Across the globe, Model UN simulations are popular ways for students to learn more about the UN. However, they tend to focus solely on the intergovernmental process. That is why the UN Department of Global Communications (DGC) launched “The Real United Nations: An Interactive Briefing Series for Model UNs”. The goal is to allow UN staff and diplomats to share their stories with Model UN participants and explain what they actually do to achieve UN mandates. 

The inaugural event, "The Real United Nations: The UN Secretariat in Action", took place at New York University (NYU) on 15 February 2017. Sam Martell of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), Brenden Varma of DGC, and Edem Wosornu of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), engaged in a frank discussion with 80 undergrads on how their work contributes to UN goals.

Students asked how attitudes towards the UN varied from country to country; how the UN managed to carry out humanitarian work given rising nationalism across the world; what the UN was doing to help refugees and migrants; and whether working at the UN felt different now that there was a new Secretary-General.

The series returned to NYU for its second session on 19 April 2017, called “The Real United Nations: Innovating for Development". This time, Malika Bhandarkar of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Jeremy Boy of UN Global Pulse, Alice Chen from the UN SDG Action Campaign and Antje Watermann of DGC, spoke about what they were doing to promote international development and how they were using new innovative tools to influence policy makers and ensure that no one is left behind.

All attendees got to use UN virtual reality glasses to “visit” refugee camps and natural disaster zones, and during the ensuing discussion, they asked how technology was transforming the work of the UN. Many were intrigued to learn that UN staff not only includes international relations experts, but also graphic designers, visual data specialists and technological innovators. 

The two launch events generated much positive feedback from the students. It was fun for the participating staff as well.

“It was so rewarding to connect with students during the ‘Real UN’ series. Fresh perspectives and candid questions re-energized my commitment to innovate for the SDGs,” said Malika Bhandarkar.

Alice Chen, who graduated from NYU, added, “Speaking at my alma mater on the work I do at the UN, showing how we are breaking silos to reach the most marginalized populations to get them actively engaged in the SDGs, was a very special experience.”

And Sam Martell said, "In DPPA, we don't always get the chance to engage with young people. The students' enthusiasm was great to see and reminded me why I joined the UN in the first place."

On 21 February 2018, DGC returned to NYU for an additional session, called “The Real United Nations: Advancing the Work of the General Assembly”. The goal was to highlight the role of the Office of the President of the General Assembly (OPGA), which is a unique area of the UN. 

OPGA supports the President during his or her one-year term and helps him or her to advance the goals and values of the only body where all 193 UN Member States sit as equals. But unlike other offices in the UN, which are staffed by international civil servants, many of OPGA’s staff are young diplomats who are loaned by their Government for the year. 

Students therefore got the chance to hear unique perspectives on what goes on behind the scenes in OPGA, what kinds of paths the speakers took to end up there, and why the General Assembly and its President play vital roles in the global arena. The panel included: Thanavon (Tina) Pamaranon, Adviser to the President on Financial and Economic Matters, who had been loaned to OPGA from the Permanent Mission of Thailand to the UN; Nikola Ivezaj, Adviser on Outreach to Civil Society and the Private Sector, who had been loaned from the Permanent Mission of Montenegro; and Isis Gonsalves, Adviser to the President on Youth and Reforms, who was on loan from the Permanent Mission of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

During 2019, “The Real United Nations: An Interactive Briefing Series for Model UNs” started visiting Model UN clubs at high schools in New York, including the NYC iSchool in Manhattan (28 October); the High School for Enterprise, Business and Technology, in Brooklyn (7 November); and the Bronx High School of Science (18 December). Participating briefers included: Qais Sultan, Fiorella Triscritti and Carolina Vizcaíno from DPPA; Esra Sergi from DGC; Nina Pronin from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; and Naomi Parekh from the United Nations Programme for Human Settlements (UN-Habitat). According to surveys completed after these three briefings, 97 per cent of respondents agreed that their understanding of what it was like to work at the United Nations had increased, and 74 per cent said they would apply what they had learned to study-related or Model United Nations activities.

Showcasing the diversity of the people who work at the UN, the “Real United Nations” panels from 2017 to 2019 featured nationals of the following countries: China; Ecuador; Finland; France; Germany; Ghana; India; Italy; Montenegro; New Zealand; Oman; Peru; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Thailand; Turkey; the United Kingdom; and the United States.