Ryan Villanueva: On Leadership at #QLC17

THIMUN Qatar was honored to have Mr Ryan Villanueva, co-founder of Best Delegate and recipient of the THIMUN Qatar Lifetime Achievement Award, as keynoter for the final plenary of QLC 2017. Here is both the video and transcript of that speech.

Thank you again to Ryan for his years of service to THIMUN Qatar, and for closing out the conference on such an inspirational note!

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Roxs-hjJJ60[/embedyt]


Mr. Secretary-General, Distinguished Guests, Fellow Presenters, Directors, Delegates, and Friends,

Salaam Alaykum! 

I first want to say congratulations to the Secretary-General, the admin staff and student leaders, and the TQ office for hosting a wonderful conference. Thank you all of your hard work in putting this incredible event together.

Secondly, I want to say thank you again for the lifetime achievement award. I was completely surprised and I didn’t know what to say — and I teach public speaking! When I realized what you were about to do, I also realized I had 30 seconds to make up a thank you speech and I kept thinking of what I teach my students: Hook, Point, Action!

Seriously though, thank you again, and even though my name is on the award, I see it as recognition of the work that my co-founder, KFC, and I both did when we first started visiting the Middle East and developing teacher training, and recognition of our work at Best Delegate to create global citizens through Model UN. Again, thank you.

This is my 6th QLC, meaning I’ve attended every year since the first conference in 2012. I attended because my KFC and I visited The Hague in 2012 to blog about the THIMUN Conference on bestdelegate.com. We were in the approval panel, when a Qatar Academy student named Burhan Mahmoud saw KFC’s lapel pin, and Burhan asked, “Are you guys from Best Delegate? My director wants to meet you.”

Burhan introduced us to Cameron Janzen, the former Executive Director of THIMUN Qatar, who had a vision for Model UN in the Middle East. And he had an idea for a different type of MUN conference, one that would feature presenters from all over the world, and where students would present to their peers and professionals, and where every session, every speech, and every story would be a different answer to the core question of the conference:

What is leadership? What does it mean to be a leader? And most importantly, how do we empower today’s students to become tomorrow’s leaders?

Starting with that first QLC, I have lead sessions and trainings at every conference. But I didn’t realize until today that each session and training has been my answer to the core question of the conference, “What is Leadership?”

For me, leadership started with being a Model UN delegate in high school 17 years ago, and learning to lead in committee, learning that “winning” best delegate didn’t mean overpowering other delegates, it meant empowering other delegates; I learned that the best delegate brings out the best in other delegates.

I went on to become a chair, and a Secretary-General, and win over $20,000 in college scholarships because of MUN. That helped me get into Yale, where I continued to do Model UN and become Secretary-General of Yale’s conference. And in my senior year of college, when I thought I was done with Model UN, I started a website called bestdelegate.com.

That moment was 10 years ago this week. And that one decision has changed the rest of my life. Because I went to work on Wall Street, at Goldman Sachs, during the 2008 global financial crisis. And I did that for two years, and I asked myself, “Is this what I want to do with my life?” And then I quit in order to take this website and turn it into a company.

I know I’ve shared this story at every session and training, and that many of you at this point can give this story for me. But what I haven’t done until now is answer the question, “What is Leadership?”

And I don’t have a precise definition to offer you. I don’t think of leadership as any one thing. And part of the point of this conference is to figure out what leadership means to you. But if there’s one thing that I know about leadership, it’s this:

Leadership comes from experience.

In my experience, leadership comes from creating things that are useful and valuable to other people, whether that’s our website or our trainings.

In my experience, leadership means making mistakes, and even failing, but willing to be open to feedback, to pick myself up and improve and get that much better next time.

In my experience, leadership means making sacrifices. I went from working on Wall Street to not making a living for a few years. I went from living in NYC to moving back home. And KFC and I wanted to visit a lot of MUN conferences to learn about what makes them different and special and that meant staying with a lot of friends to sleep on a lot of couches and a lot of floors in order to save money.

But in my experience, leadership also means not going it alone. I have a co-founder and we complement each other’s leadership styles. We created and empowered teams to run our website, and teach our MUN camps, and manage the company. And we get to work with incredible individuals and educators and partners across the globe.

In my experience, leadership means being part of a community and working together and helping each other to get that much better.

I never imagined in my wildest dreams that this is where my journey would take me — and standing up here, where I get to travel around the world and help other people through something that helped me as a student — Model UN makes my dreams come true

That’s been my experience with leadership. But here at the QLC, every session, every speech, and every story is a different answer to the core question of the conference, What is Leadership?

For many of the students here, leadership is waking up on a weekend to work on global issues.

Leadership is the shy student getting over their fear of public speaking in order to give that first speech. Leadership is the student officer managing a committee and a conference of their peers.Leadership is a young woman wanting to take this experience back to her people and creating a center that stands for her name: peace.

Leadership is a pair of young men fighting daily struggles and security challenges in order to create an NGO that gives their country something it desperately needs: hope. And for many of the educators here, leadership is every day in the classroom, and every weekend where you’re taking time out of your schedules and away from their families in order to take your students to a Model UN conference.

Leadership is a group of dedicated educators creating a foundation that would empower student leaders for 50 years and more. Leadership is a visionary creating partnerships to build an oasis of learning in the Middle East. Leadership is a dreamer who creates a better world where students can connect and empower one and make their own dreams come true.

A Leader is a Dream Maker.

The beauty of the QLC is we the opportunity to share our experiences, and with every session, every speech, every story, present a different answer to the core question of the conference, “What is Leadership?”

But of all the answers we’ve heard this weekend — of all the answers shared over the past six years — there’s only one answers that really matters:


And this is one of those questions where there’s no single right answer — but there is a wrong answer — and the wrong answer is to do nothing.

If you have the privilege of coming to this conference and you go home and do nothing — then you’ve failed.

Because coming to a leadership conference does not make you a leader — what you do after the conference — that does.

If you’ve listened to all of these amazing sessions, and speeches, and stories — and you are full of energy and inspiration — then do something with it.

Try that much harder at your next conference and your next speech.

Make mistakes and fail and pick yourself up and get feedback and improve and get that much better.

Create something — something useful and valuable that will help other people.

Make someone else’s dream come true.

Because you don’t have to go it alone. You are part of a community community of people who want to help each other’s dreams come true.

Of all the sessions and the speeches and the stories, that’s the one common theme: we lead when we help each other succeed.

So let’s help each other succeed

Let’s help each other learn how to lead

Let’s make each other’s dreams come true

Let’s answer the question of the QLC

Let’s answer the call to action of the Qatar Leadership Conference