MUNPlanet: In 2015 Sandrine Chabbey and Jim Zouridis serve as the two co-Secretaries-General of GIMUN. Having two SGs is a rather unconventional move – what kind of challenges and rewards such experience brings to GIMUN, and what we can expect this year?Sandrine and Jim: Having two Secretaries-General has been a tradition within GIMUN for almost ten years now, mainly because organizing such a complex event at the United Nations with a team of 35 people is impossible for only one student. We also think it avoids rushed decisions and definitely opens doors to new ideas and innovation. Working in pairs is a game-changing factor when it comes to decisions and hierarchy: it requires humility and flexibility. It is also great to have a critical sounding-board during delicate times. The two of us had never met before our first official meeting, but we both agreed we were going to work hard to make this team the most efficient and complementary it could be. We are perfectionists! As a result, we have changed many details from last year's edition (the Bloc representative system, the new Media department, strengthened our relations with new partners, etc.), and certainly believe that the Annual Conference 2015 is going to be a professional and well-rounded one!
MUNPlanet: GIMUN Annual Conference has been one of the most respected MUNs in Europe for 15 years, notably for taking place at the actual United Nations in Geneva. What are the traditions that GIMUN has developed over the years and how you would characterize the conference?
Sandrine and Jim: We are honored to be organizing this event at such iconic location! Since the first edition in 1999, we have consistently worked to improve our Annual Conference and make it closer to the reality of the United Nations. The GIMUN Annual Conference is the only MUN in the world taking place in its entirety on UN territory, and that is one of our biggest added-values. The Palais des Nations, that used to be the headquarter of the League of Nations, is now the place where the Human Rights Council, the ECOSOC and other major UN bodies regularly hold their meetings, so it definitely adds to the atmosphere and inspires the GIMUNers! Furthermore, we have modeled our rules of procedures and working methods to the ones international organizations employ, unlike most classic MUNs. As a result, our participants tend to forget they are not real delegates! It is also frequent to cross UN officials such as Kofi Annan and Carla Del Ponte or national representatives (ministries of Foreign Affairs, Ambassadors) in the corridors.
We would also like to underline that our conference is fully bilingual: thanks to the presence of student interpreters and translators, delegates in all committees can speak and write in either French or English. Working with simultaneous or consecutive interpretation is also an experience that teaches you a lot and prepares you to participate in multilateral conferences. Finally, we appreciate the fact that – thanks to one of our sponsor the State of Geneva – we can provide Financial Aid to participants who could otherwise not afford to attend this event. This is something we started a few years ago, and given the positive feedbacks, we will keep offering this possibility for the next editions.
Sandrine and Jim: We chose this topic because in today’s world, the role and significance of borders has shifted. Indeed, we can now communicate with people halfway around the world and consume goods that were produced in countries we have never seen. Not only that, but the main threats the international community is facing do not care for state borders: from terrorism to diseases, many issues nowadays are pushing us to rethink the way the international community respond to crisis and manages its resources. This is why we thought it could be an interesting theme for our conference this year. As far as the role of the UN in managing the challenges you mentioned, we believe that, as the most comprehensive international organization, the United Nations has a role to play in bringing together nations to find solutions. However, as the institution is celebrating its 70th birthday, it is also time to rethink some of its working methods: the world has changed quite a lot, yet the organization has not, and maybe that is why it seems unable to efficiently tackle many of today’s issues. For example, during the latest Ebola outbreak, it had been pointed out that the WHO was not equipped to deal with such a crisis. But the decision of whether the United Nations should become more efficient would be left to the Member States – and there does not seem to be the political will to make it a stronger institution. This will have to come from somewhere else… Those are the complex but crucial questions that we are asking our participants!
MUNPlanet: In your opinion, what are the key security risks on a global level today? In what way GIMUN 2015 deliberations can shed more light on those issues?
Sandrine and Jim: Today's main global security risks are quite clear and evident, and they include: terrorism, pandemics, environment, human trafficking or migrations - to name but a few. In fact, we really wanted to focus this year's edition on the debate of international cooperation as a direct mean versus as a simple framework for sovereign states. In this optic, we chose the committee's topics carefully to push participants to find new solutions and new approaches for these crucial issues that are challenging our conception of collective action within the United Nations.
MUNPlanet: How your MUN experience connects to the career building efforts, and what would you recommend to the upcoming MUNers in that regard?
Sandrine and Jim: Working as Secretaries-General brought us a clear vision of the priorities you need to set while running a large team. Although it has definitely been a challenge to balance student life with our MUN responsibilities, it is a valuable eary initiation in management. We definitely encourage MUNers to invest time in organizing conferences: it is a good complimentary education that will allow you to gain managerial skills that are usually not included in most International Relations curricula. Not only that, but you can also broaden your network with both interesting and influential people.
MUNPlanet: One of the goals of MUNPlanet is to get the brightest members of the community together to take part in a meaningful dialogue and interaction. Do you believe that MUNers can step forward and bring about the change as a transnational leadership force?
Sandrine and Jim: Clearly, MUNs are far more than just plain “acting”: participants get to confront their views and meet people from different parts of the world. Not only that, but also by having to defend interests you are not personally linked with, you learn to understand others and adjust your perspectives. Furthermore, by encountering individuals one wouldn’t otherwise, participants build up a network with people who are as engaged as they are, and find opportunities to step in the real United Nations. It happened to some of our friends, and they notably said that the experience they gained as MUNers helped them to feel at ease in conference rooms, as they are taking part in crucial multilateral talks.
MUNPlanet: Here at MUNPlanet we work to connect the Model UN alumni community. What is your experience with using modern technologies in doing MUNs – both with current delegates and the alumni community?
Sandrine and Jim: When attending MUNs, one spends almost 24 hours a day with the same people. At the end of the conference however, everyone goes home and keeping in touch can sometimes be hard. We have build up an alumni network for GIMUN – for the NGO, not only the MUN – but we are not sure this is very common for other Model UN Conferences. When working for GIMUN, we often wonder how our predecessors could plan MUNs before the development of modern technologies: most of our staff is abroad and we would not have been able to work efficiently without platforms such as Skype, Google Drive or Dropbox. Also, the selection process would be unimaginably hard to set up! Technologies are a key element in planning international conferences and bringing together people with different background and horizons – which is our main goal.
MUNPlanet: The United Nations serve as a source of inspiration and action for young leaders and game-changers. But “it is not enough to be inspired” – the world has to act. How do you see the possibilities for bridging the gap between inspiration, knowledge and action?
Sandrine and Jim: We all have dreamt about working at the UN, which symbols of hope, cooperation and dialogue seem appealing. However, many students must realize they cannot save the world on their own: they need to start by focusing on several linked and specific fields - politics, health, science, economics, etc. - in which they can optimize their skills. MUNs are activities that can help building bridges between inspiration and knowledge, but the real transition between knowledge and action depends on the students' ability to understand where they belong in international politics. In simple terms: do not aim too high and work on what you are best at. That said, one should never underestimate the benefits of networking within MUN conferences!
MUNPlanet: In the past ten years the number of MUNs has increased manifold. How do you see the future of MUNs?
Sandrine and Jim: It is great that MUNers have so many opportunities: whether you can afford to travel far or not, are looking for a big or small conference, have experience or not, want to have fun or learn, there is an option for you out there. However, it can also be confusing: how can you make the difference between a good and a bad conference? Why choose one rather than the other? It also makes organizers like us invest more resources into PR efforts, and this is where platforms like MUNPlanet can help! In the future, we hope MUNs will become more diverse, all while managing to keep quality: some of them currently look more like holiday camps and tend to lose their academic relevance.benefits of networking within MUN conferences!
MUNPlanet: There must be something you would like to add in the end. What would be your message to the MUNers around the world?
Sandrine and Jim: We would advise all MUNers always to focus more on the content of their speech rather than on the Art of Speaking – which is becoming common fallacy. Indeed, eloquence cannot hide the importance of doing important research before making a speech, and deeply analyzing the issues at hand. On a more positive note, we encourage all of them to keep exchanging ideas and opinions with students from different cultures – it is one of the most rewarding and enriching aspects a MUN can bring!
MUNPlanet: Sandrine and Jim, thank you for devoting your time for an interview with MUNPlanet. We wish you a successful GIMUN 2015 and all the best in your future endeavors.
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