The Cornell Model United Nations opened its 16th annual high school conference Thursday with a speech from former UN Under-Secretary-General Chris Burnham.
The conference, which is hosted by the Cornell International Affairs Society, attracts delegates from the United States, Canada, South Africa, China and more, with over 800 students attending annually.
“You have the world by the tail,” Burnham said to the crowd of high school students. “It is going to change more in the next 10 years than it’s changed in my lifetime. It’s going to change more in the next 30 years than it has in the last 200.”
According to CMUNC Secretary General and event organizer Austin McLaughlin ’18, the aim of the program is to encourage high-level discussion and debate on international issues through historically, geographically and topically diverse committees of delegates.
CIAS President Aranzazu Jorquiera ’17 opened the conference by commenting on the relevance of the event in light of today’s political climate.
“In such polarized times, what better way to engage with the world than with open ears, debates, negotiation, compromise and collaboration for a world as it should be, not as it is,” Jorquiera said.
Burnham noted the importance of adapting to the quickly changing world by speaking about his own experiences in the State Department and United Nations as these organization have attempted to keep pace with the rapid rate of change.
Having held multiple positions in the State Department under Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Burnham went on to serve as the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations for Management and was, at the time, the highest-ranking American in the United Nations Secretariat.
Burnham was adamant about the successes and positive change caused by UN efforts — citing the World Food Program as a key example. However, he also acknowledged the need for continued improvement.
“I do not want you to think I see the UN as flawless,” Burnham said. “The UN, like so many governmental and intergovernmental organizations, is caught in a time warp of 20th century governance, accountability, transparency and efficiency.”
Burnham worked hard to institute reform while serving in the United Nations. He led the creation of a new United Nations Ethics Office and United Nations Independent Audit Advisory Committee and implemented a new whistleblower protection policy which has received independent recognition as the “gold standard” of such policies, according to McLaughlin.
“Your generation is at the forefront of [the] greatest technological revolution in history … there will be massive disruptions to economies around the world,” Burnham said, adding that this was not only a challenge but one of the greatest opportunities in recent history.
This lesson was echoed by McLaughlin’s perspective from years of Model UN experience on the benefits of participating in such conferences.
“A few people can come together to enact real positive change, doing so just requires finding common ground,” he said.
Burnham concluded his address with a note of encouragement for the young delegates.
“You are the best and the brightest, from around the world you have come here tonight, to help each other and to learn,” he said. “Don’t ever stop learning and don’t ever stop leading.”