Friday, March 13, 2009

Comments on the Budget of UNESCO

One of the more difficult issues for the students in my class has been to understand the budget of UNESCO. I did this simple spreadsheet (click on it to enlarge) to help them to understand the Organization. It describes the budget for the two year period, of almost one billion dollars.

The UNESCO budget is divided between the Approved budget funded from the assessed contributions of the member nations, and the extra-budgetary resources which are voluntary contributions made to specific projects and units of the organization. (There are lots of activities done under the UNESCO umbrella which are not included in these budgets, such as those of the so called "Category 2 Centers", National Commissions, Associated Schools, and University Chairs, not to mention the in kind services of people consulted by UNESCO.)

Note first that more than one-third of the expected funding is extra-budgetary. On the one hand, this allows the donors to direct the funding to efforts that they feel are especially valuable; on the other hand, the Organization's focus is heavily dependent on the contributions it can obtain as donations.

Part II of the budget, which includes the direct budgets for the various programs of UNESCO (including direct staff and other direct expenses), represents only about 70 percent of the total, and that is about equally divided between assessed contributions and voluntary contributions. I suspect that this is a glitch in the accounting principals. Thus the communication of UNESCO's work done via the Internet is probably accounted as supporting services, while I would regard that communication as one of UNESCO's more important functions. So too, some of the meetings hosted by UNESCO would seem to be accounted as part of the direction, but may also represent an important function of the organization as promoting dialog and serving as a clearinghouse for ideas.

Note how the balance of approved and extra-budgetary resources differs from program to program. The education program appears to be the priority for UNESCO as viewed from its Approved budget, while the natural science program would appear to be the priority of the nations making voluntary contributions.

I would also note that the budget for the social and human sciences program is smaller than that for other programs. Given the importance that improved understanding of economics, sociology, anthropology, political science, management sciences, psychology, cognitive science, etc. could have for the world, this is too bad. On the other hand, it would be hard to justify taking money away from starved programs of education, natural sciences, culture and communications to build new capacities in UNESCO. More resources are clearly needed.

If one were to take a billion dollar budget for an organization with UNESCO's charter and allocate it optimally, this is not the budget that would result. Rather this is the budget that funds the UNESCO organization and program that has evolved over six decades, under the influence of a complex legislative and bureaucratic decision making process, and the willingness of the more affluent nations to fund the Organization.

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