Restructuring Model United Nations in Pakistan

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.

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22 thoughts on “Restructuring Model United Nations in Pakistan

  1. Muns, indeed much of what you say is should be noted but it take time for at the moment Muns are just fronts, youth leaders, skill, etc are marketing gimmicks in truth Muns have become revenue generating excuses and publicity for the schools involved.

    Muner since ’06 when we did not need big budgets to bring about a change, sad that its taking a turn for the worse.

    1. True, it’s an almost evolutionary process, will take time :).. MUN is fairly new in Pakistan, but is rapidly expanding and I hope we can steer it in a positive direction!

  2. I don’t want to self-promote my program, except to say that I agree with these observations and they are issues that we are trying to address within O-MUN. I also think that if school conferences stopped promoting ‘best’ awards (best delegation, best delegate, best new delegation) and focused on what MUN students and current programs are doing to walk the MUN walk, we might see some changes. Delegates raised on the highly competitive octane of competition level MUN don’t seem to have a lot of time to mentor, coach or do outreach. But then again, maybe they have never been given the chance.

    I’d love to feature this piece on our own O-MUN blog (www.blog.onlinemun.org) and to talk to you further about how to leverage at least one aspect of our program to reach new students and schools, currently outside the fold.

    1. Lisa, I’m so glad to see you also think that these our issues that need to be addressed as MUN expands. I looked through O-MUN and think it’s an excellent idea! Hmm, while I think “best awards” help keep the program competitive, you’re right, it may allow MUN to lose its essence of conflict resolution. Perhaps what conferences can do is to have an awards ceremony for past delegates to feature how they have used their skills to improve society. Perhaps that will be even better motivation for students new to MUN.

      I think mentorship is key! And programs like WEMUN China are building and supporting the idea of MUN as a learning experience more than a competition. I would love to talk to you more about this, and I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you.

      1. Hi Maha,
        Is it possible for you to find me on Facebook? https://www.facebook.com/lisa.j.martin1
        I have a couple of ideas. I started an MUN innovation group on Linked In, but we could just as easily do something like this on FB. I think that for anyone desiring to see MUN become more inclusive and really used as an educational tool, having a place to share ideas and to network is key. I think students, as well as MUN directors, could contribute many ideas.

        What we are trying to do in O-MUN is find one school/student in the country to help coordinate outreach for other individual students and schools in that country. My goal is to keep the tools at O-MUN free, so that with necessary support, schools, teachers and students can connect with other MUN enthusiasts. This bypasses the need for big, expensive (elitist) conferences, levels the playing field, so to speak. As our program grows, this will be my number one focus, and one that our student delegates support 100 percent.

        Please be in touch, and other like minded individuals too. There really is tremendous ability to shift elements of this program, if we work together. I don’t want to detract from what is already in place, because that is valuable for many, but I just think we can promote an entirely new path for Model UN.

      2. Hi,

        Yes, Facebook would be a much better tool to communicate :). I’ll try looking for the group on LinkedIn as well.

        I will do more research on your amazing initiative, and would love to help out.

  3. Love this post. It’s strange how I’ve never thought of MUNs this way. As a fellow MUN-er, reading this post gave me a weird sense of having been there, but never really being there. I know all the things you’re saying (how it’s elitist and often doesn’t mimic real world crisis solving) but I never put them together the way you have. Bravo for bringing this issue to light Maha.

    You might also want to talk about how in Pakistan at least, MUNs have become a bit of a status symbol/thing to do when you’re bored/excuse to travel to another city with friends/etc.

    And “youth leaders” – ugh sick of hearing that phrase and the numerous conferences, programs, lectures that can make you one. As if they’re making cookies by the dozen.

    1. I never had either until I saw MUN in China! I was swept in the MUN cycle, without thinking of improving it, but now I have a couple of ideas on how to change things. Hope it works for the better :)..

      So true of most extracurriculars in the country actually =o.. I remember that’s why Mrs Zaidi did not allow EMS to participate in MUNs.. I hope EMS has started doing so though, and if not, I’m gonna try convincing them :)..

      Right? It’s disappointing, feeding the ego while resisting change

  4. Excellent piece. I really admire the kind of sketch you have drawn of how it is promoting Elitism in Pakistan. Job well done 🙂

  5. Remember all those passionate criticisms I had to make against MUNs in Pakistan and the repeated urge to reduce the costs and bring it to local level because that’s where the leadership actually takes birth. =) I am so glad you’ve finally incorporated the goods and bads in your thinking and this blog post was excellent!

    I am also happy that China has not abandoned its “policy for the masses” and its ironic to see them developing such educated ways of educating the people when the rest of the world is calling them “politically repressive”.

    Well done! Miss you.

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