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MUNPlanet: Robin, how would you introduce yourself to the MUN community? Your MUNPlanet profile presents you as an MUN organizer, entrepreneur and consultant with some interesting ideas.
Robin: First of all, thank you for having me on Fridays with MUNPlanet! I’m glad to be an active member of your community and really enjoy the conversations and knowledge sharing you are making possible.
While I cannot boast a huge number of attended conferences – it’s only been slightly more than a dozen – I’ve been a part of the MUN community from all possible vantage points: Delegate, Head Delegate, Chair, Crisis Director, Secretary-General of HamMUN 2012 and President of HanseMUN, and now consultant and entrepreneur. My home, however, remains Hamburg in Germany - where I served as President and Secretary General for the largest MUN conference in Germany, where I still study Law, and where the idea of MyMUN was born.
The MUN community has given me a lot: experience, skills, travels, and most of all, good friends. I enjoy giving back to the community through initiatives like MUNPlanet and my own startup, MyMUN.
MUNPlanet: What are the things that MUN taught you?
Robin: The most valuable thing I took away from MUNing is the friends I’ve made in many parts of the world. I maintain closer friendships to fellow MUN enthusiasts far abroad than I do with my classmates at my own university. In this sense, MUN has taught me that great friends and people come from all cultural backgrounds, from all over the world, and that great characters are drawn towards MUN.
Of course, MUN also draws the mischievous and Machiavellian characters – we usually award them with the “Future Dictator” achievement. There’s as much to learn from these characters as there is from kind and helpful people.
Needless to say, I was also taught to speak, listen, organize, work hard under sleep deprivation, and to travel on a budget. MUN holds a great amount of life lessons, and I’m glad MUNPlanet made it its mission to collect and preserve these lessons.
Robin: The most recent one is my experience of working with the EuroMUN 2014 Crisis Team! At one point, I was portraying an American pilot captured by the Chinese. We conducted an actual interrogation session with the Chinese Cabinet Delegates, who pulled off a spectacular good-cop-bad-cop routine, completely with chair kicking, yelling and actual waterboarding. Great fun!
No less exciting was a special occasion during IsraMUN 2013 (which was also a fantastic conference in general, I highly recommend it!): after a few great days of debating, pool parties and rafting, the entire conference was invited to a private presentation by Ban Ki-Moon at the UNTSO in Jerusalem. I felt my MUN journey was complete with meeting him!
The most emotional moment was the closing ceremony of HamMUN 2013, which I was honored to host, and which put a capstone to my efforts for the Hamburgian MUN club and conference.
MUNPlanet: What are some of the challenges you are facing in building up MyMUN?
Robin: MyMUN is the startup I created to equip the MUN community with the tools it desperately needs. A lot of conferences I have attended suffer from the same illness: a bad information infrastructure. Even conferences with thousands of participants rely on spreadsheets maintained by hand to organize their committees and events. Everyone agrees this is unacceptable, but no initiative has been taken to remedy it, until now.
The challenges in building up the MyMUN platform are threefold: first of all, I needed to find the right tools for the job. Luckily, one of my closest friends (whom I can now happily call my business partner) is a crafty and downright ingenious computer scientist with his finger constantly on the pulse of technology. He introduced me to cutting- and bleeding edge technologies that enabled us to build the platform independently. His vigilance and resourcefulness (and his relentlessness in teaching me the tools of his trade) are the very foundation of our project.
Secondly, we needed to get the word out about our product if we wanted to build a sustainable business on top of it. While the platform advertises itself to its users, this is not enough to grow – this is where the blood, sweat, and tears of acquisition come in. It’s a tedious and ungrateful job at the core of every business to write hundreds of letters and offers, most of the time without getting a response. Yet at some point, the customers started trickling in and by this point, we’re proudly serving dozens of conferences in Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Australia, the US, with thousands of delegates both at the high school and university level! We also have a few select MUN veterans, called “MyMUN Ambassadors” that are helping us getting the word out to every corner of the world.
Lastly, the continuous challenge is to keep moving forward and improving. We have an endless list of ideas and suggestions on how to move the platform forward, and we’re working on making all of it happen in due time. The positive responses from the MUN community keep us motivated to do this.
Robin: We most definitely did – the MUN environment, from a business point of view, is a set of customers with sizeable budgets and very specific needs. This made it possible for us to design a very specialized product, market it effectively, and make it sustainable.
At the same time, and this could count as a fourth challenge, it is difficult to convince people that software (and the service behind it) is worth paying money for. The generation of people that is active in MUN is used to getting any kind of software, digital service and platform completely for free. This makes it harder to realize for them that running these takes time, effort, and money!
Most important to the fertility of the MUN community however, is the openness to innovation and experimentation that we found in its leaders. Young people in charge of organizing international conferences are often bold risk takers and proud of “their” conference. They’re ready to give an innovative platform a chance at improving their conferences. Interestingly, we found that this declines rapidly with the size of the conferences we approached. While regional conferences with a few hundred delegates are very open to our platform, bigger and more traditional conferences tend to stick with “how it’s always been done”.
Robin: Among the big players on the MUN playground, we’re the youngest and smallest; moreover, we are a very agile team. We only just founded a company to hold the business and started hiring more developers – some are already past this stage.
However, we are unique among other MUN startups because of our business model: While others offer training, information or workshops, we provide a product and a service that aims directly at the conferences. That being said, we are constantly developing new ideas which will go above and beyond our current services in the near future.
MUNPlanet: What are your plans for the future of MyMUN?
Robin: We will start to offer more benefits to the customers of our customers: Chairs and Delegates. MyMUN will be expanded to a platform for all MUN participants and organizers – the latter will take advantage of the conference management aspect, and the participants will be able to create an interactive MUN portfolio. They will be able to showcase their conference history, awards, their delegations and much more in a network that spans all conferences that use MyMUN.
We’re aiming to make this reality by the end of this year. As a first step towards our truly unique platform, we will release the first ever interactive MUN archive tomorrow! From now on, conference organizers can submit their conference, including dates, logo and description, through a simple form on mymun.net and advertise their event globally. You’re able to subscribe to mail notifications so you’ll never miss the start of a registration period again. Again, this is only the beginning.
Robin: I have answered a similar question on MUNPlanet recently in this way:
I would put forward that the main reason is acknowledgement of MUN by universities and employers as an exercise in something extra-curricular.
More universities are starting to give credits for attending or organizing MUN conferences, and in line with that, the readiness of the administration to give funds for travelling to or hosting an MUN is increasing as well. This in turn gives the projects more local visibility and draws more students to them. It's a vicious circle.
While employers used to look down on MUN, at least that was my impression, they now start to value the skills you learned there. From verbose English skills over public speaking to other related soft skills, MUN, particularly organizing one or leading a society, is becoming more of an asset in your CV.
MUN has lost some of its nerdiness and is becoming truly main stream - maybe that's a better way to put it than golden age. Let me add to that: a format that engages students from all cultural and academic backgrounds to participate in peaceful, diplomatic conduct and debate – Model United Nations – is going to change the future of our world. Political discourse and cultural exchange are no longer a privilege of the wealthy and powerful, MUN has become a mainstream student activity, and that is truly an achievement. I believe it has the power and potential to become a transformative, a constructive force and to be the cornerstone of many upcoming world leaders’ education.
Robin: It’s a great initiative, and the only networked approach at capturing the minds and experiences of a whole generation of MUNers. The platform will continue to grow and will continue to attract the most active and forward-looking members of our community and channel their knowledge.
At the very least, MUNPlanet will, in a couple of years, have become a vast archive of experiences, information – a truly human library. Going above and beyond that, it may well become the centerpiece of MUN culture, and the first address for MUN newcomers to be initiated into our community! I wish the team of MUNPlanet the best of luck and fortitude for their great project. MyMUN, and me personally, are very much looking forward to continue working with you in the future.
MUNPlanet: Robin, thank you for devoting your time to talk for Fridays With MUNPlanet. We wish you a lot of success in the future, and keep us updated on the interesting developments with MyMUN.
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