The Birth of #MUNimpact: the power of gathering the passionate
by Sean Robinson, Teach SDGs
Honour and awe were two emotions I continually felt on my trip to the Middle East as I represented TeachSDGs at the 2017 Qatar Leadership Conference (QLC) in Doha, Qatar. From the moment I hopped on the Qatar Foundation bus taking me to the Qatar National Convention Centre to the final goodbyes from the MUN Thought Leaders’ Summit at the Qatar Foundation Headquarters, I was awed by the amazing individuals surrounding me. That was impressive enough—though I had suspected that Lisa Martin, the Head of THIMUN Qatar and the heart and soul of the QLC, would gather some remarkable world changers to the conference. What I didn’t expect was how these influential individuals from across the globe would come together to create a brand new MUN initiative focused on ensuring that MUN would always move beyond simulation to impact.
Travelling to this MUN-focused conference from Canada, I was well aware that I lacked the deep knowledge of Model United Nations that others at the conference would have. That didn’t bother me. Always in the back of my mind, it was action that I was to share at the conference. The connections-based learning approach that I use in my teaching is all about action. I don’t want my students to imagine what it is like to compete for a spot to deliver experiments into space. I want them to compete for those spots. I don’t want my students to simply learn the mechanics of water purifiers. I want them to meet real innovators, who are building water purifiers for needy communities, and help them. I don’t want my students to just learn about Ohm’s Law. I want them to make solar powered lanterns that they can share with their learning partners in communities dealing with light poverty. And as part of the Global Goals Educator Task force (TeachSDGs), I am all about action: encouraging and inspiring teachers around the world to take action to help achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs). I felt I was at the QLC to speak action into the conference.
This was my mindset as I shook off my jetlag and met the other presenters with whom I would be spending the next few days. I was fortunate to connect with Natabara Rollosson, a creative producer for UN high level events who launched Comics Uniting Nations, and Sergio Fernández de Córva, chairman of PVBLIC Foundation, as I hopped on my very first bus ride to the Convention Centre. The three of us were slated to hold a panel sharing “Behind the Scenes” SDG work and I was eager to discuss our approach. Right away, I was impressed. These two individuals had a deep knowledge of the history of the SDGs and how they are being addressed through artistic means. Off the side of his desk, Natabara creates comics to support children understanding and acting on the SDGs. I immediately thought of how TeachSDGs could partner with him to help share the stories of the SDG superheroes Comics Uniting Nations creates.
Still in that first bus ride, I turned to a fellow squeezed beside me to make conversation. I introduced myself and listened with ever-growing awe as he explained who he was. Rahmatullah Hamdard offered me his card and shared that he was the founder of HELA (Hope for Education and Leadership in Afghanistan), the first ever MUN NGO. Later he would present to the conference alongside his 19-year-old partner Sulaiman Sulaimankhil pictures of the first Model United Nations meeting in Kabul, in a darkened room heated by a kerosene lamp. And then share how far MUN has come in Afghanistan. What an honour to meet those two.
The amazing meetups continued. During the conference I kept meeting two English chaps in the conference hall foyer. We would chat as we waited for the bus back to the hotel. Later I would find out that they travel to Bangladesh and build prosthetic limbs out of old drain pipes for the amputees there. Riding in a taxi with these doctors, Matthew Walton and Zaamin Hussain, to the Museum of Islamic Art, the taxi driver who was from Bangladesh mentioned to that he knew of their work. This is the kind of impact that these two were making.
On that same taxi ride, I got to know Aditya Soma, executive director of Worldview Education. He was actually sitting in the front of the taxi translating what the taxi driver was saying about Matt and Zaamin. As I learned more about Aditya, I was impressed by his work to ignite the students of India to take action on the SDGs. The MUN students with whom he works are to be so much more than delegates, but to be advocates, mentors, and organizers involved in service. He mentioned to me how, though MUN can be an expensive endeavour leaving out some for financial reasons, he is working to make MUN freely accessed in India.
There were so many more people I was honoured to meet. I was able to spend time with Ugbad Kasim who works with the World Food Program in Somolia. She shared at the conference of the difficulties her and her 7 sisters faced to receive an education growing up in Somalia and the sacrifices her mother made to ensure that her and her sisters were able to go to school. I spent time to with Gilberto Duarte, Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer at the UNODC in Vienna, and Reinhardt Smit who works to recycle end-of-life mobile phones from Africa and Asia. Even the young man who was making sure we all got on to the bus, Kudzai Mukaratirwa, was actually Director of THIMUN OMUN leading a team of 28 high school and university students from around the world to run the Online Model United Nations program.
These are just a few of the scores of individuals that gathered in Doha, Qatar to share with the student attendees. Throughout the conference, I sensed that I was in the company of like-minded individuals. I began to realize that I wasn’t there to speak action into MUN, but to add my voice to the growing choir. The voices were there, they were simply needing to align, to sing in harmony. Toward the end of the conference, Lisa brought us together to do just that. The conversation at her SDGs Discussion workshop and the ensuing Thought Leaders Summit revolved around the question: “How do we utilize the power of MUN to make an impact?” Through these discussions, MUNimpact was formed: a collective of world changers devoted to igniting and celebrating MUN impact—both in the individual and the community.
The influence of this new offering has already rippled across the globe: a new website, a social media presence, stories of impact, and students and educators wanting to join in. I am excited to see where this goes as we explore the power of gathering the passionate. I am honoured to be numbered a part of this group and in awe of what has and what can be accomplished through us.