At the Global Forum on Youth Policies in Azerbaijan this past October, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon presented a statement that has been sung time and time again -- "Young people are the leaders of tomorrow." Mr. Secretary-General, I'd like to think otherwise and say that youths are the leaders of today because they are capable of and currently taking action to address contemporary global issues.
According to Craig Kielburger, co-founder of Free the Children, Generation Z (the under-18s of today) is "growing up in the shadow of 9/11, growing up with global issues like climate change and poverty dominating the news, at a level where they understand how interconnected we are in this world." 16-year old Shawn Mendes from Pickering compliments Kielburger's observation and notes, "Gen Z is learning more about the world, more quickly than past generations, because it's become so easy to access information." Young people are more informed than ever on world issues and this engagement is further reinforced with educational simulations like Model United Nations (MUN). But, maybe youths are not considered leaders of today because these types of simulations provide too much talk and no action.
MUN conferences span over a few days whereby students from secondary and collegiate levels debate on global issues within committees that simulate various U.N. bodies like the General Assembly or the Security Council.
Participating in MUN can improve your public speaking skills, sharpen your critical thinking and develop your research abilities. However, MUN lacks the means to provide delegates with opportunities to directly engage with social/global issues through action rather than speech. While it is first and foremost centred on public speaking and debate, MUN has the potential to be more than just a platform for dialogue.
Take the University of British Columbia's Global Crisis Simulation (GCS) for example. This innovative, tri-sector leadership themed simulation to be hosted in India combines MUN-style debating with a social entrepreneurship challenge that will enable participants to tackle social issues. Throughout the conference, social venture proposals will be collected from participants and the authors of the winning proposal will receive a $7,000 grant to implement their project.
Capitalizing on large numbers of attendees with some conferences attracting up to 1,400 participants, MUN is a hotspot to advertise social initiatives like the GCS' social entrepreneurship challenge and to empower young people. Bridging dialogue and action, attendees have the opportunity of applying the knowledge that they have gained through research and debate to devise a practical solution to a social/global problem.
Above all, simulation can be reconciled with reality when talk is reconciled with action. The idea that MUN only concerns dialogue can be reframed by complementing dialogue with initiatives that enable young people to contribute to their local and international communities. It is easy to sink into passivity once dialogue has passed and projects like the social entrepreneurship challenge ensure that youths remain engaged with social/global problems through empowerment.
"When young people are adequately empowered and engaged, everyone benefits -- from Governments to the private sector to civil society," stated Ban Ki Moon at Azerbaijan. "For their part, young people must get involved early and often by participating in civic and public life."
MUN has the capacity to support youth-led action by harmonizing dialogue and action for youths to create impact within the civic and public sphere. But, ultimately, youths have to realize they are the leaders of today, not just tomorrow. And being a leader of today means taking action now.