Invited to the Party: International Organizations Evolve in an Urban World

October 29, 2018

By: Ian Klaus, Senior Fellow, Global Cities

After World War II, dozens of international organizations (IOs) were created to structure international relations and alleviate causes of poverty and insecurity. Today, tectonic shifts in demography, technology, and diplomacy are testing these institutions, forcing them to adapt. In particular, the role and influence of cities on the international stage is growing, as urban leaders have made significant strides in making their voices heard on issues of international importance, from climate change to terrorism.

The research, governance, and partnerships of IOs have evolved to some extent. Most major international organizations now work on urban issues at the municipal and national levels, building local relationships and integrating policies vertically—which has complemented many cities’ work to organize their own collaborative efforts and to participate in and serve as leaders of the international dialogue. But many IOs are behind in adapting to the “century of cities” that is already underway, and their adaptations thus far have been largely ad hoc and subject to slow bureaucratic evolution.

  • This report offers several recommendations to help shape the integrity and relevance of IOs in this new urban world order:
  • Use their access to national governments and departments to encourage and facilitate policy alignment at the national, regional, and municipal levels.
  • Develop systems, including pipelines and liaisons, for local knowledge building and effective communication.
  • Ensure their outreach engages with cities’ long-term strategic planning efforts.
  • Facilitate access to municipal finance, including through private sector and state engagement.
  • Gain insights from other IOs with urban expertise through formal processes and partnerships as well as informal engagements with diplomats and experts.
  • Identify whether subnational engagement is encumbered by legal or statutory restrictions or, as is also often the case, capacity or resource limitations.
  • Continue coordinating with cities’ and their networks’ established platforms to influence international agreements and produce immediate results.

If the world’s leading IOs are to remain relevant in this century of cities, they need to continue their evolution—and they need to get started right away.


Invited to the Party: International Organizations Evolve in an Urban World

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