Five functions for UNESCO

Throughout its activities and projects, UNESCO performs and assumes a range of functions corresponding to its role as the international lead agency for education, the sciences, culture and communication. Seeking primarily to serve the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, including the least-developed countries, notably in Africa, and women and youth, five functions have been defined by the Medium-Term Strategy for the period 2002-2007.

A laboratory of ideas
The origins and consequences of the profound changes taking place today must be fully understood along with the place occupied by education, science, culture and communication. UNESCO plays a key role in anticipating and defining, in the light of the ethical principles that it champions, as a kind of “laboratory of ideas”, the most important emerging problems in its spheres of competence and in identifying appropriate strategies and policies to deal with them. Only then can these changes be channelled and UNESCO’s action become effective.

A clearing house
UNESCO has a role in gathering, transferring, disseminating and sharing available information, knowledge and best practices in its fields of competence, identifying innovative solutions and testing them through pilot projects. It is one of the most crucial functions of the Organization. It is here that UNESCO launches and co-ordinates regional or worldwide networks serving a threefold purpose: research, exchange of research results, and training. At international conferences, international experts also formulate new and common approaches to the major issues confronting UNESCO and Member States, mobilizing their talents and resources to attain common objectives.

A standard-setter
When, quite apart from their cultural differences and traditions, States agree to common rules, they can draw up an international instrument: an agreement or convention, both of which are legally binding, a recommendation or a declaration. UNESCO participates in this effort through its standard-setting action, serving as a central forum for coordinating the ethical, normative and intellectual issues of our time, fostering multidisciplinary exchange and mutual understanding, working – where possible and desirable – towards universal agreements on these issues, defining benchmarks and mobilizing international opinion. UNESCO also helps to draw up or revise the instrument, works towards its adoption or revision, sees that it is respected and, occasionally, assists Member States in putting it into practice. The Executive Board’s Committee on Conventions and Recommendations can and does act upon violations of human rights in UNESCO’s fields of competence. It has examined nearly 500 cases since 1978 of which half have been settled through contacts with the States concerned.

A capacity-builder in Member States
UNESCO organizes international cooperation for serving its stakeholders, especially its Member States, in building human and institutional capacities in all its fields of competence, in the form of “technical cooperation”. When Mauritius seeks to renovate its education system, when Kazakhstan decides to prepare legislation on press freedom, or El Salvador to provide civic instruction to its police force, these countries request technical assistance from UNESCO. This advisory function generally concerns the development of policies, national strategies, projects, feasibility studies, raising funds for their execution and, finally, evaluation.

A catalyst for international cooperation
UNESCO, as a technical multidisciplinary agency, assumes a catalytic role for development cooperation in its fields of competence, for the convergence of work which otherwise would be dispersed, thus less effective, and risk being ignored by those needing it most. To that end it seeks to ensure that the objectives, principles and priorities it promotes are adopted by other multilateral and bilateral programmes and that projects are implemented, particularly at regional and national levels, through innovation, effective interventions and wise practices.

Beyond the stimulation of personal contacts among specialists, or through the reinforcement of education systems, UNESCO contributes to the dissemination of knowledge by serving as a centre for the collection and worldwide distribution of specialized information in its various fields of action, using written materials and, to an increasing extent, electronic means. UNESCO publishes about 50 bulletins and some 20 periodicals, publishes or co-publishes each year about 100 titles and produces biennial global reports on the state of education, science, culture and communication. In addition, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics website contains an extraordinary range of data and analytical reports on these fields for the world’s countries and regions.