UN ideas change history


The UN was formed by states, it depends on states and is directed by states. However, the UN has always drawn the interests of a variety of non-state actors seeking to influence what happens there and partnerships have grown in recent years.


Members of the Secretariat are themselves important actors and have acquired authority, influence and legitimacy. When looking at the leadership the UN has shown in the creation, promotion and application of ideas over the last seven decades, it is important to distinguish between these three kinds of players: 

  • Member States, also known as first UN
  • Staff members and specialised agencies secretariats, known as second UN 
  • Associated non-government organisations, experts and consultants, known as third UN.


Ideas generated from any of these ‘three UNs’ can lead to action in many ways, and have been the UN’s most important contributions over the last seven decades. Especially the formulation and adoption of goals for development have served over the years as a focus for mobilising coalitions of interested partners (and you will learn about the latest sustainable development goals in subsequent modules).


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