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“MoMUNtum” hopes to move Model U.N. to the next level with new grant

MoMUNtum co-founders Mikhal Ben-Joseph and Patrick Kaper-Barcelata pose for a portrait on Oct.10, 2022, in Chapel Hill, NC.

Momentum (noun): the quantity of motion of a moving body. 

But what body? In this case it’s the student organization “moMUNtum” — which seeks to move Model United Nations forward.

MoMUNtum was co-founded by UNC students, Patrick Kaper-Barcelata and Mikhal “Mimi” Ben-Joseph, in the summer of 2020. The project works to make Model U.N. more accessible, equitable and impactful for high schools in the United States and India. 

Model U.N. is a high school extracurricular activity where students attend conferences and learn about diplomatic relations as representatives of each country in the real U.N.. Both Kaper-Barcelata and Ben-Joseph had positive experiences with this team program in high school.

“I classify it as a distinct agent of empowerment in my life," Kaper-Barcelata said. "And it's given me some of the most powerful experiences and best memories I've had still to this day, so my involvement is very much rooted in wanting to extend that experience to as many people as possible."

The organization focuses on three pathways: equitability, education and driving discussion. The project has already created mentionable momentum and is working to create more with a potential new grant from Taco Bell.

“I think we're just seeing it as lightning sparks to create a fire of change,” Kaper-Barcelata said.

Although Model U.N. provided them with great experiences, Kaper-Barcelata and Ben-Joseph eventually realized some flaws associated with the program 

“We basically have gained a lot of value from Model U.N., but simultaneously realized that there were some critical faults with the circuit and how Model U.N. is run in actuality,” Kaper-Barcelata said. “It can be exclusive or not equally uplifting for all delegates for a variety of factors. That ultimately results in the fact that the activity is really reserved for largely wealthy, well-resourced high schools.”

Ben-Joseph’s motivation to create moMUNtum came from the reaction of the Model U.N. community to political unrest in the summer of 2020. She wanted to make a tangible difference for individuals who want to get involved with a program that has the potential create so much impact. 

The team has already made visible impacts on students. 

One UNC first-year, Ciara Daly, has especially embodied the empowerment that the program strives to translate to students. Daly was first introduced to moMUNtum in high school as a  Model U.N. participant looking to expand the program and create more equitable practices. 

They are now working as a facilitator for moMUNtum by helping train students from India in Model U.N.

“To kind of go from having been a student who was impacted by it and whose conferences were helped by (moMUNtum's) projects, to then be able to repay that forward to other students is definitely a really awesome thing,” Daly said. 

The co-founders recently applied for the Taco Bell Ambition Accelerator grant, which is open for anyone ages 16-26 to submit innovative ideas and projects for social change.

They were first selected as quarter-finalists, and now as semi-finalists, Kaper-Barcelata and Ben-Joseph are soon headed to a summit in Irvine, Calif. in hopes of winning the grand reward of $25,000.

Ben-Joseph said historically, moMUNtum has operated on a low budget — which has restricted their ambitions for the program.

“Now we're thinking really big about 'Can we put on conferences in another country?', 'Can we help create teams in schools where we never thought we could help them and get them to conferences?', and I think it's helping us just dream bigger about our existing capacity,” Ben-Joseph said. 

This capacity, with enough momentum, will only grow with time, Daly said.

“I think that this grant can really exponentially grow our project. Right now, we're kind of limited just to UNC, but I think this grant will give us the capability to go beyond that, since we're hoping to expand,” they said.

Kaper-Barcelata echoed these thoughts – reinforcing the need for the grant to empower others.

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“With all the people we work with, and all the people we impact, we’re hoping to make a certain impression and inspire a spark of optimism,” Kaper-Barcelata said.