Who Actually Funds the UN and Other Multilaterals?

When the United Nations recently announced a $286 million budget cut, a number of eye-catching headlines generated confusion as to why this occurred. Making matters worse, few observers can easily describe how the U.N.’s core organizational budget relates to the larger family of U.N. organizations—like the World Food Program and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations—or how it stacks up alongside other major multilaterals like the World Bank and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. To help inform such assessments, our new policy brief, “Who funds which multilateral organizations?” presents a snapshot of how all countries, plus the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have recently allocated funding across 53 distinct multilateral organizations (see Box 1 at bottom for the list of organizations).

Here we describe some key results, with a focus on how much each country contributes, how important each funder is to each organization, and how funding allocations compare to objective benchmarks like share of donor country income, share of world income, and share of world population.


The 53 multilaterals in our sample received around $63 billion per year in estimated direct, recurrent grant funding during the 2014-2016 period. Figure 1 shows the composition of these resources by funder. In absolute terms, the U.S. is the largest overall funder at $14.1 billion per year, providing 22 percent of the sample’s resources. The U.K. is the second-largest funder at $7.6 billion (12 percent), followed by Japan at $5.4 billion (9 percent) and Germany at $4.4 billion (7 percent). These four countries contribute approximately 50 percent of the total funding, and the top 32 funders account for 95 percent. Notably, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the 17th largest funder and provides more than $880 million per year.

Figure 1: Average total annual contributions to 53 multilaterals, 2014-16 (est.)

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