Young Professional Highlights from the 2016 Leadership Summit

Model UN Simulation

Russia taunted: “Drill, baby, drill.” USA passed a note to Germany urging them to work together. Egypt ranted about climate change.

This was a scene from a Model UN mini-simulation on Climate Change at this year’s UNA-USA Leadership Summit, where about 400 UNA members from across the country gathered to listen to speakers and noted diplomats and to advocate for UN issues on Capitol Hill.

The participant pool at the simulation session reflected the diversity of UNA members and their reasons for attending. One man said that taking part in Model UN when he was younger gave him the confidence to overcome a speech impediment. Others agreed that they wished they could’ve participated in school but couldn’t: Model UN was seen as a “rich people” school activity, untouchable and unavailable to their educators.

Current students, children and refugees were a large focus at the Leadership Summit, which took place at the National Education Association in Washington, DC.

Support for Refugees

Hundreds of UNA participants gathered in the lobby of the NEA for the Refugee Back to School Initiative. Together, attendees stuffed notebooks, highlighters and other school supplies into 1,000 backpacks. Boxes full of backpacks will be shipped to nine cities across America impacted by the refugee crisis.

Ambassador Tracey Jacobson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, said the United States has committed to accepting 85,000 refugees this year, a small portion of 60 million people displaced.

“The biggest thing we can do for refugees is solve the world crisis that led to the refugees in the first place,” Jacobson said. “The United Nations is our key partner in all of these efforts.”

One student from the UNA-Dallas chapter is taking action for refugees while he is still in school himself. Pierce Lowary, 17, founded the United Nations Youth Coalition to engage high school students in his community with global issues. Lowary, who speaks Farsi, said growing up with an Iranian mother made him more aware of issues abroad.

“There’s so much more to the world than what we see as Americans,” he said.


For many participants, Advocacy Day was a culmination of a year of preparing and advocating in their chapters. Lowary’s personal connection with advocacy is exactly what Chris Whatley, Mike Beard and other UNA leaders encouraged UNA members to keep in mind going into Advocacy Day.

“Give a compelling story, why it matters to you,” said Beard, Executive Director for Advocacy and Global Health at the UN Foundation. “There’s a thread we can weave throughout all our advocacy.”

On the last day of the summit, participants were split into geographical groups according to which members of Congress they would visit. States with smaller representations shared tables while more populated states, such as New York, had more than one table.

The group leader asked them to recall why they joined UNA and what issues brought them all the way to Capitol Hill. Among a smaller group from Queens, there was a doctor, college student, former teacher, and an associate from a not-for-profit organization committed to helping refugees.

Buses transported participants from NEA to Capitol Hill, where they attended back-to-back meetings with members of Congress or staffers. Participants advocated for funding, specifically toward UN peacekeeping missions, and many chose to also talk about UN issues they were passionate about, such as the Sustainable Development Goals or the refugee crisis. Group leaders stressed that UNA would likely be the only group advocating specifically for UN-related issues on Capitol Hill this year.