Shaping future leaders: LAU participates in Harvard WorldMUN for 10th time
The LAU student delegation returns from Singapore with a much-coveted Diplomacy Award.
The LAU delegation that participated in the Harvard World Model UN conference in Singapore, including Beirut and Byblos students, Dr. Fuad Hashwa (1st from left), dean of the School of Arts and Sciences in Byblos, and Dr. Makram Ouaiss (back row, 1st from left), the delegation's faculty advisor.
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Twenty students from the Beirut and Byblos campuses took part in the 20th annual Harvard World Model United Nations Conference, dubbed the “Olympics of Model UN,” which was held in Singapore from March 14-18.
The delegation, which was accompanied by Dr. Fuad Hashwa, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at LAU Byblos, brought home one Diplomacy Award, making LAU the only university in the Middle East and North Africa region to win the much-coveted award.
“I was really impressed by the excellent presentations of the students, their interest and dedication in presenting their cases,” says Hashwa. “The School of Arts and Sciences and LAU are really proud of their well-deserved achievement.”
According to organizers, in the 20-year history of the program, this year’s conference was by far the largest, most diverse, and most competitive.
This year’s event brought together around 2,500 students from over 240 universities from around the world to participate in UN committee simulations, vote on substantive issues, and devise pertinent resolutions.
“WorldMUN is an opportunity for students to experience how the United Nations works and the challenges and opportunities that exist for governments and non-governmental organizations to address global challenges,” says Dr. Makram Ouaiss, assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences at LAU Byblos, who was the LAU delegation’s faculty advisor.
Even the heavy Asian rains did not dampen the resolve of the LAU delegates as they worked tirelessly on a wide range of topics relating to narco-terrorism, intellectual property rights, and internet freedom, among many other pressing contemporary international issues.
Kamal Yakteen, LAU Beirut political science and international affairs student, received the Diplomacy Award for his representation of Syria in the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
“It is important to equip emerging leaders in the Middle East with the necessary tools to become effective policymakers,” Yakteen says. “In this regard, WorldMUN bridges the gap between theory and practice, providing students with an outlet to think critically, innovatively and strategically on the international level.”
Preparations for the conference began months before, as political science & international affairs and economics students were meticulously vetted and rigorously trained in the art of diplomacy by LAU faculty members Drs. Marwan Rowayheb, Jennifer Skulte-Ouaiss, and Makram Ouaiss, and LAU Byblos graduate student in international affairs Khaled Kabbara.
“So many people are involved in the preparation for the Harvard WorldMUN at LAU — faculty, staff and students. We started our preparations in early fall, and from the first day you could feel the excitement of our students,” says Rowayheb.
Head delegate Michael Abi Semaan and assistant head Yakteen facilitated the preparation process by organizing mock simulations and orienting students to what they should expect in and outside of committee sessions.
During the preparation process, “students gain a better understanding as to how international organizations and countries protect and defend their interests in international conferences, on what basis they build their alliances, and the terms and conditions of their negotiations,” says Abi Semaan.
According to Ouaiss, in the months preceding their departure to Singapore, students learned skills that will prove to be vital for their professional lives and their roles as citizens of the world. “These include understanding the issues the world community is struggling with and learning about the actors that influence them, appreciating the importance of diplomacy and the role of international institutions and processes, and acquiring many practical skills such as negotiation, group work, cultural sensitivity and strategies for consensus building and problem solving.”
LAU students received their country assignments two months prior to their departure. This year’s delegation had to represent Syria, Sweden and Senegal, and students were expected to emulate each country’s respective foreign policy in their assigned committees.
During the training phase, students prepared to debate two committee topics chosen by the Harvard WorldMUN secretariat, covering various issues ranging from humanitarian crises to currency manipulation.
The preparatory work paid off as the LAU delegates skillfully navigated through their respective committees and introduced many substantive items for debate.
“Attending the WorldMUN conference is a great opportunity for students to discuss international issues while taking on the roles of diplomats of different member states of the United Nations and other international organizations,” says Kabbara.
At the end of the conference, draft resolutions were put forth for voting. And despite the many obstacles faced in each committee, many of the resolutions proved emblematic of the diplomatic compromise and confidence-building measures necessary in achieving majority consensus in the real world.
According to Skulte-Ouaiss, “despite the real difficulties inherent in addressing the ‘big’ problems that exist in our world, decisions/actions that can improve the situation can be arrived at.” She adds: “In order for this to happen, however, individuals cannot wait for others to act; they themselves must do so.”
In-between committee sessions, students also took part in the various social events — most notably the Global Village Night and Cabaret Night — jointly sponsored by Harvard University and the National University of Singapore.
The LAU delegation was granted a booth by the Harvard WorldMUN secretariat to showcase Lebanese food and culture during the Global Village Night. Within half an hour, the trays of Lebanese sweets and the cups of arak were bone-dry, a testament to the popularity of LAU’s booth.
Cabaret Night also proved to be a huge hit, as LAU delegates took to the stage in front of over 1,000 spectators to perform the traditional dabke dance, with a number of audience members eagerly joining in toward the end of the performance.
“This experience is unique because it allows LAU students to interact during the five days of the conference with students from diverse cultural, ethnic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds and come to appreciate the diversity and richness of the world we live in,” Ouaiss says.
This activity was initiated, supported and financed by LAU’s School of Arts and Sciences, and the faculty involved are members of the Department of Social Sciences.
Previous WorldMUN conferences have taken place in Taiwan (2010), the Netherlands (2009), Mexico (2008) and Switzerland (2007), going all the way back to the first-ever conference held in Poland (1992). LAU has participated in the annual event since 2002.