Three of the most striking observations made during my two weeks at two different UN conferences were: a) the amount of people at least in their 60s or 70s talking about issues which directly affect youth, while there are hardly any youth in the room for the discussion; b) the extreme resistance to change by those who claim to have been participating in the UN for years, ultimately pushing the agenda: ‘This is the way we have always done it, so this is the way we will keep doing it’; and finally, c) the amount of people who blatantly stated ‘I’ve only been here a short period of time, and I really don’t understand how the UN works – but I want to make this one point that, if I actually knew anything about the UN, I would know makes absolutely no sense.’
My friend Karol repeatedly warned me: “There are things wrong with the UN; there is a reason I returned to Mexico to work with a project that has direct involvement on the ground.” Many of my friends who have previously worked with the UN have also warned me: “The UN is not as glamorous as our experiences in Model UN make us believe.” But still in my head I wanted to think the UN would be different from my experiences in Model UN (most of which were ultimately the reason I retired from MUN). The reality, though, is that those people who are so outrageous in MUN end up in the UN. Or worse, the people involved in the UN have little to no previous knowledge of how the UN really works so they end up making the same mistakes that new MUN delegates make – only this time it actually has an effect on the international stage.
I tried to think of solutions to the three observations, and I honestly come up with a lot. Just a few:
A) A lot of Youth try to get involved in the UN through Missions from governments, without realizing there are more ways. There are Youth Forums; there are NGOs; there are IGOs; there are millions of ways to become involved, we just have to look harder to find them. Thankfully the UN is seeing many more Youth becoming involved (my theory is the exponential increase in Model UN participation since the 1990s), but it is imperative that this trend continue. Want to come to the UN? Want to be involved in international policy creation? Find a way! Because there always is one. (If anyone wants help finding possible avenues to become involved, message me and I can help!)
B) An organization that does not evolve, dies. That is a reality. The UN is even a product of the evolution of International Politics: before the League of Nations (the UN’s predecessor which failed shortly before WWII), there had never before been an organization that allowed all of the world’s governments to discuss international policies together, and especially not one that allowed the involvement of civil society. And when the UN was created, it made the necessary changes to prevent the same fate as the League. Without even addressing the fact that the internet did not exist when the UN was first created, the large role social media has taken in society over the past 15 years had created a giant gap between how the 30-year veterans wish to run the UN and how the UN must change to stay relevant to society. Pushing back and saying ‘this is how it has always been done’ is akin to signing the death warrant of the organization these people claim to love.
C) If you are going to work with the UN, you need to take the online free courses that teach you about how the UN works; and most importantly do not speak if you are going to first state that you have no idea what you are talking about. If you do not know about a topic, you are not qualified to comment on it. This is an issue worldwide; it was something I saw in classes at UBC, and it is a mistake people continue to make all throughout their lives. And it is a mistake that we must recognize that we do and stop ourselves before we make it. True high level discourse cannot occur if those speaking lack a basic knowledge of a topic but chose to speak anyway.
As I was originally writing this, I was struggling with what to think of the UN after seeing how things actually happen. Then, a few hours later, I attended an event run by actual youth (there were no 40-80year old individuals in the organizing committee; it was actually a youth event, not just in name). And it renewed my faith in how successful the UN really can be, because it was honestly the most high-level and vibrant discussion I have seen in my 13 years of UN experience. So yes, there are a ton of problems with the UN, but the youth that will (hopefully) soon take over this organization have the genuine ability to revitalize it!
If anyone wants to see the event I’m referring to, they Live Streamed it on Facebook (yay for utilization of social media!):