International organisations

International organisations (such as the UN agencies and the international development banks) were established and are run by groups of countries in order to pool their financial, technical and human resources to address common regional or global problems. 

Each organisation has a designated sphere of responsibilities, e.g., health, food security, refugee welfare, post-conflict reconstruction, institution building, international trade or the international monetary system.

A significant amount of financial aid, technical skills and policy advice to the developing world passes through this multilateral channel, rather than going directly from a donor country to a developing country (as is the case with bilateral aid).

The member countries typically provide financial support to an international organisation in proportion to the country’s economic size and importance. For example, the USA provides around 16.5% of the World Bank’s financial resources, Spain 1.75%, and a small Pacific island state like Tuvalu gives one hundredth of one percent.

The organisation’s staff is drawn from, and normally restricted to, member country nationals (but, in the case of regional development banks, remember that donor countries are also members even though not from the region).

There is usually an effort made to maintain some kind of balance between a member country’s financial stake in the organisation and its share of the staff. Some organisations go as far as to operate a nationality quota system whereby only nationals from under-represented countries can apply (e.g., for the UN National Competitive Recruitment Exams).

The majority of the staff of an international organisation works at its headquarters (e.g., in New York, Washington, Geneva, Vienna, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Santiago etc.). That is where their new international staff (as opposed to contractual or local employees) often start, although later in their career they may spend some time in a small regional office. However, it is normal for staff to travel – sometimes frequently – to other, particularly developing, countries in order to carry out their responsibilities.