to interact with other elite students from all over the world, they are completely unaware of the sensibilities of their own compatriots. So some students grow up in Pakistan completely oblivious to any life beyond the privilege they have known.
In fact when some of these students enter the public policy realm, they adopt solutions that are almost colonial in nature. It is the responsibility of those running Model UN conferences to ensure that they publicize the concept beyond major cities and elite schools. In fact, committees run in local languages will model realistic conflict resolution.
The current structure of Model United Nations feeds a false sense of entitlement. Students who can afford it participate, and though some programs offer financial aid, it still only trickles down to students who are privileged. This is creating a culture where wealthy students believe they are the natural inheritors of the world, and the only altruistic solutions they think of are charity-based. For example, the LUMUN Social Responsibility Programs is a practical application of MUN skills. It is an amazing initiative, but one that needs to be modeled by other MUNS, but not without restructuring the Model UN program to be inclusive of underprivileged students. Monetary help and volunteer programs, while good bandages to social inequity, do not rid society of a top-down culture. They are temporary solutions when a change of mindset is integral for change. Grassroots solutions that are inclusive of society as a whole always work best. Students need to work together, compromise and come to solutions with others who have very different ideas on life.
Unless Model United Nations expands on a local level, all students will be deprived of real learning experiences. Students from all over Pakistan, and not just the major cities, need to participate in Model United Nations for there to be greater difference of opinions, perspectives and more creative solutions. Students need to learn from each other’s diverse backgrounds; there will only be a limited realm of thought in the circuit, and national policies will continue to exacerbate regionalism otherwise. One of the reasons why subsequent governments fail to create feasible policies is because they view the world only through their own lens, without understanding the actual needs of their people.
As China’s Model UN program continues to expand, they are holding training sessions in rural cities deeper in China to not only improve language acquisition, but giving a mélange of students the opportunity to cooperate on local, national and international problems. I hope Pakistani Model United Nations too expands deeper into Pakistan beyond just cities, and starts challenging mindsets. I believe it will be an effective starting point.