Disrupted Model United Nations (MUN) seasons, cancelled conferences, and tens of thousands of disappointed delegates and MUN Directors around the world are grappling with the impact of the pandemic on a mainstay of many student’s extra-curricular life. Model UN, practiced by up to half a million individuals each year, is facing a moment of dramatic disruption and transformation, painfully felt by students the world over. The speed of change to MUN Impact and its no-cost programs has also been dramatic—in hindsight, entirely predictable. The larger story is that this moment for globally connected MUN students and our organization is one filled with deep optimism, excitement, and vision. It is this that was unexpected.
Since 2011, Online Model United Nations (OMUN) and its middle school counterpart, jrOMUN, served as the online gateway to the MUN community and held a rather privileged place as the world’s only online MUN program. In mid-March, that landscape opened up in breathtaking fashion, with literally dozens, likely hundreds of clubs and conferences scrambling to salvage the remainder of their seasons by moving online and laying a foundation for an uncertain start to a new school year. If nothing else, the pandemic has highlighted the incredible creativity and tenacity of this global MUN community.
To meet the demand for both online debating and MUN solidarity, MUN Impact—an organization founded to galvanize members of the MUN community to take action on the Sustainable Development Goals post-conference—began to experience a dramatic online metamorphosis. This digital commons for the MUN community began to witness exponential increases in its own online programming (a 16-fold increase in registrations on the OMUN site alone) but even more dramatic was the rapid evolution of a new MUN Impact program, [email protected], a free one month course focusing on SDG Targets, asynchronous peer-to-peer mentoring on Edmodo (and soon, TIGed), as well as live mentoring, guest speakers, and debates on Zoom.
This online program immediately spun out a Spanish-language program led by Yud!Leads in Ecuador, with Arabic and French courses starting this fall. This program growth also resulted in a dramatic explosion in our traditional youth outreach corps—"Diplomats”—tasked with promoting the SDGs through MUN and in their communities. The 12-student Diplomat Corps now exceeds 250 high school students from every continent.
This is an exciting story for the diehard MUNers, both students and their teachers. But the deeper and more illustrative story is how, in a time of unprecedented academic disruption, a community could galvanize, innovate, and grow. It speaks to all the things we know about good teaching and learning: connected, project-based, student-driven, highly collaborative. It also speaks to the very real disconnect—almost desperation—that some students are operating under, with meaningful engagement, including from their struggling schools, curtailed or extinguished. The esprit des corps of early OMUN days has resurfaced with incredible power: focused and purpose driven.
These students organized a Global Summit in July, bringing together 1,800 students from 102 countries running 80+ sessions with 121 unique speakers over three days. With an October Summit now in development, the numbers are sure to be bigger. One exciting development in this evolving MUN landscape is that fully 1/3 of all MUN Impact participants are new to MUN. They are joining programs from the remote Galapagos or Maldives, from border cities in Mexico, and from small towns and villages in Iraq and Vietnam. The MUN community will never look the same, and the inclusiveness and relative ability to democratize access to the program that COVID-19 has forced on us will, in the end, make Model UN better!
MUN Impact has taken the words of Amina J Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations to heart: It is a time to invest in education's power to transform. It is a time for partnership and solidarity, for shaping and innovation. The thousands of students at MUN Impact are committed to this partnership and to shaping a future that is more inclusive, innovative, and connected. Our hope is that your students will find us and become part of this amazing moment in Model United Nations history.
Both individual students and MUN classes can join [email protected] or its Spanish or Arabic programs. Registration for the Global Summit 2.0, October 23-25, is now open for a limited time. See our website for all programming information and how to get involved. We verify hours and participation which might be useful for students needing to document service or activity hours. See our webpage for educators here: https://munimpact.org/for-educators/
Lisa Martin is Founder and Executive Director of MUN Impact and Online Model United Nations.