Fernando de la Mora is helping give UBC students a voice in global policy discussions - photo by Martin Dee
UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 1 | Jan. 9, 2006
Student Club First to Earn Canadian International Education Award
By Basil Waugh
A group of UBC political junkies are attracting the attention of international diplomats with a series of innovative programs that are giving students a voice in global policy discussions, and extending learning beyond the classroom.
UBC’s 235-member International Relations Student Association (IRSA) is engaging students, government officials, and international policy experts in cutting-edge negotiation simulations, foreign policy discussions and fundraising events.
This fall, IRSA became the first student-run organization to be recognized as most outstanding university program in international education by the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), which represents 200 educational institutions around Canada. The award recognizes IRSA’s leadership in promoting international learning, and cites it as a model of best practices.
“To be recognized as most outstanding program in Canada is an enormous honour, especially as a student organization,” says IRSA president and fourth-year international relations student Fernando de la Mora. “When it comes to civic engagement and global citizenship, I think this shows that our members are really walking the talk.”
One of the highlights of IRSA’s programming is its Night of a Thousand Dinners, which is the largest student-organized fundraiser in the world for landmine awareness. This year the group presented the dinner at Vancouver’s Westin Bayshore Resort and Marina in partnership with Mines Action Canada and the governments of Canada, U.S., Britain, and Costa Rica.
“By reaching out to countries -- including the U.S., which has still not signed the Ottawa landmine treaty -- we are showing how students can keep an issue on government agendas,” says de la Mora. “It used to be considered unthinkable that innocent lives would stop being lost to landmines, but with hard work, I believe that we’ll see it in our lifetime.”
IRSA has also been particularly innovative in model negotiations. It has been voted best delegation five years running at the National Model NATO in Washington, DC, competing against major military institutions such as West Point Academy. It also hosts the largest Model United Nations in Western Canada, and, in January 2005, worked closely with the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs to perform the first and only simulation of the then upcoming Human Security Network Ministerial Meeting, which negotiates policy in advance of the United Nations General Assembly.
“Working with policy-makers is enriching our educational experience exponentially,” says de la Mora. “And to our surprise, the diplomatic community has been very interested in what students have to say on global issues.”
Andrew Caddell, senior policy advisor, Foreign Affairs Canada, says that IRSA’s negotiation simulations are a helpful resource in preparing governments and external organization for negotiations.
“IRSA’s models are very close to the actual experience due to their attention to detail and research. Being able to see how negotiations unfold in the academic setting is tremendously valuable to me as an observer.”
On the strength of this simulation, Foreign Affairs invited IRSA members to attend the actual sitting of the 14-nation Human Security Network Ministerial Meeting in Ottawa.
De la Mora says, “It was incredible to see the similarities between our event and the real thing. Watching many of the same recommendations that we made move up the policy ladder was really satisfying.”
After graduation, de la Mora intends to return to his native Mexico to work as a diplomatic attaché, with the goal of becoming an ambassador. In joining the diplomatic community, he would join, among others, former club president Jeff Reynolds who works at NATO; alumnus Gary Lee who is engaged in softwood lumber negotiations with International Trade Canada, and former vice-president Brendon Miller who is working on the democratization process of Iraq at the Research Triangle Institute in Washington, D.C.