The Strategy of the United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO

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The UK National Commission for UNESCO is the official body coordinating UNESCO activities in the United Kingdom (including UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies) and a constitutional part of the UK’s membership of UNESCO.

Funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, we work to bring the benefits of UNESCO to the UK and also ensure that it is fully contributing and aligned with UNESCO’s programmes and values. This page provides an overview of our strategy to meet these aims and objectives.


The world faces unprecedented challenges across multiple dimensions – from climate change to hundreds of millions of children being out of school, from promoting sustainable development to the spread of disinformation, from persistent gender inequalities to the growth of mega-cities, and from the impact of artificial intelligence on societies and economies to the destruction of our shared heritage and culture.

The world also faces opportunities, including those to promote rights and human dignity, to better use science and technology for the good of all, and to preserve and protect our shared cultural heritage.

The UK is not exempt from these challenges and has an important role to play in shaping international action in response to them, not least through its membership of UNESCO. Its role in UNESCO also allows the UK to engage in debates about the opportunities present today, and through collective action to promote a better future.

UNESCO’s mandate to use culture, education, science and communication as tools to drive forward sustainable development and foster peace has never been more relevant. UNESCO is a global organisation but grounded in local designations ranging from World Heritage Sites to Biospheres, from Geoparks to Creative Cities, from schools to University Chairs. It is this grassroots nature linked to global standards setting which gives UNESCO its unique character and potential.

This Strategy outlines how the UK National Commission for UNESCO will help to meet the unprecedented range of global challenges we face today. We will work in partnership locally, nationally and globally:

● locally, we will work with the growing number of UNESCO designated sites and projects in the UK (currently over 170), helping not only to maximise their benefits from membership of UNESCO, but to leverage their work, innovations and local and international networks to help support UNESCO’s aims and objectives.

● nationally, we will work with the UK and devolved governments and with our network of experts to help develop policy solutions and provide advice;

● and globally, we will work with UNESCO’s Headquarters in Paris, like-minded member states, the global network of UNESCO National Commissions, and our own international networks to help shape and implement UNESCO’s programmes and activities.

Who we are


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is an agency of the UN with specialised expertise in:

● Education
● Natural and Physical Sciences
● Social and Human Sciences
● Culture
● Communication and Information

It acts as a laboratory of ideas, setting international normative standards, building capacity, and acting as a catalyst for international dialogue and co-operation between its Member States.

UNESCO’s mission has been transformed across the last 75 years. Central to its mission today is to use its specialised expertise to address global challenges, and through this work towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as the challenges articulated in the United Nations Common Agenda, as set out in UNESCO’s Medium Term Strategy 2022-29 .

B. The United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO (UKNC)

This strategy aligns the UKNC with this renewed objective. We will draw on the UK’s comparative advantages in order to support this as well as to promote the interests of the UK and its UNESCO designated sites.

The UKNC is the official body coordinating UNESCO activities in the United Kingdom (including the devolved nations and the 14 UK Overseas Territories and 3 Crown Dependencies) and is a constitutional part of the UK’s membership of UNESCO. National Commissions play an essential role in the planning and implementation of UNESCO’s programmes. At the country level, they are expected to act as agents for change to accelerate UNESCO’s response to national, regional and global challenges. They secure UNESCO’s presence and visibility within member states and work with other National Commissions to increase capacity and effectiveness.

Our mission as the UK’s National Commission for UNESCO is to continue to be an active, authoritative and influential leader in engaging the UK with UNESCO, and in promoting the UK’s values and interests in UNESCO. This includes supporting UNESCO’s role in achieving the United Nations 2030 Agenda and 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We are the link between UNESCO, government and civil society. We work to:

● support the UK’s contribution to UNESCO;
● bring the benefits of UNESCO to the UK; and
● demonstrate the value of UNESCO to the UK

We advise government departments on UNESCO programmes and standard setting instruments, and are at the heart of the UNESCO designated sites in the UK (including Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies). In 2022 these consisted of 33 World Heritage Sites, 7 Geoparks, 7 Biospheres, 13 Creative Cities, 4 Learning Cities and UNESCO Chairs and Networks located in 20 British Universities.

The UKNC plays an important role in promoting UK interests in UNESCO by working closely with the FCDO, the UK Ambassador to UNESCO and the UK Permanent Delegation at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. We are also an active participant in UNESCO’s unique global network of 199 national cooperating bodies known as National Commissions, working together to support UNESCO Designations and to promote UNESCO values internationally.

The UKNC is a company limited by guarantee. We have a small Secretariat based in Whitehall, London, led by a Secretary-General; we are governed by a Board of Non-Executive Directors, each with a specific portfolio responsibility; and we are supported by a nationwide network of experts across the natural and physical sciences, education, culture, the social and human sciences, and communication and media.


Our mission is to bring the values of UNESCO and the benefits of UNESCO membership to the UK, and to represent the values and interests of the UK to UNESCO.

UNESCO’ describes its mission as to contribute to the building of a culture of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information. This is based on the values of positive peace – that sustainable and prosperous societies are built on foundations of human rights and dignity.

‘Peace must be founded upon dialogue and mutual understanding. Peace must be built upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of humanity… free of hate and intolerance. UNESCO works so that each child and citizen has access to quality education. By promoting cultural heritage and the equal dignity of all cultures, UNESCO strengthens bonds among nations. UNESCO fosters scientific programmes and policies as platforms for development and cooperation. UNESCO stands up for freedom of expression, as a fundamental right and a key condition for democracy and development. Serving as a laboratory of ideas, UNESCO helps countries adopt international standards and manages programmes that foster the free flow of ideas and knowledge sharing.’

UNESCO Mission and Mandate

As a core member of the UN family, its purpose is to work with and through its Member States to ensure all citizens have access to their human rights which are universal and inalienable, interdependent and indivisible, equal and non-discriminatory.

The UK has made clear its commitment to a rules-based international order and to the role of human rights in preserving dignity and respect across the world:

‘[The UK is] bound by shared values that are fundamental to our national identity, democracy and way of life. These include a commitment to universal human rights, the rule of law, free speech and fairness and equality.’

Global Britain in a Competitive Age

These two statements inform the values which underpin our work and inform our mission. These values are:

● Dialogue and understanding
● Freedom and dignity
● Equality and fairness

Our Strategy

A. Our strategy is to:

Ensure that UNESCO is effective in delivering its contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Enhance the benefits and increase the visibility of UNESCO across the UK

To ensure that the UK is relevant and visible in UNESCO

Our role

A. Our role is to:

To provide independent and expert advice. We will use Expert Network and Non-Executive Directors to advise and to act as a critical friend to the UK, devolved and regional governments, and to UNESCO. We will also advise those seeking or renewing UNESCO designated status.

To represent the UK at UNESCO. We will support the UK Ambassador to UNESCO, the Permanent Delegation at UNESCO, the FCDO and other government departments at both formal and informal meetings of UNESCO and associated bodies. This will include representing the UK where appropriate. We will continue to represent and facilitate representation for UK designations and other relevant bodies at UNESCO or related meetings.

To communicate UNESCO initiatives within the UK, including to UNESCO designations, UK, devolved and regional governments, government departments and agencies, and civil society. And to communicate developments in UK designations both within the UK, including to UK, devolved and regional governments, and internationally.

To promote UNESCO’s values in the UK, and the UK’s values in UNESCO.

To be a leading member of the global network of National Commissions for UNESCO

Our partners

The UKNC works proactively with partners across the UK and internationally to generate opportunities in support of its mission. Our key partners are:

UK and devolved governments

Leverage our expertise and influence to develop strong partnerships across Whitehall departments to promote UNESCO’s values and to strengthen the UK’s position as a force for good internationally. Our primary relationship will be with the FCDO, who provide our core funding.

Build on our evidence of the value of UNESCO designations, including their economic value, to strengthen our relationships and activities with UK and devolved governments and regional authorities in order to enrich communities across the UK.

Provide informed advice on policy and other matters relating to UNESCO’s mission. When necessary, we will act as a critical friend reflecting our position as an agency aligned with but independent of UK and devolved governments.

Communicate effectively to ensure that UK, devolved and regional governments and legislative bodies have a better understanding of UNESCO, the role of the UK in UNESCO and the potential offered by UNESCO membership.

Represent the UK, or facilitate expert representation, when required at UNESCO meetings, including bodies aligned to UNESCO.


Support and promote the UK’s values and interests at UNESCO, including the rules-based international system, rights-based agendas, and the value of multilateralism.

Act as a critical friend to UNESCO, providing advice on policy and programmes, and working with like-minded National Commissions where appropriate.

Leverage our standing and reputation as a National Commission to influence and build international alliances with like-minded Member States and their National Commissions to achieve progress towards the UN SDGs and defend UNESCO values.

Seek to be visible and influential, while recognising the shifting dynamics amongst Member States, by: maintaining good relations with other Member States and the UNESCO Secretariat; ensuring representation and a high profile in key UNESCO meetings; and working to promote efficiency, transparency and accountability within UNESCO.

The UK’s UNESCO Designations

Provide advice and quality assurance on applications for and renewal of UNESCO accreditation.

Promote collaboration between designations, in order to share best practice and provide a forum for advice and representation.

Work with designations to develop their ability to act as levers for local economic and social benefit and to help meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Civil Society

Support designations to play key roles in our relationship with civil society.

Work with like-minded civil society partners to promote the values and ideals of UNESCO.

Funding partners

Build relationships with a small number of key partners to enhance our ability to expand our influence and deliver the benefits of UNESCO membership across the UK.

ii. Work within clear guidelines to ensure that the integrity of UKNC and the focus on its mission is maintained.

How we will develop the organisation.

The UKNC consists of a small Secretariat, led by a Secretary-General and Chief Executive, which is based in central London; and a publicly appointed Board of Directors which meets formally 4 times a year. The UKNC will continue to be agile and responsive in meeting new challenges and opportunities, and operate ethically and with integrity. Its organisational development will be guided by four aims:

i. To be fiscally prudent. The UKNC operates with a constrained budget and cost-effectiveness will be a key consideration in undertaking activities.

ii. To be resilient. The small size of the Secretariat and the limited financial resources UKNC has as its disposal necessitates the development of greater resilience.

iii. To maintain a positive working environment. Colleagues working for and with the UKNC need to be assured that they will be treated equally and with dignity and respect, and that the physical environment is conducive to health and wellbeing.

iv. To establish career development opportunities. As a responsible employer and aware of the changing demands on an organisation, we will ensure that colleagues working with and for the UKNC can access a range of career development opportunities.