Promoting Inclusivity

Azan Esmail

The University of Alberta High School Model United Nations conference (HSMUN) is the largest high school Model United Nations conference in western Canada. HSMUN is an annual non-for-profit three-day conference that is hosted in late February for high school students across Alberta. Founded in 2002, HSMUN offers an opportunity for around 500 Alberta high school students from a variety of different backgrounds to work together to tackle complicated international issues across seven multilateral committees. The mission of the conference is to encourage global awareness, international diplomacy, and meaningful educational interactions among high school students to foster global citizenship, maximize self-growth, develop leadership, and cultivate an appreciation for diverse perspectives on international politics.

This past year, I was appointed to serve as the Secretary-General for HSMUN 2020. As Secretary-General, I spearhead the planning and organizing of the conference. In doing so, I lead over 50 volunteers, point of contact with over 50 teachers from over 25 schools, and responsible for over 500 high school students that will be attending next February. 

When I came into this role, I immediately looked for ways to improve the next HSMUN conference, as any good successor would. What I found most striking was that HSMUN seemed to have an inclusivity problem. By this, I mean that while HSMUN has continued to grow year after year, the students that attend generally come from the same type of schools. These schools, typically being from more affluent neighbourhoods. Additionally, students from outside of Edmonton, particularly from rural Alberta, were continually being deterred from coming due to their added costs. Unfortunately, outreach to other high schools was virtually non-existent, and the current conference fee subsidy program was ineffective and poorly advertised. This conference is a fantastic opportunity for high school students, and the school a student attends or the cost of attending should not be a reason why someone does not participate. 

To remedy this situation, I prioritized this summer into expanding outreach efforts and looking for better solutions to reducing the financial burden for students where the cost is a dissuading factor. In the last few months, I have reached out to over 20 individual high schools in Edmonton and around northern Alberta, including schools located in small towns and on reserves. To support these new schools, I am in the process of establishing a mentorship program where we have our volunteers work directly with students and teachers from these schools before the conference, so they are as prepared as the more experienced schools. So far, most of these schools have been quite receptive.

In an effort to make HSMUN more inclusive, I secured a $5000 sponsorship deal with the Rotary Club of Edmonton Riverview. With this sponsorship money, Rotary and myself have agreed to use it exclusively towards covering the conference cost for students in need of financial support and help cover the cost of transportation for participants coming from outside of Edmonton. I have also established a framework with our teacher so that it is easier for students to apply for this support and ensure that there is greater anonymity. Additionally, with the advice from a stretch experience mentor, I created a sponsorship package for HSMUN and have sent it to businesses around Edmonton. I hope to raise an additional $2000 for the conference so that I can further my goal of making HSMUN more inclusive and engaging. 

Lastly, my team and I recently confirmed the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean as our keynote speaker for HSMUN 2020. At the beginning of the planning process, I told our team to be ambitious in terms of whom we wanted to be our keynote speaker. Our team was surprised but thrilled when she accepted our invitation. Her presence at HSMUN is something we have never had before. She will surely heighten our conference, especially considering that her experience as Governor-General of Canada and Secretary-General of L’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie will inspire HSMUN’s student delegates and show them what Canadians are capable of accomplishing on the international stage. 

Altogether, we are still in the preliminary aspect of the conference. It all looks to be going well, and I feel confident in accomplishing my goals. Come September, we’ll really hit the ground running. This is so that we can ensure that the 2020 conference does that last 18 years of HSMUN proud. 

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