MUNPlanet: Please introduce yourself and your conference to the community.
We are a Belgrade-based organization called University Club for UNESCO that is organizing a conference titled "Sustainable Development Forum". The theme we’ve decided to take onthis year is "The Role of Education and Culture in the Sustainable Development Agenda". The conference will take place in the Assembly of the City of Belgrade from the 24th until the 27th of February. What we aim to achieve with this event is to prepare students and leaders in sustainability, education and culture to generate knowledge, in order to improve student opportunity, achievement, and success. The University Club for UNESCO prepares smart and passionate individuals to become transformative leaders in these fields. We bring together experts from different fields in order to provide the opportunity for expert dialogue, knowledge and experience sharing, as well as bridging on future potentials.
MUNPlanet: How would you define the aim of the conference in one sentence?
The 2016 Sustainable Development Forum aims to gather a number of future leaders in the fields of culture, education and sustainable development and strike up a dialogue between them, offer them the opportunity to make connections, exchange knowledge and experiences, all with the end goal of involving young people in the pressing global issue that is the quest for sustainable development.
MUNPlanet: Tell us something about The University Club for UNESCO, the association behind The Sustainable Development Forum.
The University Club for UNESCO is a small, tight-knit organization of young professionals, based in Belgrade. Our activities are mostly focused on promoting education and making it accessible to our peers, through projects like our UNESCO Network for Economic and Social Development as well as various lectures and workshops. However, there is still time for us to do a great many more things in other areas as well, since our club only just celebrated its second birthday in 2015.
MUNPlanet: How did you come up with the topic: Role of Education and Culture in Sustainable Development Agenda and what are your expectations regarding it?
It was a team effort, really. In our regular meetings, we always have a designated amount of time for brainstorming new ideas. We had already been discussing organizing an event on sustainable development for some time when the UN adopted the Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030. Through discussing the subject with our friends, we noticed that not many of them have a good understanding of what sustainable development is, so it made sense to put the spotlight on education. It is also not a surprise if you take a look at our past engagements. Culture became just a natural extension, since one of our goals as an organization is to promote UNESCO values. That is why every project of ours is in some way connected to the study and promotion of culture. As for our expectations, we are very optimistic regarding how it’s going to be received, since it’s such a pressing topic with a lot of room for discussion.
MUNPlanet: Demanding projects require great teams.Tell us more about the team behind this conference and the preparation process itself.
The University Club for UNESCO team that’s tasked with the realization of this conference consists of around a dozen young professionals in various stages of education. To describe us in the simplest terms possible: we are, first and foremost, a good team. The individuals that it is composed of are diverse, yet equally professional, passionate and driven, but together we form a well-oiled machine that’s more than well equipped to deal with the challenge of putting such a complex event together. With backgrounds in political science, law, architecture and design, applied ecology, as well as management in high technologies and creative industries, our crew is well versed in different subjects which allows us to achieve maximum efficiency through quality task designation. We know each other well and have learned how to bounce ideas off of each other, and more importantly how to see them through, till a satisfying end result. In our time working together, we’ve settled into a very pleasant dynamic, which has made us think of it not as work but as another fun endeavor and excellent opportunity to spend time together.
MUNPlanet: You announced bringing experts from different fields in order to provide expert dialogue, knowledge and experience sharing.Can you give us a sneak peak on a couple of most famous names?
Well, we wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise, but since it’s already been made public, our keynote speaker is going to be Sir Paul Judge, Alderman of the City of London and key benefactor of the Judge Business School at Cambridge University. As for other speakers, we would like to keep something a secret for a little while longer. However, what we can tell you is that we have expert speakers lined up from various institutions - from the Government of Serbia to the UN.
MUNPlanet: The location of the conference is interesting as well. The Sustainable Development Forum will be held in Assembly of the City of Belgrade. Tell us more about the venue itself.
The Assembly of the City of Belgrade was built in 1884 and was originally the palace of the Serbian king. Unfortunately it suffered extensive damage in the two World Wars, which is why it had to be reconstructed. It has served its current purpose since the end of World War II.
MUNPlanet: What is the importance of non-formal education in the contemporary world?
First of all, formal education is very often expensive, inaccessible and most of all inflexible. What we’ve set out to do, through our earlier project “The UNESCO Network for Economic and Social Development”, as well as this conference to an extent, is allow young people the opportunity to learn from, and interact with, renowned professionals and academics, who are alumni of some of the world’s most prestigious educational institutions. By giving students the opportunity to interact with them in a different environment to one that’s offered to them through formal education , letting them ask questions and engage with speakers directly, we hope to make some of the knowledge you can expect from a top tier university accessible to as many young people as possible, for a fraction of the price.
MUNPlanet: Besides taking part in interesting debates, participators will have the opportunity to discover absolutely breathtaking Belgrade. What places are must see for Belgrade first-time visitors?
The Belgrade Fortress is definitely a must; it is a military fort originally constructed by the Romans in the 1st century AD and is the reason why the city is called Belgrade (which in Serbian means the “white city”).
Skadarlija. It is the bohemian heart of the city. Its romantic cobblestones and picturesque garden restaurants, locally known as “Kafana” , are the best place to discover the lifestyle that is so unique for Belgrade.
- St Sava Temple which is the biggest orthodox church in South-Eastern Europe and something that should not be missed.
MUNPlanet: Through the years Belgrade become the capital of nightlife in Europe. Do you plan to introduce your participants with it after the conference hours?
Of course. It would be impossible to explain the true spirit of Belgrade without that aspect. We will have a number of formal social events, but we will also give the participants with the option to continue the fun in one of the famous night clubs.
MUNPlanet: Serbia is well known for it's traditional food. Where's the best place to try it?
There is a number of good restaurants in Belgrade. However, one does stand out from the crowd by its history. It is a restaurant that is 200 years old! Its name is “?”. Yes, the Question mark, an odd name, but the food they serve is anything but odd. It gives a true taste of the local cuisine along with the rustic atmosphere that takes you back to the 19th century.
MUNPlanet: How is Sustainable Development Forum Conference changing the landscape of knowledge and education?
We are approaching a very current subject in a seemingly conventional way, but there is a twist. Lecturing usually only goes one way, but, at our conference, participants will not only have the opportunity to ask questions but also interact with the speakers in a more informal environment, during some of the social events. We have also envisioned several workshops and roundtable discussions to give participants a chance to apply their newly acquired knowledge and put themselves in the spotlight instead of just being passive listeners. That means that we are looking to put an emphasis on critical thinking, enhancing of ideas, and intercultural dialogue.
MUNPlanet: Why is attending Sustainable Development Forum significant in students’ professional development? How can students benefit from attending it?
There are many reasons why it is a good idea to attend. Many of them you can find explained through previous questions. The biggest benefit is definitely the wide range of established contacts from the same or conjoined fields of studies that can enrich your own understanding of the world.
MUNPlanet: Is international character important aspect of conference’s success?
Yes. With how globally impactful sustainable development is, it was very important to us to attract a varied audience from around the world. We're proud to say our conference is practically a pandemic at this stage, since we have applicants coming in from as many as four continents.
MUNPlanet: How do you see new technologies, especially communities such as MUNPlanet, changing the landscape of knowledge and education in the coming years?
In a way, this ties into the previous question. Since we feel that an international character is of key importance for achieving what we’ve set out to do, we can safely say that we would never be able to accomplish our goal, which was to unite people from all over the globe in Belgrade this February, without the aid of social media. New technologies, especially online communities like MUNPlanet, make it incredibly easy to connect and exchange information with people who share your interests, which is something we want the Sustainable Development Forum to do for people as well.
MUNPlanet: Final question! What would be one impression that you would like your participators to leave the conference with?
We would like them to experience Serbian hospitality and to remember the time spent in our city as a pleasant one. More importantly, we want them to be intellectually intrigued by the things they hear from the lecturers and fellow participants so that they can implement and further develop the ideas we are standing to promote.