Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed students from across the UAE during a special Model UN Conference at GEMS World Academy – Dubai
His Excellency Ban Ki-moon, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations and co-chair of the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens, inaugurated the first GEMS World Academy Model United Nations session. The South Korean statesman was recently appointed the ambassador of the Model United Nations (MUN) across all GEMS World Academy schools, providing students with an unprecedented opportunity to gain valuable insights from one of the world’s most admired leaders.
The two-day conference, held under the theme of ‘Challenges of Intervention in a Complex World’, was organised by the Secretariat, a group of seven students from GEMS World Academy – Dubai (GWA) who oversee the school’s MUN. Sessions concentrated on driving dialogue, sharpening perceptions and gaining a critical understanding of the social, political, economic and environmental challenges confronting the international community. Over 600 delegates discussed key aspects such as the difficulties of intervention in an increasingly complex, connected and multipolar world – one of the greatest challenges facing the global community.
Speaking to an audience of students, teachers, dignitaries and VIP guests, Ban Ki-moon said: “I am delighted to be here at the inaugural GEMS World Academy, Dubai Model United Nations conference. It is energising to see so many schools represented.
“To be an Ambassador of GEMS World Academy’s Model United Nations is a great honour and privilege for me. One of the main reasons I accepted this position from Mr Sunny Varkey, Founder and Chairman of GEMS Education, was because I knew it would give me incredible insight into the way youth are thinking.
“You are the world’s future leaders, and by being here it shows that you are committed to the world we live in and impassioned to make a difference. I commend you all for that. The theme of the conference is so important. It gives you the opportunity to explore global issues and look for solutions that perhaps world governments, NGOs and others haven’t thought of.
“I had the privilege of meeting the GWA Secretariat, who organised this conference. I was impressed with the leadership of the entire Secretariat team led by their Director-General, Lihong Wang, and Deputy General, Aditya Joshi. Without them, this conference would not have been possible. Their passion, enthusiasm and drive to make a change gives me great comfort.
“I look forward to seeing how you deal with critical topics impacting our planet. I am confident that you will have prudent solutions to real 21st-century problems. But this conference is about more than that and I hope that when the conference is over you will realise that you have learned a lot.
“It will give you skills that will help shape your future in many ways; from developing key leadership ability to researching, writing and public speaking. Moreover, finding realistic solutions to real-world problems that are acceptable to a majority of representatives inculcates incredible skills of negotiation, conflict resolution and cooperation. Yet I hope that the biggest takeaway for you all will be ownership – ownership of the world we all live in.
“When I left the United Nations, I knew that there was much more work to be done. So, I founded the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens based in Vienna, along with Heinz Fischer, former president of Austria. The Centre focuses, within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals, on empowering women and youth.
“You might ask why we chose to focus on Gender Equality and Quality Education. The answer is because half the world are women and half the world is under 25 years of age. And, despite best efforts, in many developing countries, primary, secondary and tertiary education for girls remains a challenge. We cannot ignore this.
“In matters of access to education, professional opportunities, pay and representation, there is still no gender equality. Women are still under-represented in top positions. One in three women in the world have experienced physical or sexual violence. And trafficking of women and girls is still happening around the world. This has to stop.
“When it comes to youth, the world is home to the largest generation of youth ever, with 1.8 billion young people worldwide – nearly 90 per cent of which live in developing countries. More than 70 million youth are currently unemployed and around 40 per cent of the world’s active youth are either jobless or living in poverty – despite working. As we know, unemployment breeds many problems, from inequality and crime to terrorism. And this has to be addressed.
“Yes, progress is being made. But it is not enough. The Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens puts emphasis on decreasing youth mortality, supporting education and youth entrepreneurship, and raising awareness of global citizenship issues. These are important to today’s challenges globally.
“I am often asked: ‘but what can I do as an individual?’ Many believe that their contribution won’t make a difference. But they are wrong. And if you think it is someone else’s responsibility, then the world will continue to suffer. It doesn’t matter how small your contribution to society is, as long as you are contributing in whatever way you can within your capability.
“The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are each mammoth tasks, but they are achievable if every one of us plays our part. One of the biggest challenges is mobilising sufficient financing to effectively pursue the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development. But it is also about manpower.
“This brings me back to what is achievable for an individual. You should never think your contribution won’t be enough to be a catalyst for change. Everyone can make a difference.
“I would like to leave you with this; be inspired to go out into the world and to work not only for the betterment of your own country, or the country you live in, but for the betterment of humankind. Be a global citizen. Act with passion and compassion. Together, we can make the world safer and more sustainable for today and for generations to come. This is our moral responsibility as human beings.”
Model United Nations
Tell us a little about the MUN initiative.
The MUN initiative is a global one that provides schools with the opportunity to discuss global issues following very strict protocols. A student group is assigned to a country and takes on a role as technical ambassadors for that country. At a conference, students are provided with topics – such as refugees or disarmament – and then form their own resolutions within the filter of the country that they are representing. This means different countries may have differing opinions on the topic.
The initiative and conferences provide a chance for students to come together and debate the issues. There are strict protocols for the way students are allowed to speak to each other and the way they are expected to speak to the ‘chairs’; showing groups the art of real diplomacy.
GEMS World Academy – Dubai has been involved in the MUN initiative since I arrived at the school six years ago. It started as a weekly club and included around 20 students who would attend two conferences per year – one local and one international. We have attended NHSMUN in New York and were able to visit the UN facility; the opening ceremony was in the general assembly hall.
Having former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as our ambassador meant we rapidly moved from a humble club of 20 students to a high-stakes conference that we were charged with hosting. After we announced Ban Ki-moon as our ambassador, we recruited additional students as well as students from other GEMS Education institutes worldwide, resulting in a conference for over 600 guests.
What are the next steps with Ban Ki-moon as ambassador?
We’re already looking forward to our next conference and hope to welcome Ban Ki-moon back for a whole new session later in 2020.
We also hope to continue working with our ambassador in smaller groups. Our Secretariat group of 12 students and two teachers had the chance to speak with Ban Ki-moon for over an hour, just learning from his expertise. He clearly loves to talk to young people and really engaged our students on what is possible within the MUN initiative.
What are the top priorities for your school’s MUN Secretariat?
Expanding our ‘club’. Our inaugural conference and MUN session happened very quickly and we were just a small club. Now, we can significantly increase our numbers and include more students at Secretariat level. The current Secretariat members are all seniors, so we will now look to incorporate younger students able to take on leadership roles. We will look to increase our proficiency in the diplomacy protocols and programmes and increase our experience relating to the initiative.
How can students in MUN make a difference on a local, regional and international stage?
MUN acts as a simulation of the UN and the goal is to make students better prepared for the future. This is a way for us to be involved in local action such as sustainability and other key issues. One of the key themes of this year’s conference was sustainability. No resolutions were printed and we included bamboo water bottles for our delegates, building on our campus-wide ban on plastic bottles. We hope to follow with more initiatives in the coming year.
What difference can the Secretariat make regionally and globally?
For this first conference, we had one committee that was dedicated to sustainability and we formatted the conference to minimise the use of plastics and paper. For next year’s conference, we intend to explore the theme of sustainability goals, based on the passion that our ambassador Ban Ki-moon has for the topic. However, students will choose the main theme for next year’s conference based on the global climate at the time, but certainly sustainability will be on the agenda.
What was the feedback from your time with Ban Ki-moon?
We all found Ban Ki-moon such a humble person. We prepared fanfare and protocols in order to welcome him but when we were in a room with him, his kindness and humility are what impressed us. Students spoke later about how those characteristics are so important for global leaders; not to be arrogant and not to have personal goals as the centre of the agenda. He really felt like someone who we could talk to and he clearly knows the art of compromise. He made us all so comfortable immediately. It was also important for our Secretariat, whom I expect to be leaders in the future, to see Ban Ki-moon’s attitude towards care and love so they can reflect this in school and real life.
What is the appeal of MUN and what do students gain from it?
Every week, students come to our sessions and set about debating sensitive topics such as refugees and disarmament. When I was 16, I don’t think I ever ended my school day with an hour of academic debate, but our students enjoy creating a caring and mature space to debate, discuss and then act. There is also the prestige of being an MUN officer that keeps them engaged. The Secretariat has an impact on school leadership, and they’re respected around the school. They gain huge confidence in leadership, speaking, debate, business skills and protocols as well as learning more about the key issues in the world. They’re learning life lessons on top of the ability to take affirmative action. The students are fantastic and put their all into the initiative.
“The opening speech and keynote speakers were amazing. It was such an honour and pleasure to hear Ban Ki-moon’s views on global politics and diplomacy.”GEMS student