It is that time of the year when students of Manipal can engage in serious debate and pass resolutions. Manipal’s very own Model UN, Summit Manipal, commences today. MTTN had a chance to speak to Hriday Chhabria, the Secretary-General of the Leaders of Tomorrow, the mind behind this event. Covering most of the spectrum from what exactly is an MUN and the committees involved to how crisis situations are made, read on to get an insight into what to expect and what is expected from you, along with some advice from the seasoned expert.
MTTN: What exactly is an MUN? Can you tell us about the committees included in this year’s Summit Manipal?
MUN stands for Model United Nations, and as it is, we simulate the United Nations. In a UN, you’ll have delegates from all around the world representing their countries at specific conferences. The UN itself has many bodies – the General Assembly, or the Security Council (UNSC), for example. America would send their delegate, France would send their delegate and Russia would send their delegate to the UNSC. Similarly, we try to reproduce that, but instead of having actual delegates, students can apply to these committees which have certain agendas to be discussed.
We have four-plus-one committees, which are the UNSC, the Human Rights Council (HRC), the European Union (EU), the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and the Bilderberg Conference.
The European Union is not a body under the United Nations. It is an organisation of its own. It is an economic council which discusses a lot of important agendas. We kept it because we felt that it makes more sense to keep an EU, rather than something like ECOSOC, which is a part of the UN. It would be more interesting to have a European body because European countries have an equal stance and their economy and their policies are very closely tied up.
The UNEP is not open to Manipal students. It’s only open to school students to apply for because we wanted to increase and improve the MUN culture throughout Mangalore as well. We tried to reach out to a few schools in Mangalore and some schools in Manipal for eighth and ninth graders to participate, so that we can teach them about MUNs from a young age, and perhaps develop these inherent qualities so that they can be more innovative when they grow up.
MTTN: The Bilderberg Conference is a unique committee and is not seen very often. Could you tell us a bit about it?
The Bilderberg Conference is not a body of the United Nations. It’s actually a private entity. Do you know how you have prominent families in the world? We never address their identity as Mukesh Ambani. We just call them the Ambanis, right? These are just wealthy families. A lot of times, wealth tags along with power. How it works is that there is a really big family called the Bilderbergs. In 1954, they had an idea to use their wealth and power to gather and send invites to some of the most powerful people on Earth. These were invite-only conferences where there were presidents, heads of intelligence organizations and some of the most influential people you could find. They were invited to come to this conference and discuss god-knows-what. All other committees of the world are required to have press members, but the Bilderberg is considerably private – to the point where you need to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the Bilderberg family claiming that you will not disclose any of the details brought up during the meeting because that can result in you getting sued for it.
They don’t want to effectively tell anyone about what’s going on inside the committee. For example, let’s say you have Trump coming in. He can have his family travel along, but because the invite is only for him, they are kept in a separate hotel altogether from where the actual meeting is taking place and from where the actual attendees are. We just felt that having a simulation of something as powerful as this is something we could definitely play around with.
One of the reasons why we chose it is because it is unique. We felt that it would add a little punch. We usually try introducing one innovative committee every year. We tried Bilderberg last year as well. The reason we kept it again this year is that it worked really well last year. Last year, our agenda was ‘Colonisation of Mars’. We got excellent feedback from everyone who attended the committee. They absolutely loved it. We understood that it worked really well with the technology background because engineering students enjoy discussing topics like these. For example, we had delegates like Elon Musk, Neil Degrasse Tyson, and even Stephen Hawking. All of them were discussing agendas and this specific goal. That struck a chord with these engineering students from such diverse backgrounds.
One more thing that is really cool about it is that we have, what I like to call, a trifecta in the Bilderberg.
The thing about having power is that it’s not just wealth, or just knowledge or just contacts in politics. It has to be a combination of all three, and that is what we tried to achieve. If you were to look at the matrix for the conference, we split the invitees into three – the business sector, the political sector, and the technology sector. So from the technology sector, we’ll have delegates like Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai. The business sector will have big firms like JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and from politics, we have Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. It gives us a good variety because there is something in it for everyone. All three sectors have equally important roles in this committee because they coexist; because their power coexists.
Regarding what people can learn from this committee, it’s the research initiative. Our agenda is specifically within recent news such as data leaks and Harvard influencing so many people around the world. When you sign up for Facebook, your data is basically going to all these other companies, and they’re selling it out to ad companies. We want students to be more self-aware of that — this is a really good research topic to understand and learn something really riveting.
MTTN: What are you looking for in a delegate?
A lot of MUNs specifically look for very experienced delegates, but in Summit Manipal, we have a slightly different approach to this. I have always felt that an MUN is something which not only embraces a certain culture, but it can also create it. This heads back to me because when I started going to MUNs four years back, I was an introvert and would never consider myself to be politically inclined. I didn’t even read the news much. I started doing MUNs primarily because a friend suggested it. I was blown away by the people I was meeting. Eventually, I began to enjoy it and kept going for more events. I started learning more about politics and realised how important this is. This actually matters. That is the kind of delegate we’re looking for. It doesn’t matter if they’re experienced or not. They should be passionate and inclined toward participating with an open mind. They should want to know more. Manipal has a lot of events at any given time. If they’re choosing one thing which is going on for two and a half days, it better be worth it. We just want people that are passionate to learn something new and spend their time constructively.
MTTN: How would you suggest one should prepare for Summit Manipal? What advice would you give to delegates?
The best advice to give to delegates to prepare is to use a study guide. We make great study guides for delegates, especially for first-timers. We roll them out for each committee. These study guides, or assisted research, are documents that we, the Leaders of Tomorrow, compile. They are the crux of the committee and basic, important definitions to note. It is something similar to your notes from school. You go through your study guide and every time you find something interesting or you feel there isn’t much information about, you take that article, and you Google it. We’ll give you a lot of links, and you can read through all those links and do your research.
The GSL or the General Speakers List is the first thing which comes up in MUN procedure, and it is the first thing which happens on the first day on the MUN. I always advise the delegates to speak up in the GSL, especially first-timers. At the end of the day, it is competitive, and there are judges. In the starting, the judges don’t use their marking scheme for the first one or two sessions. They know a lot of delegates are first-timers, and they want to see people get used to it before they start the marking. The GSL is all reward and no risk. You can mess up miserably and not suffer through it all, and at the same time you can deliver an excellent speech and gain confidence. To put it in engineering terms, the GSL is the static friction and is more to overcome the dynamic friction. When you have to push this big block ahead of you, and you just get that speech in the GSL out of the way, you have a certain amount of confidence, and the rest of the committee will feel much smoother to go ahead with. You can write a speech from the start and come to the committee. The best part of the GSL is that there is no specific format. All the speech has to do is address the agenda. You can talk about the weather outside and relate it to the agenda, and it would be perfectly fine for a GSL.
MTTN: What can delegates take back from this experience?
The research the participants do is definitely something they take back with them. I use it in my daily conversations with people, and it helps us understand things. Other than that, two of the really important things that you take back from an MUN, and this is something which differentiates it from a debate, are – diplomacy and negotiation. These qualities are the cornerstone for any social human being. In general, diplomacy and negotiation are things you use every single day. You negotiate with others, you ask them for help and get something when you give something away. Diplomacy helps you to work with others, and at the same time, it is a way to be able to unite. You understand that some goals cannot be met alone, so you need a team. This is where diplomacy helps you because you’re using a certain trait of yours to just attract other people, to be able to just approach them, talk to them and get them on your side, to an extent, or at least hear them out.
In Manipal, specifically, we target mostly students that are first timers and are within Manipal itself. We don’t get huge numbers as some of the big MUNs, but this year, the number of people who have registered has surpassed the number of people who attended last year, which is a really big achievement. On top of that, because we are pushing for a school committee, we are not only trying to get more participants but are also very excited to share it with the students.
MTTN: How do you come up with crisis situations?
These can be pretty vague. They are almost always unscripted. We see what is going on in the committee, and we base something off that. In committees like the UNSC and the Bilderberg, delegates not only get to speak up but also make decisions through directives. We ask delegates to send them to the Executive Board for consideration. We take the ones which are well-planned, more realistic and the ones we can mend around and make the committee more interesting by creating a crisis update on it. Whatever actions the delegates do need not necessarily have the consequences that they want. The EB decides the result. I always try to put it as if we’re karma or the universe. This goes on till we reach a point where we feel the committee has reached a certain level where they’ve found a solution to the problem, and then we start giving them more positive updates.
Last year, for a crisis in the Bilderberg we put up a projector and created our own Twitter feed. We rushed in our crisis updates through tweets. We made newspapers for them but usually in MUNs, updates are randomly announced, and I find that excruciatingly boring. I learned this from Harvard National MUN when I was in Boston for their conference. Harvard MUN has a beautiful way of conducting their crisis committees. They go all out. They have more than twenty people working on their crisis. I was inspired by them. We set up this whole Twitter account, and we kept rolling out updates. This made it really cool because the delegates were getting live updates. I, as an EB member, need not get up. All I had to do was use my phone under the table and tell my crisis team to send a message from a fake SM ID, like sm_WashingtonPost, sm_NewYorkTimes, and other news agencies. Everyone absolutely loved it because it was fun, exciting and something new.
-Aarohi Sarma for MTTN.