Is The United Nations Rich? We Take A Look

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The United Nations is the largest, and probably most important, international organisation in the world. Its mandate is it to improve cooperation between nations and work towards global peace and security. The UN is funded by contributions given by member states. But if the UN gets money from almost every country in the world, and it’s the biggest global organisations, does that mean it’s actually incredibly rich?

The UN is not rich. Although the United Nations has a total annual budget of 3.12 billion dollars, which seems like a lot of money, compared to many national governments, such as the United States or China, or even the richest people in the world, like Elon Musk and Jess Bezos, the UN does not have a lot of money.

…but that’s just an overview. In order to fully understand if the UN is rich, we need to look in a bit more detail.

Why The United Nations Is Not Rich

The United Nations may have what seems like a lot of money – an annual budget of over three billion dollars, however it really couldn’t be considered rich. There are four reasons for this:

  • The UN spends almost all the money it has
  • The United Nations does not have financial freedom
  • The UN does not have all the funds it needs
  • The UN has few options for generating more income

Let’s take a quick look at each of these…

The UN Spends Almost All The Money It Has

A first reason why the UN is not rich is because the UN spends essentially all of its annual budget. In order to be considered rich, a person or organisation must have excess income. The United Nations uses all of its budget to fund its programmes and therefore could be seen as being truly wealthy.

The United Nations Does Not Have Financial Freedom

A second reason why the UN is not wealthy is because it does not have financial freedom. To be considered rich, a person or organisation must have a degree of freedom over how and where they spend their money. If they only have enough income to cover their basic necessities, they cannot be rich. The United Nations only has the money it needs to run really just its essential programmes and the organisation has almost no freedom about how it uses its money. Therefore, it is not wealthy.

Does Not Have All The Funds It Needs

Another reason why the United Nations is not rich is because it does not have all the money it needs. Each year, many UN agencies announce that they require additional funding to fully assist the people they serve. They rarely get this. As the UN regularly has a funding shortfall, it cannot be said to be rich.

The UN Has Few Options For Generating More Income

A final reason why the UN is not rich is because it cannot really generate more income. Member states contribute almost all of the United Nation’s funding. The member states of the UN also directly control how the UN spends its money. The UN has very few options for securing further income, apart from asking for more money from member states. For a person or organisation to be considered rich, they must be able to generate income as they need. The United Nations cannot do this, and this is why it is not really wealthy.

Is The United Nations The Richest Organisation In The World?

Ok, so we know now why the United Nations is not rich. However, in order to put the UN and its lack of wealth into context, let’s compare the total budget of the United Nations with that of other international organisations. Could you say the UN is the wealthiest organisations in the world?

The United Nations is not the richest organisation in the world. The European Union has a budget nearly 50 times that of the UN. The World Bank, with a budget of 7.2 billion dollars, is also richer than the UN. The UN’s budget of 3.12 billion dollars is actually much less than some other international organisations.

In order to look at how rich the UN is compared to other major global bodies, below is a comparison table of some of the biggest global organisations and their budgets:

OrganisationTotal Budget (Billion USD)
United Nations3.12
European Union148.2
World Bank7.2
NATO1.85
African Union0.64

As the above table makes clear, both the European Union and World Bank have larger budget than the United Nations. This means that the UN is not the richest organisation in the world.

Many other international bodies, including NATO and the African Union, both have smaller budgets than the UN. This means that although the UN is not the richest organisation in the world, it is also not the poorest.

One point that should be noted is that the World Bank is technically part of the United Nations. However, it is operated separately and has its own budget. Therefore, it should really be considered a different organisation when assessing the UN’s wealth. However, if you view the World Bank as a full part of the UN, then that would make the United Nations by far the richest organisation in the world.

United Nations Online Courses

If you want to learn more about the United Nations, and why it is not rich, we highly recommend the online course Global Diplomacy: The United Nations in the World offered by SOAS in London. We think it provides one of the best overviews of the UN and its role in the current global order. SOAS is also one of the top universities in the world for international relations and courses related to the UN. Click the link for more information.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) underpin all of the UN’s work. In order to fully understand the United Nations you need a basic understanding of the SDG. We think the online short course The Sustainable Development Goals – A Global, Transdisciplinary Vision For The Future offered by the University of Copenhagen is one of the best introductions to the SDG. Follow the link to the course’s page.

The University of Leiden in the Netherlands offers an online short course on The Changing Global Order. It includes a specific look at how shifting international power dynamics are affecting the current global system and the United Nations. For those wanting to understand the challenges the UN faces, this online course is a must. We’ve linked to the course’s page.

Is The UN Richer Than The United States?

As one of the largest, and arguably most important, international organisations, many people think the UN has enormous amounts of money. The United States is the richest country in the world. However, it could be argued the UN has a greater global presence. So, is it actually richer than the US?

The United Nations is not richer than the United States of America. The US has a total wealth of 26 trillion dollars. The UN had a total budget of 3.12 billion dollars. This means America is around 25 times richer than the United Nations.

The US is the richest country in the world by far. It makes up over 13% of the total world economy. As we’ve already discussed, the UN is not a rich organisation. Compared to the total wealth of the richest country in the world – the United States, the UN could actually be considered poor.

America is the largest single donor to the UN, contributing 22% of the organisations total budget. The fact that the US can donate such as a large amount of money to the UN, shows that it is significantly richer.

Is The United Nations Richer Than Any Countries?

So, we know that the UN is not richer than the United States, and actually the US has significantly more wealth that then the United Nations. However, are there any countries that the UN is richer than?

There are only five countries poorer than the United Nations. With a total budget of 3.12 billion dollars, the UN has less money than almost every country in the world. Only the very poorest nations globally have less money than the UN.

Below is a comparison of table of the UN’s budget against the total wealth of the world’s five poorest countries.

United Nations / CountryTotal Budget / Total Wealth (Billion USD)
United Nations3.12
Central African Republic2.32
Comoros1.49
Djibouti1.17
Guinea-Bissau2.01
Lesotho2.73

As we can see, only the Central African Republic, Comoros, Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, and Lesotho have less total wealth than the United Nations. The remaining 190 countries in the world are all richer than the UN. This is another clear indication that the United Nations is not rich.

Are There Any People in The World Richer Than The UN?

Right, so the UN is not the richest organisation globally, it is also poorer than almost all the countries in the world. But how rich is the United Nations compared to some of the wealthiest people in the world? Could it be said the UN is richer than some of the top billionaires?

The United Nations is significantly poorer than most of the richest people in the world. The four richest people in the world – Elon Musk, Gautam Adani, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffet all have over 34 times the wealth that the UN has.

In order to clearly see how poor the United Nations is compared to many of the world’s top billionaires, below is a table comparing the UN’s annual budget to the total wealth of the four richest people in the world:

United Nations / PersonTotal Budget / Total Wealth (Billion USD)
United Nations3.12
Elon Musk199.9
Gautam Adani176.8
Jeff Bezos121.8
Warren Buffet108.4

As the above table shows, the four richest people in the world have enormously more money than the United Nations does. Elon Musk, currently the richest man on earth, has over 60 times the yearly budget of the UN.

The fact that many of the richest individuals in the world have wealth so much more than the United Nations does is a further clear indication that the UN is not really rich.

If you want to learn more about the United Nations, and whether it is rich or not, explore our list of the top UN online courses here.

Duncan

Duncan is the founder of Humanitarian Careers. With over 8 years experience in the aid industry across fifteen countries, Duncan set-up Humanitarian Careers to help people launch their own career in international aid.