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United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Abbreviation UN DESA
Formation 1948
Type Department
Legal status Active
Headquarters New York City, USA
Head Wu Hongbo
Website http://www.un.org/desa

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) is part of the United Nations Secretariat and is responsible for the follow-up to the major United Nations Summits and Conferences, as well as services to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the Second and Third Committees of the United Nations General Assembly.[1] Further, UN DESA assists countries around the world in agenda-setting and decision-making with the goal of meeting their economic, social and environmental challenges. It promotes and supports international cooperation to promote development for all. In providing a broad range of analytical products, policy advice, and technical assistance, UN DESA effectively translates global commitments in the economic, social and environmental spheres into national policies and actions and continues to play a key role in monitoring progress towards internationally agreed-upon development goals. It is also a member of the United Nations Development Group.[2]


UN DESA is part of the UN Secretariat, which is funded through regular assessed contributions from Member States. The Department was reorganized into its present form in 1997. As Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs advises the Secretary-General on social, economic and sustainable development, and nurtures key partnerships with governments, UN agencies and civil society organizations. The Department is headed by Wu Hongbo who assumed the office of Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs on 1 August 2012, following his appointment to this position by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 31 May 2012. The Under-Secretary-General also convenes the Executive Committee on Economic and Social Affairs, the UN Secretariat’s network for joint planning and initiatives on development. In directing and managing DESA, the Under-Secretary-General is supported by the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, the Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, and the Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women.


UN DESA’s mission, to promote development for all, especially the most vulnerable, reflects a fundamental concern for equity and equality in countries large and small, developed and developing. It underscores the need for all stakeholders – governments, UN and other international organizations, civil society and the private sector – to do their part to improve economic and social well-being. This focus on equitable participation by all people and nations is what makes the United Nations unique and gives the development agenda its universal legitimacy.


UN DESA works in three main interlinked areas:

  • it compiles, generates and analyzes a wide range of economic, social and environmental data and information on which States Members of the United Nations draw to review common problems and to take stock of policy options;
  • it facilitates the negotiations of Member States in many intergovernmental bodies on joint courses of action to address ongoing or emerging global challenges;
  • it advises interested Governments on the ways and means of translating policy frameworks developed in United Nations conferences and summits into programmes at the country level and, through technical assistance, helps build national capacities.

In 2002, due to the increased burden of servicing an increasing number of conferences including the Millennium Declaration, the Department was expanded and gained a new office of an Assistant Secretary-General.[3] UNDESA is headquartered in New York, but has an important secondary office in Rome (Italy), managing the coordination of Italian Fellowship and JPO Programmes.

Due to the importance the United Nations attaches to economic and social affairs, the Department contains several important Divisions. These include the Development Policy Division, the Financing for Development Office, the Division for Sustainable Development, the Division for Social Development, the Division for Public Administration, the Statistics Division, and the Population Division. It is also a member of the United Nations Development Group.[4]


Development Policy Analysis: The Development Policy and Analysis Division is the think-tank for development economics within DESA and the main development research unit within the United Nations. The core functions of the Division include monitoring the global economic and social situation, promoting macroeconomic policy co-ordination and analyzing development trends to improve the implementation of the UN Development Agenda. It has recently been contributing an array of analyses and policy recommendations to the international debate on the global financial and economic crisis.

Sustainable Development: The Division for Sustainable Development facilitates negotiations, consensus-building and decision-making at an intergovernmental level, serving as the substantive secretariat to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. It also services UN Energy and UN Water (including through the office in Zaragoza on the UN-Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication). The Division works to implement Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, the Barbados Programme of Action and the Mauritius Strategy of Implementation for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States. It conducts research and undertakes substantive analysis to inform policy making for sustainable development. In addition, the Division provides capacity-building in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, directly and through its United Nations Centre for Regional Development. It encourages stakeholder engagement in its work, including by major groups and partnerships, such as the recently established Sustainable Development Knowledge Partnership.

Public Administration and Development Management: The Division for Public Administration and Development Management helps countries build and strengthen their public institutions. It assists governments to advance public sector reform and improve the quality of public service delivery. By offering capacity-building activities, promoting knowledge-sharing and providing training and online tools, the Division champions efficient, effective and citizen-oriented public services based on the principles of transparency, accountability and civic participation. It stresses innovative approaches to public management, particularly through e-government development.

Statistics: The Statistics Division of DESA is a global centre for data on all subject matters, bringing to the world statistical information compiled by the entire UN system. It manages and facilitates the development of the global statistical system and serves as the secretariat of the United Nations Statistical Commission. The Division strives to develop statistical standards and norms for global statistical activities and supports the efforts of countries to strengthen their national statistical systems. It has an extensive publication programme on technical manuals and statistical information.

Financing for Development: The Financing for Development Office provides support for sustained follow-up to the agreements and commitments contained in the Monterrey Consensus and Doha Declaration. It promotes an inclusive inter-governmental process, with the participation of all relevant stakeholders, to address key areas of domestic resource mobilisation, private investment flows, international trade, official development assistance, external debt and global financial and economic system and architecture.

ECOSOC Support and Co-ordination: The Office for ECOSOC Support and Co-ordination provides substantive support and promotes consensus in the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. A main responsibility of the Office is to support ECOSOC's Annual Ministerial Review and Development Co-operation Forum to ensure a comprehensive, qualitative review of progress in implementing the MDGs. Global preparatory meetings, regional consultations and national reviews are essential elements to this process to ensure a substantive ministerial-level review and a quality, action-oriented dialogue on development cooperation issues. Preparing for the GA 2010 High-Level Plenary Meeting on the MDGs and its follow-up will be a major task in the years ahead. The Office actively engages UN agencies and civil society in charting common courses of action. The Office also advises on strengthening the interaction between ECOSOC and the Peacebuilding Commission in order to contribute to a co-ordinated, coherent and integrated approach to post-conflict peace-building.

Population: The Population Division in DESA is a world leader in demographic research. It prepares estimates and projections on matters such as total population, fertility, mortality, migration and urbanisation, which serve as reference for the UN system, many Governments, academics, the media and corporate users throughout the world. The Division is the substantive secretariat of the Commission on Population and Development and therefore monitors the implementation of the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development and its follow-up commitments. It produces selected indicators related to the reproductive health targets of the Millennium Development Goals and assists the deliberations of the General Assembly in the area of international migration and development.

Social Policy and Development: The Division for Social Policy and Development assists governments and civil society organizations formulate social policies that foster more secure, just, free and harmonious societies. The Division works with development partners to promote the realization of a 'society for all', where all members, including older persons, youth, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and other often-marginalised groups all have equal say and equal participation. It provides the primary support and servicing to the Commission for Social Development, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Forests: The United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat is the DESA focal point on all forest policy issues. It provides substantive support to the biennial sessions of the Forum, prepares technical reports and analytical studies, and fosters dialogue to enhance co-operation and co-ordination on forest issues. It provides a comprehensive and integrated view of forests which encompasses economic, social and environmental aspects. In 2009, the Secretariat was mandated to launch a Facilitative Process to assist countries in mobilizing financing for sustainable forest management.

Conferences (from 1990)[edit]









  • 10 Year Review of the Barbados Programme of Action.


  • International Ministerial Conference of Landlocked and Transit Developing Countries.
  • Phase One of World Summit on the Information Society.






  • Second UN Conference on Human Settlement (HABITAT II).
  • World Food Summit.



  • International Conference on Population and Development.
  • Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Development States.


  • World Conference on Human Rights.


  • United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.
  • International Conference on Nutrition.


  • World Summit for Children.
  • World Conference on Education for all.
  • Second UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries.

Civil society[edit]

Within DESA there are a number of units that work with Civil Society and non-state actors. Outside of DESA NGLS is the focal point and liaison service for NGOs across the UN system. Within the Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination the UN DESA NGO Branch is the focal point for non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and acts on behalf of government to provide support for the committee which evaluates . UN DESA services the 3,400 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in consultative status with the ECOSOC, and all other NGOs seeking to work with the UN. Each year, some 7,000 NGO representatives participate in those events in New York alone.

Within Division for Sustainable Development and focal point for Major Groups and other stakeholders (the formation which clusters civil society to ensure that a range of actors are heard during negotiations) is ensured to support their participation.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

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