United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

Member states in UNESCO have long been divided over substantive priorities, leading to a sectorally fragmented organization in which specific member state groups support ‘their’ sectors (Hanrieder 2015). While already in the late 1960s, ‘inadequate financial resources’ were considered ‘a major UNESCO disability’ (Sewell 1973, 143), UNESCO’s real budgetary crises started in the 1980s, when a number of contributors, including the United States, left the organization. Announced in December 1983 (Joyner and Lawson 1985/86, 50), the USA’s exit, together with the United Kingdom and Singapore, led to a 30 % reduction in the budget for 1984-85 (Singh 2011, 41). It underlined how the collective principal could, at any time, break apart and leave an entire organization financially crippled within a matter of months.

The USA rejoined only in October 2003, which meant that the sudden loss of income became a permanent budget shortage for almost 20 years. DG Federico Mayor Zaragoza (1987-99), who came into office shortly after the USA’s withdrawal, indicated in his first speech that he would push for ‘reforms, but without disruption’, and that, although the General Conference wanted UNESCO to ‘Do less, but better’, it was ‘extraordinarily difficult to put [this] in practice...[i]n a body composed of 158 members’ where a focus on priorities was necessary, yet difficult (UNESCO 1987, 6). This indicates a complex principal constellation in the mid-1980s with little agreement over goals and priorities, but also a DG without an interest in substantive cuts, but rather in favor of budget maximization. Nonetheless, sustained budgetary pressures led to a push for centralized steering independent of Mayor’s immediate preferences. In October 1988, Mayor concentrated the planning and budgeting functions in a central Office for Planning, Budgeting and Evaluation (PBE) ‘directly under the Director-General’ (UNESCO 1988, 2). While, on the surface, this seems to confirm H1, it was only under his successor, DG Koichiru Matsuura (1999-2009), very much in favor of cuts, that we find a fully streamlined budgeting procedure when a central office, the Bureau of Strategic Planning (BSP), was created (Singh 2011, 40). To this day, BSP is responsible for coordinating the budgeting process. This underlines that under conditions of a non-unified complex principal it required a bureau-shaping IPA leader to centralize budgeting (support H2), which Matsuura clearly was. He highlighted in his first speech that he proposed to ‘streamline [UNESCO’s] activities within the limits of [UNESCO’s] budgets, and [to] closely focus upon those programs which are [UNESCO’s] true mandate’ (UNESCO 1999). As he was successful, the United States rejoined UNESCO in October 2003.

Despite Maatsura’s changes, the period during which the USA contributed its significant share to the organization did not last long. A new ‘budget crisis faced by UNESCO’ (UNESCO 2014, 4) came as the United States (and Israel) left UNESCO in reaction to a decision by a majority of member states in October 2011 in favor of Palestine joining the organization as a member. With a sudden shortage of approximately 22 % in assessed contributions, the shortfall in UNESCO’s budget has been significant and has put into question the very survival of the organization in its current form (Hufner 2015). The current DG, Irinia Bokova, has been in office since 2009. Her mission statement from that year positioned her as a bureau-shaping leader. In her statement, she opted only for a ‘modest’ budget that was realistic ‘in times of crisis’—she was referring to the global financial crisis—and she considered that ‘UNESCO must focus on a reduced number of priorities’ while also striking a balance between voluntary funds and the regular budget (Bokova 2009). A similar position could be found in her first ‘ivory note’ (an administrative circular letter) on the preparation of the 2012-13 UNESCO budget (UNESCO 2010a, 1). Thus, the expectation would have been that she would opt for more centralized budgeting (H2) and decentralized resource mobilization (H3). In fact, already in 2010, ahead of the USA leaving, Bokova had initiated a strengthening of the Bureau of Strategic Planning (BSP) and ‘entrust[ed] it with the preparation of the entire C5 [i.e., the budget]’ (UNESCO 2010b, 1), in line with expectations of H2. In the following year, but still ahead of the vote to make Palestine a UNESCO member, Bokova also added centralized resource mobilization functions to BSP (UNESCO 2011), which would be against the expectations of H3. The explanation for the seeming dual centralization in both budgeting and resource mobilization may be that while BSP ‘exercises leadership and directs the entire [budget] process’ (UNESCO 2014), it has a more coordinating and general steering role when it comes to extra-budgetary resources, with major responsibilities delegated to the level of project officers (UNESCO 2013). After USA withdrawal, the DG ‘proposed measures’ to ‘further decentralize UNESCO’s work and resource mobilization activities to the regional and country levels to position UNESCO closer to the field’ (UNESCO 2012, 3), focusing her own crisis reaction only to ‘the Emergency Multi-donor Fund for Programme Priorities and Reform Initiatives’ which was set up ‘to meet the Organization’s core needs’ (UNESCO 2013, 5). This indicates that the centralization of resource mobilization remains limited, but also that Bokova has worked to limit the need for cutback management in an attempt to continue operations as much as possible. This finding conflicts to some degree with H2 and H3.

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