“We are really proud to have created a home-made brand”
University flagship events are such high-profile affairs that the upper-tier management of a rich private university often announce a call for tenders, to outsource the organization of such things. You will almost never hear that a university club, run by students, is being offered to organize a major event. However, such a phenomenon has been happening for the last three years.
Independent University, Bangladesh entrusts the organization of its flagship event IUB Ascension to the IUB Debating Club. Weekend Tribune talked to Fardeen Ameen, the current president of Bangladesh Debating Council and the former club president of IUBDC, to understand the hype behind IUB Ascension.
In 2016, IUB management decided that they wanted to foray into interacting with school children. They weren’t sure how to do it. By then I had already forged good ties with them as my teammates and I were able to win a national debating championship at BRAC University, and we also represented IUB at a few tournaments in Malaysia. They trusted us to come up with something to help them, so we came up with the idea of a debate tournament. Not only does debate engage these kids, it also makes them indulge in a co-curricular activity; something that has an element of education around it. And that’s how Ascension was born.
We decided that instead of making it a typical debate tournament, we would make it more relatable for the demographic of people in attendance. We wanted to make it very engaging, and vibrant. That’s how the idea of a super-hero theme came was born, and because it worked so well, we decided to have a theme every year.
It was a massive challenge, because back then, we were only a club of 8 to 10 people. We recruited a team really quickly, and they meshed really well. In the first edition we had around 37 institutions and 64 teams, and it was just for schools from Bangladesh. Even so, we had a really good response. They were really happy. They were very impressed to see the themed decorations, and they were grateful to see Nemesis perform. The feedback was so overwhelmingly positive that IUB Administration decided to pursue it again the following year.
In 2017, we had the option of being complacent and doing the same thing again. However, we went for something different. What we decided to pursue instead was an international tournament, and that’s how we opened it up to the rest of the world. We wanted them to come and see IUB and IUB Ascension. Another reason for going global was that international debating hasn’t taken place in Bangladesh since 2011, so it was a foreign concept for everyone involved.
It was a really tough call to make, as it was right after the Holey Artisan attacks. So we were under a lot of pressure. But we decided to stick with it, and were overwhelmed. We had 84 teams, which is the largest number of teams hosted by a university in Bangladesh. We had teams coming in from Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, India, and Philippines. As for our panel of judges, that was our unique selling point. Bangladesh has never experienced such a high profile panel of judges.
We brought in Raffy Marshall, who has been nominated as the best speaker of the World University Debating Championship. We brought in Mubarrat Wassey, who is an Australasian plus Asian debating champion. We also brought in other acclaimed judges from India, Malaysia, and Australia. We had an extremely diverse bunch of mentors who changed lives for many of the kids they interacted with, since they have never been exposed to such international quality feedback, whilst ensuring access for everyone. We kept our registration fee really low, so that everyone could access it.
We went with a Harry Potter theme, which had resonated with the kids. The decoration team went all out, and yet again they were applauded for their efforts. We created a Quidditch pitch. We created a great hall. In every way, we decided to go all out to ensure maximum hospitality for our guests. We had a really good impression yet again, not just with the kids but also with the foreign guests as well.
Again, we had the easy option of being repetitive, but we decided to break the ceiling further. So this year we are having 116 teams, making it the largest debating tournament South Asia has ever seen, especially, one that has been created completely by us. When we do a Math Olympiad, or when we do an Asian debating championship, there are fixed formats where only the venues change. However, in Ascension, the brand, the design, the mechanics of the tournament is completely made from scratch by us here at IUB, with support from our judges and the wider debating community. We are really proud that it is a home-made brand. Now it is an international academic brand, and we hope to keep alleviating this as the years go by.