Apr 5, 2011
It was an early August evening, when the Rain Gods in Manipal had taken a short break and the Sun God had made it particularly warm. Riding on the tremendous success of Revels (the annual cultural extravaganza of my college), the then student council asked me, a third semester student of electrical and electronics engineering, to come up with a new event for the technical feast - Techtatva.
2007. I was sipping coffee with Prateek N Kumar at the 10th block night canteen when the idea to have the Model United Nations (MUN) at Manipal occurred. It also marked the beginning of a most challenging personal and professional journey for me. Looking back, it is one of those things, which taught me a lot of things about life.
What is MUN?
By next morning, I had informed the student council to have an independent team under their guidance to work for this new concept. They readily agreed. During a sleepy class after break, I went about building my team to make the MUN dream a reality. The four people sitting on the last bench of my class with me became the MUN core team - Neel Kamal (coordinator), Nilabh Shekhar (human resources) and Aamil Raza Shakri (design and publicity). I have a lot of friends who surprisingly (and some grudgingly) believed in my vision, so I didn’t find it difficult to build teams.
But I hit my first major challenge here. They didn’t know what my vision was. MUN was an alien concept.
I have repeated the following lines so many times that I could even say them while asleep. Model United Nations is a simulation of the United Nations and its bodies. Students are assigned roles of diplomats and they discuss issues of international importance to find solution to important International concerns.
To familiarize MUN to my friends and my team we decided to hold a meeting of around 25 students. We didn’t know the correct procedure to book a classroom, so our booking was cancelled and the first meeting was held on the staircase. Some disagreed with the concept, others felt it was a waste of time, but somehow we could manage to inspire some 25 people to join and work for the team.
The Work Begins
The work began with high enthusiasm, but the results were slow. We tried to figure out what was going wrong and realized the importance of training and education. Though something may seem simple, a person without training would not be able to deliver any goods. We hence began learning from web sources and training our teams. We began sharing our experiences and hoped that others would not repeat the same mistakes. MUN began as a vision and it was finally taking shape.
I had 50 days to deliver on my vision, I had built up my plans and things seemed to be shaping up fine, when I was hit with my next set of challenges. Deriving a missionary zeal from college students is a difficult task. Cricket matches would mean work would stop, sessional meant that progress was hit for 10 days before and four days after it.
The student council that had been supportive about our work, suddenly realized our ambitions, saw a threat that second year students were standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the fourth years and suddenly withdrew all support. Only Namrata Sharma from the student council supported us.
To go ahead with the event, I now needed the college administration’s support. The seniors had been rude to one of the fellow students working with MUN and it led to a kind of unionism where the entire team decided against working for MUN. The event seemed doomed and I was left alone.
The cloud of uncertainty was removed when our director Brig (Dr) Surjit S Pabla, agreed to the event, but without any financial support from the college. I could convince the team to join back but there was a difficult journey ahead of us. Techtatva was now a competition and half our proposals were cut down.
I developed a new illegal habit of carrying out a task and then seeking permission for it. We also started with "MUN style of working" where we took each file from desk to desk and seeked approvals in seconds. We organized info-desks at several colleges in and out of Manipal and put in 18-hour days to make the event a success.
I developed some new techniques to make MUN different from other events. We developed a new model of marketing the event, where we presented business plans which spoke of the benefit of partnering the event for corporate houses. We also contacted NGOs and social organizations to partner the intellectual event. Publicity was important; hence we worked closely with the press and came out with press releases almost every day. Most of them were printed, which added weight to the event.
Model United Nations Summit Manipal 2007, held the General Assembly, and it managed to attract participation from 42 colleges, from across India from seven disciplines of study. We had PhDs from IIT Bombay to MBA students from SP Jain Institute of Management Sciences to law students of National Law School of India University to medical students from Nagpur. There was tremendous interest in the outcome of the discussions with several correspondents calling to know about it. We got national coverage from Doordarshan and also managed to save money from sponsorships and it was supposedly the only such event in college.
Most of the events in Manipal accommodated outstation students in dorms but we managed to organize air-conditioned rooms. Food, lodging and transport was all taken care, free of cost by us.
About the competition with Techtatva, most neutral observers would say that we had won it. I did indulge in some stupidity like publicly measuring Techtatva’s biggest banner and immediately passed out instructions to make a banner two feet bigger on each side and had it put up right next to their banner.
We also made a music album with seven original composition from bands of our college. There was a music video too. We had a sense of disbelief after the event about our achievement. It taught us a lot of things and gave us new confidence.
The Next Year
The second year of organizing the Model United Nations should have been much easier as there was a brand, a buzz and there were so many people interested in joining the team. It seemed easier to reach the fund target. It should have been a walk in the park. But things were different.
I was watching the movie Guru just before the meeting to plan MUN was to be held in my room. There was a dialogue in the movie, "400% growth." I wanted to achieve that rate of growth. I changed plans and insisted that we grow by 400% in every manner.
We had General Assembly in 2007, now we added four new councils for MUN 2008. Everything grew, so the event moved from Manipal Institute of Technology to Manipal University. Our new office was in the sprawling new Manipal University building. We now had a conference hall to hold meetings. Some of our meetings were attended by the vice-chancellor and the registrar on the fourth floor board room of Manipal University. It gave us a sense of power.
Things were going according to plan, experienced teams were working and things were sailing smoothly, when my personal life intruded upon my professional life. My mother ordered me out of MUN. I requested her for a week’s time to leave MUN and she agreed.
I released that I had built MUN as an organization which heavily depended on me for ideas, plans and leadership. It seemed that it would crumble without me. Hence, I had to re-align the entire team into a corporate organization.
I decided to split the team into two - directorate, entrusted with organizing the event and secretariat, which would manage the research and working of the councils. The secretariat would be headed by the secretary general, deservingly, Prateek N Kumar, and under him would be presidents of various councils. He would report to the faculty-in-charge.
The directorate would be headed by the director general, Neel Kamal, who would also report to the faculty-in-charge. He would be assisted by coordinator, Yashwant Lodha, and would have nine directors, each heading one team like event, logistics, finance, media etc. Each of these teams would be split into sub-teams which would carry out individual functions to be carried out by team members.
I resigned in exactly a week. It was my "inner-voice Sonia Gandhi moment".
MUN 2008 was shaping up better than MUN 2007, I did feel the desire to bask in the limelight again, but forcibly kept a back-seat. I involved myself as a mentor. The forced resignation ensured that MUN developed an organization and cadre system, meaning there would be many more MUNs without any individual as a driving force. It was indeed a proud moment, when, after leaving the college, one October evening, I got a call from Manipal that MUN 2010 was a success.
MUN 2008 inauguration stage was similar to the convocation, with the chief guest, chancellor, pro-chancellor, vice-chancellor and pro-vice chancellor on stage. The registrar and directors of KMC, MIC and other colleges were sitting among the audience. We had union ministers addressing the gathering and some of the things said have made it to national headlines, from the MUN platform.
For every success of MUN, there have been over three mistakes. Some blunders have been hilarious. In MUN 2009, the MUN team had decided to invite member of parliament, Rahul Gandhi. They accidentally sent him a letter meant for small sponsors. It read, "…by coming for MUN Summit Manipal, you would get good coverage in the local and national media."
What is MUN Summit Manipal?
MUN Summit Manipal is more than an event which brings youth of this country on a single platform. It is now an opportunity to learn the skills of management while in campus. It creates bonds of friendship which would last a lifetime, it provides confidence and self-belief. It also opens up a window to the real world and teaches team work.
MUN would not occur in Manipal because of the organization that we have created or the brand, it would occur because of the determination, dedication and self-belief of the students of Manipal who decide to make it happen. It is a challenging ride, but a ride worth taking.
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