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Global Governance Funding: the Changing Landscape.

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Global Policy Forum is an independent policy watchdog that monitors the work of the United Nations and scrutinizes global policymaking. GPF analyzes deep and persistent structures of power and dissects rapidly-emerging issues and crises.

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Barbara ADAMS


Fit for Purpose ? Private funding and corporate influence in the United Nations. 09/2015






While at first glance around $40 billion per year may seem to be a substantial sum, in reality the overall budget of the whole UN system is smaller than the budget of New York City, less than a quarter of the budget of the EU, and only 2.3% of the world’s military expenditures.

The structural underfunding of the UN system and its dependence on a limited number of donors has led the UN to search for new funding sources, particularly in the private and business sector.

In the first decades of the organization’s existence, private actors, whether they be companies, NGOs or philanthropic foundations, did not contribute financially to the UN – with a few notable exceptions. One particularly symbolic exception was the gift of multimillionaire John Rockefeller Jr. At the end of the 1940s, he donated $8.5 million to purchase a piece of land on the banks of New York’s East River for UN’s headquarters.

Today, the piecemeal and market-menu approach has severe consequences for the multilateral quality of the UN system. Donor contributions to the UN development system, while increasing substantially in amount, have shifted away from core funding towards non-core or earmarked funding – mostly for projects from a single or small group of donors, on programme-specific topics.

This change in funding practices has deep implications for global governance. Earmarking runs the risk of turning UN agencies, funds and programmes into contractors for bilateral or public-private projects, eroding the multilateral character of the system and undermining democratic governance.

Donor earmarking of funds can exacerbate “mission creep” within UN development bodies by pushing them to undertake projects outside their core mandates. This furthers fragmentation and incoherence across the UN system, weakening accountability and risking the reliance on and consequent capture of UN institutions by a limited number of donors.

The United Nations is embarking on a new era of corporate-led solutions to global problems.

Traditionally, contributions to the UN trust funds have come mainly from individual Member States and governmental agencies. Yet in recent years, the trust funds have been used more frequently to channel private money into the UN. Detailed information about these flows, the donors and their donations, are not publicly available. The UN does not systematically disclose comprehensive data on these private flows.