How we work

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) meets with Director-General Irina Bokova at UNESCO
© UN photo/Eskinder Debebe
UNESCO, at the heart of the United Nations

Since my election I have made known my ambition to fully position UNESCO at the heart of the United Nations system. Our leading role in the Secretary General’s recent initiatives represents, in my view, the best encouragement, and proof of the legitimacy of this strategy.”

In the period of a few months, UNESCO has been entrusted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with a range of initiatives placing the Organization at the centre of UN reform and proving its worth to the UN System:

  • UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, has been called to take the lead in creating the Scientific Advisory Board on Sustainable Development
  • UNESCO, together with UNDP, has been designated as responsible for drafting the global report on the creative economy
  • UNESCO plays a leading role in the new Global Partnership for Oceans, built on the ideas developed by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

The launch of the "Education First" initiative by the Secretary-General is the culmination of UNESCO’s efforts to highlight the importance of education both as a fundamental right and as a driving force of human development. For the first time, education is placed at the top of the United Nations’ priorities. This achievement is, in itself, a justification of UNESCO’s work - both with the governments and on the ground.

“This positioning is central to the reform of the Organization,” said Irina Bokova. “The reform should be based on two components: structural reform, reduction of costs and search of efficiency on the one hand, and the development of our role as a leader in the areas where we provide added value.”

Every day, UNESCO adds value to the international community in a range of ways, by functioning as:

  • A laboratory of ideas;
  • A standard setter;
  • A catalyst for international cooperation;
  • A clearing house;
  • A capacity builder for Member States.

UNESCO relies on a vast network of people, institutions and partners to focus its work and amplify its impact, including:

  • A network of 199 National Commissions that maintain constant dialogue between civil society and governmental authorities. Unique within the UN system, this mechanism ensures UNESCO's relevance at the national level.
  • UNESCO Institutes and Centres
    • Category 1 Institutes and Centres are an integral part of UNESCO, and strengthen the capacity of Member States - particularly in developing countries.
    • Category 2 Institutes and Centres work under the auspices of UNESCO. These Institutes and Centres are not legally part of the Organization, but are associated through formal arrangements. They contribute to the implementation of UNESCO’s programmes through capacity building and exchange of information in a particular discipline.

UNESCO is the only UN agency whose name is associated with the protection and management of cultural and natural sites or geographic areas, where implementation of its ideas and programs is carried out. They include:

UNESCO also draws upon the work of scientists, cultural workers, teachers and organizations involved in the educational, scientific and cultural life of societies. Over the years, UNESCO has formed rich and varied networks that allow it to establish deep ties with a range of civil society organizations and national authorities.

UNESCO’s Global Networks

Regional Networks

In Africa

In the Arab States

  • Water and Development Information for Arid Lands – A Global Network (G-WADI)
  • Nile Basin Flow Regimes from International Experimental and Network Data (FRIEND/Nile Project)
  • Man and the Biosphere Network - Arab States (ArabMAB)

In Asia and the Pacific

In Latin America and the Caribbean

In Europe and North America

  • Northern European Flow Regimes from International Experimental and Network Data (Northern European FRIEND)
  • Alpine and Mediterranean Flow Regimes from International Experimental and Network Data (AMHY FRIEND)
  • Man and the Biosphere network for the Europe and North America Region (EuroMAB)
  • Man and the Biosphere Network for Latin America, Portugal and Spain (IberoMAB)
  • East Atlantic Biosphere Reserves Network (REDBIOS)
  • CYTED Thematic Network on Biosphere Reserves