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United Nations Research Guide

This guide will suggest background resources and tips on navigating United Nations documents.

Specialized Agencies of the United Nations

The UN maintains close working relationships with 15 international organizations that have been designated as "specialized agencies" of the UN, even though they are independent legal entities.  Each specialized agency operates autonomously under the UN's umbrella, with its own governing body, procedural rules, membership, and funding mechanisms.

Some of the specialized agencies predate the UN, having been established in the 19th century or in the aftermath of World War I by the League of Nations, the UN's predecessor.  Some were founded concurrently with the UN at the end of World War II.  Others were created more recently to meet emerging needs. 

An alphabetical list of the UN's specialized agencies follows.  For each specialized agency, its headquarters city, a brief description of its mission, and a link to its website are provided.  Visit the online Directory of UN System Organizations for a comprehensive listing of all UN-affiliated entities.

  • Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) - Rome
    The FAO coordinates international efforts to fight hunger and improve nutrition and food security by supporting research, facilitating the exchange of information and best practices, and by encouraging countries to adopt legislative and regulatory frameworks to promote sustainable agricultural development.
  • International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) - Montreal
    The ICAO works with the 193 member states of the Convention on International Civil Aviation to develop consensus-driven international standards and practices to facilitate safe, reliable, efficient, and sustainable international air travel.
  • International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) - Rome
    IFAD was established in 1977 to work directly with the rural poor in developing countries, empowering them improve their agricultural practices, raise their productivity and incomes, and thereby eliminate poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.
  • International Labour Organization (ILO) - Geneva
    Since it was founded in 1919, the ILO has solicited input from national governments, employers, and workers to establish internationally recognized labor standards enshrined in multilateral treaties.  The ILO also develops policies and practices to promote safety and equality in the workplace and maintains a database of national laws governing labor and employment practices.  The ILO was designated as the first specialized agency of the UN in 1946.
  • International Monetary Fund (IMF) - Washington, DC
    The IMF's core mission is to maintain the stability of the international monetary system and mitigate the impact of financial crises.  It does so by providing temporary financial assistance to national governments to help them cope with balance-of-payments adjustments and discourage them from resorting to competitive currency devaluations, which prolonged the Great Depression of the 1930s.
  • International Maritime Organization (IMO) - London
    The IMO is responsible for maintaining the regulatory framework that governs the international shipping industry, ensuring a level playing field of universally recognized safety, security, and environmental standards for ship operators.
  • International Telecommunications Union (ITU) - Geneva
    Founded in 1865 to promote international cooperation in the emerging telegraph industry, the ITU continues to facilitate connectivity in modern telecommunications networks.  In addition to allocating the global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, the ITU oversees the development and adoption of technical standards that enable networks to interconnect seamlessly across national borders.  It also strives to improve access to these technologies in underserved communities.
  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) - Paris
    UNESCO promotes international cooperation in the fields of education, science, and culture.  It places particular emphasis on recognizing the equal dignity of all cultures, the protection of cultural heritage in all its forms, and maintaining the right to freedom of expression.
  • United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) - Vienna
    UNIDO's core mission is the promotion of industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalization, and environmental sustainability.  It accomplishes these goals through research and analysis, the development of normative standards, networking, knowledge transfer, and technical and industrial cooperation.
  • United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) - Madrid
    The UNWTO works with national governments and private stakeholders to promote tourism as a driver of economic growth and development that is inclusive and accessible to all.  It also facilitates the advancement and sharing of environmentally sustainable tourism policies and practices. 
  • Universal Postal Union (UPU) - Bern, Switzerland
    Since its founding in 1874, the UPU has set the rules for international mail and parcel delivery and provided a forum for cooperation and information-sharing among postal services worldwide.  It also promotes the improvement of postal products and services through the adoption of new technologies. 
  • World Health Organization (WHO) - Geneva
    The WHO coordinates efforts among its 194 member states to improve the health of individuals and the provision of healthcare services.  WHO's current priorities include increasing access to universal health coverage, the prevention and treatment of communicable and non-communicable diseases, and capacity-building measures to enable countries to manage health emergencies and prevent pandemics.    
  • World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) - Geneva
    WIPO provides a policy forum for drafting and revising the treaty-based rules that recognize intellectual property rights at the international level.  It also offers a range of services for protecting IP rights across borders, establishes common standards and classifications to facilitate information sharing among national IP offices and stakeholders, maintains searchable databases of national IP laws, and provides mechanisms for resolving IP disputes without litigation. 
  • World Meteorological Organization (WMO) - Geneva
    The WMO promotes international cooperation and coordination among the national meteorological and hydrological services that monitor the weather and climate conditions produced by the the interaction of the Earth's atmosphere with the land and oceans.  In addition to establishing technical standards to enable accurate observations, the WMO also facilitates capacity development, data exchange, and technology transfers. 
  • World Bank - Washington, DC
    The World Bank is an international financial organization which aims to reduce poverty by providing financing, policy advice, and technical assistance to developing countries.  It consists of two core institutions.  The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) provides loans to middle-income and credit-worthy poorer nations, while the International Development Agency (IDA) offers loans and grants to the world's poorest countries.  Three affiliated institutions (the International Finance Corporation, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, and the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes) focus on strengthening the private sector in developing countries.  Together, these five institutions comprise the World Bank Group.