Introducing McMUN 2016: a few words from the Secretary-General
2016 marks Marta Canneri’s second year as a McMUN Secretariat member. A Joint Honours student in Political Science and History with a minor in Classical Studies gives her the well-rounded skills needed to be this year’s Secretary-General. The role of Secretary-General requires a lot of experience and leadership ability, both of which Marta has aplenty!
We got a chance to catch up with her before the conference began to speak to her about McMUN and her role within it.
How did you get started with McMUN and what do you find particularly interesting about your role as Secretary-General?
I have always loved Model UN (MUN) and have been doing it since high school. I went to a MUN conference at McGill called SSUNS when I was in high school, where I learnt about the MUN culture at McGill. That was actually one of the reasons I decided to come to McGill. I knew they had one of the best MUN teams in Canada and that they traveled to conferences around the world, so when I got here, I did all the traditional things that first-years do on IRSAM: I staffed conferences and went on a delegation trip. It was then that I realized that while I loved SSUNS, I wanted to get more involved with McMUN and the actual planning of a conference. I decided to apply for the Secretariat for 2015 and I got the position of “Chargée d’affaires”, which covers the registration of the delegates. With this background, I then ran for Secretary-General.
What is interesting about my position is that, at the end of the day, McMUN is just a school club. I mean, a lot of us like to take it seriously – more seriously than it ought to be taken – but it is just an extracurricular activity. It feels weird at times to have to “discipline” people that I consider my friends and act like I am their boss, when we are really just peers who are involved in a student activity. It is difficult to have to call my friends and say “you didn’t complete this by the deadline”, because when we are not in our capacity as Secretariat members, we are simply classmates and friends. That is definitely something unique about the role.
You mention that McGill has a very unique MUN culture. What are certain aspects of this culture that stand out for you?
Something that has been noticed not just by me, but by many of the other clubs and teams on the circuit as well, is the wide reach that MUN has at McGill. At most other schools, MUN is just one of the hundreds of activities you can engage in and it is usually not particularly popular. At McGill, however, it tends to be viewed as very cool, as one of those activities that a lot of people want to do. When you tell other clubs at other schools that we have over 600 staffers at McMUN, they don’t believe you because they themselves struggle to get 30 students together for a conference.
As a secretary-general, I was incredibly lucky to walk into an environment that is already so rich. I did not have to advertise McMUN, I did not have to go out and recruit people to staff because McMUN already has a strong brand name at McGill that makes people want to apply, and I think that this is something that sets McGill and McMUN apart.
Why is there a theme to this year’s conference, and what does this change mean?
Last year, when I was on the Secretariat, one of the big conclusions that most Secretariat members had at the end was that although all went well, we were lacking a greater vision to guide us. Everybody was just repeating the same actions that had been done before them. They were just ticking off boxes: did I order this equipment, did I register these people… So at the beginning of this year’s planning in March last year, I sat down with Secretariat and we decided that we wanted a guiding vision for all of our out-of-committee events and we decided on the theme of gender equality. We chose this due to the fact that it is a very salient issue and we made it the theme tying all of out-of-committee programming together. Our Global Leadership Forum has been themed around this issue; so has the MIR paper competition; and all of our cool activities, our social media presence and physical presence in the form of banners are meant to focus on that theme. I think this is what is really exciting about this conference and what is really motivating as a Secretariat member: to have a goal that you are working towards, to have a theme and then have it be envisioned at the conference.
More generally, what makes this year’s conference different from last year?
There are a lot of small things that we have changed which will hopefully work out on aggregate to make up a better conference. I think that is partly because I have really worked on empowering my Secretariat members to innovate their portfolios. In each and every portfolio, we have made a change that may not be incredibly substantial in the greater picture, but altogether they help make a better conference. For example, our “Chargée d’affaires” portfolio has doubled our scholarship money, allowing more people to come to the conference. In our “Chief of Staff” portfolio, we have changed the Pub Crawl in response to delegates’ feedback: we have added a food stop and introduced drinking cups (Frosh cups, essentially). That is something I’m really excited about: to see how these small changes can make a difference and to see how the delegates experience those changes.
What are your expectations for this weekend?
Oh God, not to die ideally! To start with my personal expectations: because this is my last MUN conference as an organizer, my last MCMUN, I am trying to enjoy it and not take it as seriously as McMUN is known to be taken. I want to make new friends and meet new people from around the world. And I will try to take myself out of the very stressed headspace that Secretariat members are often in.
More generally, I really want delegates to come away from this conference thinking: “I have learned something.” So apart from having a lot of fun at McParté, meeting a lot of people, enjoying the city of Montreal, ultimately McMUN and MUN in general are very much about learning something beyond what you can learn in the classroom. So my hope is for everyone to come away from the conference thinking: “Wow, I didn’t know that about X”, or “Wow, now I know what negotiations are in this context”. That would be a big success for me.
What is the event that you’re looking most forward to?
This might sound very cliché, but I think McParté is famous for a good reason. You have all these people who have just competed against each other for 2 days, who are really stressed out, who need to blow off some steam, and McParté gives them the opportunity to do so. So I think its going to be very fun to see everyone outside of their western business attire having fun, making friends. McParté is when everyone sees all the friends that they have made over the weekend, when you see people yelling “Let’s go dance!”, and that is really exciting and great to see. I do think we get some flack, and rightfully so, for being the party conference on the circuit, but I think the reason so many people want a party conference, or are attracted to it, is because of that aspect of “work hard, play hard”. After you’re done debating for two days, it feels good to relax and party with the friends you just made.
Taking a step back from Model UN and turning to the actual United Nations: A replacement for Ban Ki-Moon is currently being looked for, and for now, both leading candidates are women. With this year’s focus on gender equality, what are your thoughts on the candidates, and do you think it is long overdue to have a woman taking the lead?
Yes, I definitely do. I think the position of Secretary-General of the UN is a very interesting one as you have different reputations for each Secretary-General. Hence Kofi Annan was known as the outsider to the UN that came in to shake things up, whereas Ban Ki-Moon has been known as the peacemaker who does not get directly involved in UN issues. I am incredibly excited to see how these women fare and which one gets chosen. But I am almost more excited to see what character she takes on as a Secretary-General and what role she will play in the United Nations.
I think the UN has a lot of work to do, especially in terms of gender equality. One of the biggest criticisms I’ve seen of the UN has been that gender equality is talked about, with their Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and UN Women, but that it is not integrated into the decision-making process. It seems too compartmentalized. UN Women can discuss women’s issues for a whole week, but when people are making economic decisions, security decisions or development decisions, the gender perspective is never involved. I think having a woman as Secretary-General will change that, and I think that what is really important for the issue of gender equality is getting it integrated to mainstream policymaking.
Photo credits to McMUN/Matthew Fong