Leadership, diplomacy, collaboration, and perseverance are words that best describe the Qatar Leadership Conference (QLC) hosted by The Hague International Model United Nations Qatar (THIMUN Qatar) and Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), a partner university in Qatar Foundation (QF).
As one of the largest Model United Nations (MUN) conferences in the Middle East, and the biggest in the world this year, the event saw 622 students from across the Middle East join together for professional development in the areas of MUN, film and media, leadership, and entrepreneurship.
Held at the Qatar National Convention Centre, the conference opened to a buzzing theater of enthusiastic students of 61 nationalities. “Do all the things that people tell you not to do,” Amy Kristin Sanders, Associate Professor in Residence, Journalism Program, NU-Q, told attendees of the opening session, as she narrated personal stories of inspiration. “There will be times when people will say it can’t be done, but innovators don’t play by rules, and leaders make their own rules.”
Essence of the conference
The QLC has two main objectives. Its first goal is to provide high school students and teachers with quality workshops that equip them with leadership skills and the tools to run successful MUN and media studies programs. The second goal is to provide an annual platform where MUN and film leaders can exchange ideas and develop partnerships.
This year, workshops at QLC were clearly dedicated to streams of film and media, leadership, MUN, professional development, entrepreneurship, with the inclusion of an Arabic stream for the first time.
“The QLC is a workshop format with a keynote speaker each day,” said Lisa Martin, Head of THIMUN Qatar. “We have teachers, students, and presenters sharing ideas and mixing with each other. Being an incubator for sharing ideas and networking is what makes this event so special.”
THIMUN Qatar is housed at Qatar Academy Doha (QA Doha), a member of QF, and all conferences under THIMUN Qatar are run by high school students, with an appointed Secretary General working alongside executive teams of fellow high school students in Doha.
Razan El Kahlout, QLC Secretary General and a QA Doha student, oversees an office of approximately 60 students, and serves as an example of how much students can grow through their experiences at QLC.
“QLC showed me that I could expand my passion among people who encourage you to reach for the stars,” she said. “Everyone has aims and goals in life, and QLC acts as a catalyst to push you toward those goals.”
One of the benefits of the conference for its attendees is that it brings together aspiring young leaders, and gives them an outlet and a chance to meet likeminded individuals. It enables them to focus on areas about what they can learn, and discover how they can become stronger leaders.
For Hannah Akhtar, a Grade 12 student at QA Doha and Head of Press for THIMUN Qatar, putting herself in the limelight in large crowds was always petrifying.
“I was a very shy person, and was very scared of public speaking,” she stated. “When I attended this conference the first time, I was terrified at the prospect of having to speak, but as the events progressed I realized that the conference was more interactive in which you would ask questions in order to obtain information from presenters. I understood that this was a great learning experience, and not a conference in which I would have to talk in front of a large group of people.
“I decided to make the most of the opportunity and attend as many – and different – sessions as I could. I ultimately realized at the end of the conference, I had not only developed some new skills but also honed my written talents, as I always liked to express my thoughts and emotions in written format.”
At all levels, QLC 2015 was far bigger in comparison to QLC 2014, with more than 700 students, teachers, and mentors in attendance this year – a 40 percent increase on last year’s highly successful event. In addition, a total of 130 workshops were presented, where speakers from varied backgrounds gave innovative talks to students.
At such workshops, presenters found unique ways of sharing their messages on leadership. One such workshop was on ‘Leadership Lessons from Comics’, hosted by Greg Bergida, Director of Student Affairs, NU-Q.
“I wanted to take a topic that the students will know well, and explain complex leadership ideas through references that show them being applied,” Bergida told The Foundation, after a workshop in which he utilized the medium of comic book superheroes to inform attendees how they could unlock their inner strength.
“Superheroes have always played a role in our popular culture, and this medium is something to which young people pay close attention,” he added. “We see a bit of ourselves in many of these characters, and there is a lot we can learn from their strengths and flaws.”
QLC 2015 was the first time that an Arabic strand was created. Many of the Arabic workshops saw a packed attendance, though one particular speaker’s workshop – Faisal Sheraiff’s workshop on ‘Promoting Human Values through Social Media’ – attracted more students than expected.
Presenting in both Arabic and English languages, the workshop by the Saudi Arabian social media entrepreneur was delivered to a rapt audience: “I am a social media specialist who is interested in social entrepreneurship,” he stated.
“At my workshop, I took students through my own experiences of social entrepreneurship that I spread through social media. I highlighted issues related to poverty, education or lack of it, different cultures, and so on. Students were inspired by what I’ve done, especially since it was a conscious decision that I made to engage within social change.”
When the QLC was set up, ideas were implemented in ways to create linkages to other programs. One such program is the THIMUN Qatar International Film Festival, which takes place annually in spring. Workshops on film leadership encouraged students to take their stories through films or documentaries to larger communities.
At QLC 2015, a number of workshops also brought social media and its impact to the forefront. Fundraising, sincere storytelling, and creating change by sharing pictures and stories were fundamental aspects of social media that students brought to the table.
“It’s important that students learn to amplify their message,” said Emily Wilson, Manager of Community Relations, NU-Q. “Learning how to share stories so that people can listen to you is really important. Most students who attend this event see media as a huge driving force. It's about getting stories out, making people aware and educating them, and making them involved.”
Teaching the teachers
At the QLC, MUN workshops supported THIMUN Qatar agendas, and with the expansion of MUN throughout the region, there has been a growth in demand for teacher-level assistance.
THIMUN Qatar, in collaboration with Best Delegate, a global resource for Model United Nations, offered two professional development opportunities for teachers at the Directors Training Institute at the conference.
At the workshops, help was provided to teachers and university level students to promote MUN across the Middle East. Teachers learned to deliver a series of one-hour lessons and activities for teaching research, public speaking, resolution writing, and procedure to new delegates, and also received lesson plans, training materials, and online videos that can be used to teach MUN.
“I’m very new to MUN, and I completed training that I found to be very informative,” stated Rob Pendlebury, a teacher at QA Sidra.
“What I’ve tried to do is set up MUN in middle school at QA Sidra, and it has recently been expanded to Grade 9. We attended a conference last year to just watch and learn, with the intention that this year we would become much more active.”
Teachers’ experiences at QLC matter, as they stimulate interest in MUN among students, according to Malak El Shahawy, a Grade 9 student at Hayah International Academy, Cairo, Egypt.
El Shahawy said of her overall experience: “Our teachers who attended the QLC last year returned very impressed. They felt that we could all benefit a lot from the workshops that taught students to sharpen their skills in writing, public speaking, and MUN. And that’s why we all came here.”