There is a lot of social media drama happening around the topic of SLMUN 2016. IntCa has run articles in the past reviewing MUN conferences in Sri Lanka. Some were anonymously written and others were penned by the IntCa team themselves. Thus, many MUNers have asked for an article on latest conference from the IntCa. In fact Natalia and I were present at the Conference in order to deliver a well-rounded review.
However, the immense drama and argumentation on online between MUNers over the conference, dissuaded us, and me in particular, from writing anything about the conference. After all the purpose of these reviews is to create a form of accountability so that those involved and future organizing committees have a record of lessons learnt. But the ongoing social media discourse suggests that those involved are not intent on a lessons learnt approach. Instead, this article will focus on the positives of SLMUN 2016 and what reforms should be considered for the next edition of SLMUN and other future conferences.
Positives – unseen by detractors, overemphasized by defenders
The positives you saw at SLMUN 2016 might have been more or less, but these are what I noticed. If you have anything to add to these, please do comment below.
Re-emergence of Lyceum Nugegoda (LISN) as a MUN powerhouse
Some might call it odd for this to be my first positive of the conference. But I have always seen competition at high school MUNs as a positive to improve the caliber of the MUNers. As more schools visibly compete for the top awards, the delegates are pushed to work harder and perfect themselves to ensure their school ends up on top. It’s a pressure that comes from individuals now having more delegates to compete for the Best Delegate award and from schools aiding and supporting their delegates more to ensure they can go beyond their maximum potential.
LISN really surprised me when they wore Top Hats on the first day to represent their main delegation – UK – and then wore a Black and Red theme for the final day. It showcased that they were functioning as a real team with a strong bond. This might have seemed obnoxious to some, but for young delegates in a team it creates a sense of identity and a new found confidence that flows from this identity. It might have explained how their delegation managed such a strong performance in all committees; there is nothing like young people motivated to prove the worth behind their identity, whether it be an army or a MUN delegation.
I hear that the team had trained themselves, largely, and that is cause for real hope. Many schools find it hard to compete across multiple committees due to the lack of sufficiently experienced or trained delegates. Gateway Colombo, CIS and Gateway Dehiwala can attribute their successes to seniors who have been there to train and help the delegates even when they are abroad. Most other schools don’t enjoy the same luxury and thus, the revival of LISN proves that a committed team of young MUNers can effectively challenge the well trained ‘powerhouses’.
New Generation of award winners
I was at SLMUN 2016 also as the Coach of Gateway Negombo and my efforts saw results when one of my young but most promising delegates won the Best Delegate award at the African Union. He had turned 15 years on that very day. He was not alone in a new generation of Best Delegates and other award winners. A new set of 14 to 16 year olds were performing equally or sometimes even better than older delegates nearing their retirement from high school MUN. It proves that despite the complaints about the reducing quality of MUN by some of us old timers, young MUNers were taking the helm to return the Sri Lankan MUN arena to greater heights of debate.
Revamped International Press Corps (IPC)
The IPC was an interesting facet of SLMUN when it was introduced back in the day. But over time is became quite a boring feature. They made superb magazines and bulletins for conference, but without any real change to their role, people were forgetting they existed. That changed this year with the revamping of the IPC to include a News & Media team. Each committee had two to three members of the IPC who represented different media organisations. It gave a chance for students who have a greater interest in journalism than diplomacy a chance to engage more actively in the committee proceedings.
However, I did feel that they could have been utilized to engage more actively in committee and even on social media. Possibly having them as media teams who compete to get the best stories out there, through multiple channels of their choosing, would have created more coverage for the conference. The best media team could have then been awarded under specific criteria, including public outreach of their coverage.
Well Managed Admins
Administrative staff are the backbone of a properly functioning committee. Unfortunately, the last couple of years has seen their work being underappreciated and thus, their productivity has dropped. The Head of Administration this year seemed to have done a good job in getting things in order, giving admins a morale booster and improving productivity. Having been an admin at my first COMUN conference in 2008, I thought I saw the same vigor that my friends and I had, back then, in the admins of SLMUN 2016. Though I do admit to seeing those admins who, as usual, were simply hanging about.
Possible Changes for SLMUN 2017
This too is not an exhaustible list; I invite anyone to suggest changes that can be added to this list.
A Secretariat appointed in advance – this was the practice in the past for SLMUN and I know the reasons for the arrangement this year. But this year proved that despite the issues posed by a secretariat appointed in advance, the issues of this year’s arrangement outweighs them. I would see it fit for at least the Secretary General to be appointed in advance to ensure the effective management of conference affairs for the 9-month period of organizational efforts.
Corporate Relations team – SLMUN 2015 had two Directors of Corporate Relations and a Director of Finance, who really reduced the burden of sponsorships and handling sponsors from the Secretariat and the Chairpersons. It allowed for the other sectors of the conference, especially the Conference Protocol, to be better emphasized upon. It also prevented accusations of sponsorship based bias in chairperson appointments. This year the USG of Finance, Corporate Relations and Logistic was burdened with it alone and had to press the chairs into concentrating on sponsorship hunting. Returning to such the SLMUN 2015 system might be helpful for the next conference.
More comprehensive chair training – While the chairing overall was good, with some headtables being especially impressive, there were a number of inconsistencies in chairing practices between different headtables, highlighting that they had not been well regimented on procedures. A large percentage of chairpersons were doing so for the first time and a comprehensive training is imperative. Having a specialized USG of Conference Protocol is vital for this.
Choice of committee topics – The topics were quite interesting in most committees and some had never been discussed at a MUN in Sri Lanka, if my memory is functioning well. However, the wording on some topics was a bit misleading and even too complex at times. Leaving the topics sufficiently broad for two or three days of conference is also vital to ensure there is sufficient, but not too technical, aspects to discuss. Again, this is the duty of a well-oiled Conference Protocol team.
Number of awards per committee – I thought the number of awards available to delegates was too small, especially in the larger committees; GAs, HGA and WHO. It meant that while the most experienced delegates nabbed the awards, the newer delegates were left with nothing to commend their efforts. Increasing the number of awards is not an issue and delegates wouldn’t complain if those other than BD and Higher Commendation did not merit a medal – to keep costs low, if that is a concern.
Size of larger committees – This might seem hypocritical coming from a former USG who ran a 300 delegate UNESCO committee, but I do think that the size of the larger committees need to be reduced if SLMUN is going to offer as many delegates a chance to engage in debate, learn and gain confidence in life. A chairperson cannot be expected to be able to give equal chances for 120 delegates in a GA to debate and stand a chance to win an award. I would propose to bring the number down to 80.
For the moment that is all I can think of. I sincerely do hope that the next year’s team will be able to incorporate some of these recommendations, learn further from the mistakes not only of SLMUN 2016 but from those in the past as well.
After all, when we are doing SLMUN, it is the biggest event most of us have ever taken the responsibility of organizing. It is the National Model United Nations Conference for high school students. We are all bound to make mistakes when organizing such an event. It is natural. The Secretariat I was part of made its mistakes. I made mistakes in doing my part as USG of Conference Protocol. Thus, I will not emotionally defend an imagined purity of SLMUN 2015, which I do not hold. What is unnatural is to assume a conference was perfect or to refuse to learn from one’s mistakes.
SLMUN is not life. It is no guarantee of a preferred university placement, a good job or a good thesis. It is a milestone in life for some of us; a minority of the youth population. Instead of fighting each other after conference, we should be fighting to get more young people into the fold of the national MUN movement by SLMUN 2017