No. 5 - May 2013

by Stephen Browne

UNIDO: Facing the Future


At the end of 2012, the United Kingdom withdrew its membership from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the most recent of several major donor countries (including the United States and Canada) to do so. Although it has had strong support from many developing countries, UNIDO has for many years been regarded with skepticism by some donors. But, just as it seemed to be launching itself again into new initiatives, the sudden loss of nine percent of its core financing has plunged the organization into a new period of introspection. With a new director-general appointed in 2013, what does the future hold?

Evolutions in funding since the 1990s has had a profound effect on UNIDO, casting its very existence into doubt. The funding roller-coaster has forced major organizational reforms and precipitated a major rethinking of UNIDO’s role. Two areas in particular have offered UNIDO a new lease of life: providing assistance to developing country industries in the more efficient and environmentally-friendly use of resources; and helping industrial exporters from the South attain global market standards of quality.

Whatever UNIDO’s future organizational configuration, looking to the future it should focus its activities on areas where free market forces are unhelpful to the industrialization process, and where a neutral public organization can add unique value. Two key areas of opportunity for UNIDO are in green industry, and in helping developing countries to meet quality standards in order to compete effectively in domestic and international markets. In addition, UNIDO should develop more fully-fledged e-learning facilities in order to become an interactive learning organization that helps people transform knowledge into skills.

Stephen Browne is a Fellow of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and co-Director of FUNDS.
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