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Building a confident and knowledgeable youth force in India

Indian International Model United Nations (IIMUN), founder and president, Rishabh Shah tells why it is essential for students to keep abreast with local, national and international current affairs.

What inspired you to set up the IIMUN?
While training to become a CA, I participated in many international youth conferences and events. After completing my speech, drama and theatre degree from Trinity College, London, I returned to India. When I researched about the awareness of a Model United Nations (MUN) I found very few schools and colleges encouraging such a platform. While the United States has their own model of United Nations procedure and so does Europe, Asia as a continent lags behind. So I decided to be the mediator of this platform.

Did you encounter any problems while setting up this platform?
We began as an event management company organising debates and educational events in colleges and universities across India. These debates were modelled on the procedures followed in Lok Sabha. In this way we introduced the concept of debating events and conferences to students, teachers and professors. Like any other new concept, which is not familiar to people, we took around six months to gain ground with colleges in Mumbai. We started with meagre eight schools in 2012 and today have over 100 schools and colleges participating. Pan India, we have associated ourselves with educational institutes in 30 cities across India, including the tier 2 and 3 towns.

When is the MUN held? How did you connect with institutes in small towns?
We conduct MUNs across the country in an annual cycle that runs from August to August. The opening event is held in Mumbai, where international and Indian dignitaries are invited as speakers. Students from all over the country participate in this event. Winners of all MUNs held in the year participate at the closing ceremony.

In smaller towns where the MUN concept is completely alien, we decided to model local municipal bodies and introduce them to the local issues before graduating them to the national and subsequently international issues and conferences.

What is your funding strategy?
It is a combination of 90 per cent sponsorship and 10 per cent of training fees that we charge the students who register for the two-day training programme. Corporates, universities and local business and media houses have been some of our sponsors. For a big city conference our title sponsporship is Rs 30 lakh in smaller towns like Dharmasala and Varansi it is anywhere between Rs 2 to 3 lakh. Next year on we hope to rope in a pan India sponsor who will fund all our conferences through the year. We also have a tie-up with University of Pennsylvania to offer their short-term courses in India, for which we charge Rs 45,000 per student.

How do you choose participants for the conference?
We ask students to fill a simple form, which tests basic knowledge. One can either apply online or offline at any of the 700 centres across the country. Someone who intends to pursue studies abroad, is encouraged to apply as MUN serves as a good extracurricular activity on their resume.

What are the qualities required to debate or speak on an international platform?
It is essential for students to keep abreast with local, national and international current affairs. One has to be articulate and have good research capabilities. At a MUN when you represent a country, you are required to know everything, right from its genesis, history and current affairs, important personalities— a complete 360 degree comprehension of the particular country.

What are you future plans?
The first leg of my plan, to bring Indian youth on an international platform has more or less been achieved. IMUN have tied-up with the Bangladesh government and introduce the MUN to students there. We are planning to have the closing ceremony of the IIMUN in August next year at Aamby Valley, Lonavala.