• The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a specialised agency of the United Nations (UN) aimed at promoting world peace and security through international cooperation in education, arts, sciences, and culture
  • UNESCO was founded in 1945 as the successor to the League of Nations’ International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation
  • It has 193 member states and 11 associate members, as well as partners in the non-governmental, intergovernmental, and private sector
  • Headquartered at the World Heritage Centre in Paris
  • The UNESCO’s founding mission is to advance peace, sustainable development and human rights by facilitating collaboration and dialogue among nations
    • It pursues this objective through five major program areas:
      • Education
      • natural sciences
      • social/human sciences
      • culture and
      • communication/information
  • UNESCO is governed by the General Conference, composed of member states and associate members, which meets biannually to set the agency’s programmes and the budget.
    • It also elects members of the Executive Board, which manages UNESCO’s work, and appoints every four years a Director-General, who serves as UNESCO’s chief administrator


UNESCO: Vision

  • UNESCO develops educational tools to help people live as global citizens, free of hate and intolerance
    • It has been entrusted to lead the Global Education 2030 Agenda through Sustainable Development Goal – 4.
    • ‘Education 2030 Framework for Action’ (Incheon Declaration) is the roadmap to achieve the global education 2030 agenda
    • Further, UNESCO works to ensure that every child and every citizen has access to quality education
  • By promoting cultural heritage and the equal dignity of all cultures, UNESCO strengthens the bonds between nations
    • The important conventions and International treaties of UNESCO to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage are as follows:
      • The Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Traffic of Cultural Property (1970)
      • The Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972)
      • The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001)
      • The Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001)
      • The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003)
      • The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005)
  • UNESCO fosters scientific programmes and policies as platforms for development and cooperation
    • In this perspective, UNESCO works to assist countries to invest in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), to develop national science policies, to reform their science systems and to build capacity to monitor and evaluate performance through STI indicators
  • UNESCO stands up for freedom of expression, as a fundamental right and a key condition for democracy and development
    • This is evident in the way how UNESCO concerns about the safety of journalists, combats online hate speech, as well as disinformation and misinformation through awareness raising initiatives
  • As a laboratory of ideas, UNESCO helps countries to adopt international standards and manages programmes that foster the free flow of ideas and the exchange of knowledge
    • Examples here could be the intergovernmental Programme like Management of Social Transformations (MOST), its Youth Programme and the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence Programme which include initiatives for democracy and global citizenship, intercultural dialogue, peace-building

India and UNESCO

  • India has been a founder member of UNESCO, having ratified UNESCO’s Constitution on 4th November, 1946, while still under colonial rule
    • Further, India has played a leadership role in supporting the implementation of the priorities of UNESCO in its different agendas relating to education, science and culture
  • India has been continuously re-elected to the UNESCO Executive Board since 1946
    • Recently, India won the re-election to the executive board of the UN’s cultural and education organisation for the 2021-25 term
  • India is currently a member of 19 of its UNESCO’s Conventions, including those on natural and cultural heritage, education, and intellectual property rights. Among the more recent ratifications include the Convention of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003, the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in 2005 and the Convention Against Doping in Sports in 2005
  • UNESCO’s Mission in India: its core mandates
    • Attaining quality education for all and lifelong learning
    • Mobilizing science knowledge and policy for sustainable development
    • Addressing emerging social and ethical challenges
    • Fostering cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and a culture of peace
    • Building inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication
  • Indian National Commission for Cooperation with UNESCO (INCCU)
    • It is a governmental body formed by the Government of India which functions under the Department of Secondary and Higher Education in the Ministry of Human Resource Development.
    • The objective of the commission is to advise the Government in matters relating to the UNESCO
    • The Minister of Human Resource Development shall be the President of the Commission


Important Initiatives of UNESCO

World Heritage Convention and List·         A World Heritage Site is a landmark or area with legal protection by an international convention administered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

·         To be selected, a World Heritage Site must be a somehow unique landmark which is geographically and historically identifiable and has special cultural or physical significance

·         Globally there are 1121 World Heritage sites in the 167 countries. Meanwhile, India has 38 World Heritage Sites that include 30 Cultural properties, 7 Natural properties and 1 mixed site

Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme·         The MAB programme is an intergovernmental scientific programme that aims to establish a scientific basis for enhancing the relationship between people and their environments.

·         It combines the natural and social sciences with a view to improving human livelihoods and safeguarding natural and managed ecosystems, thus promoting innovative approaches to economic development that are socially and culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable

·         The World Network of Biosphere Reserves currently counts 701 sites in 124 countries all over the world, including 21 transboundary sites.

·         India has 18 Biosphere reserves out of which 11 have been recognized internationally under Man and Biosphere (MAB) program:


International Geoscience and Global Geoparks Programme (IGGP)·         The International Geoscience Programme (IGCP), since 1972, has harnessed the intellectual capacity of a worldwide network of geoscientists to lay the foundation for our planet’s future, focusing on responsible and environmental resource extraction, natural hazard resiliency and preparedness, and adaptability in the era of a changing climate.
World Water Assessment Programme·         The UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme (UNESCO WWAP) was founded in 2000 in response to a call from the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) to produce a UN system-wide periodic global overview of the status (quantity and quality), use and management of freshwater resources
Creative Cities Network·         The is a project of UNESCO launched in 2004 to promote cooperation UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) among cities which recognized creativity as a major factor in their urban development.

·         As of November, 2019, there are five Indian cities in UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) as follows:

·         Jaipur-Crafts and Folk Arts(2015).

·         Varanasi-Creative city of Music (2015).

·         Chennai-Creative city of Music(2017).

·         Mumbai – Film (2019).

·         Hyderabad – Gastronomy (2019)


Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage·         UNESCO established its Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage with the aim of ensuring better protection of important intangible cultural heritages worldwide and the awareness of their significance

·         Indian elements on the intangible cultural heritage list include Kutiyattam, Tradition of Vedic chanting, Ramlila etc. Ramman, Chhau dance etc.

Memory of the World Programme·         UNESCO’s Memory of the World (MoW) Programme is an international initiative launched to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity against collective amnesia, neglect, the ravages of time and climatic conditions, and willful and deliberate destruction.

·         It calls for the preservation of valuable archival holdings, library collections, and private individual compendia all over the world for posterity, the reconstitution of dispersed or displaced documentary heritage, and increased accessibility to, and dissemination of, these items

Initiatives in Collaboration with UNESCO in India

  • #KeepGirlsInSchool movement
    • UNESCO Joined Whisper’s mission to #KeepGirlsInSchool to ensure girls don’t miss out on a promising future
    • As part of the #KeepGirlsInSchool movement, P&G-Whisper and UNESCO New Delhi will come together to develop a puberty education module in school curriculums with a vision to help young women achieve their full potential.
    • The project will entail training school teachers and engaging with National and State education authorities to ensure the incorporation of the co-developed module on puberty education as part of the school curriculum.
  • Special Area Heritage Plan (SAHP)
    • Following the inscription of the Jaipur City on the List of the World Heritage in 2019, UNESCO New Delhi and the Jaipur Municipal Corporation (JMC) will work closely in the elaboration of a Special Area Heritage Plan (SAHP), in order to better preserve the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of Jaipur
    • While Jaipur is the second Indian historic town to be inscribed on the List of World Heritage, this project is the first-ever initiative in the South Asian region to elaborate a mechanism to protect an urban landscape, covering an expansive property area of 710 ha
  • Joint project on Media Action Against Rape (MAAR)
    • This project aims to analyse the processes involved in rape reportage through in-depth interviews with journalists. It will map the challenges, that national and regional journalists face, and the way they operationalise existing codes of practices, to produce a set of country-specific journalism guidelines
    • Working with UNESCO will build capacity to engender sustainable impact – specifically, for rape reportage, journalism education, and resilience against gendered violence towards women.
  • Development of Rural Craft and Cultural Hubs in West Bengal for inter-generational transmission
    • The project helps contribute to the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development through social and economic inclusion of the disadvantaged rural communities. The project particularly contributes to SDG 8 that aims at inclusive and sustainable economic growth and highlights the role of local culture and local products to achieve that.
    • The joint project strives to:
      • Mobilize practitioners to collectively identify the challenges and needs;
      • Improve the knowledge and skills of the practitioners in the ICH form in collaboration with master practitioners (community based documentation, inventory and safeguarding; ICH skills building workshops);
      • Provide basic skills on safeguarding/promoting ICH forms including entrepreneurial skills training;
      • Create opportunities for practitioners to interact with wider public;
      • Sensitize general public, in particular younger generation in West Bengal on the wealth of its rural intangible cultural heritage;
      • Link the practitioners to existing government schemes to support their socio-economic needs.

Related aspects in news

  • In 2021, The UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize was awarded to National Institute of Open Schooling in India for its ‘Enabling education of persons with disabilities through technology enabled inclusive learning material, with specific focus on Indian sign language based content’ programme
  • In 1995, UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence was established through the generous donation of the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Indian artist, writer and diplomat Mr Madanjeet Singh

Thus, it is evident from above that, UNESCO and India are natural partners in the quest to build a more peaceful and sustainable world through education, science, culture, heritage and information technology.

  • Also, the Government of India’s focus on the youth and skill development resonates closely with the vision of UNESCO for the country, and the larger education agenda of the future.
  • Further, there is more that India can contribute to strengthen and consolidate UNESCO’s activities.
    • Among India’s most significant global contribution has been the exercise of its soft power drawing on its ancient culture and civilisation.
    • Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam was among the first precursors of Global Citizenship as it is understood today – the concept that all individuals are collectively responsible towards each other and their shared future. Going ahead, this could be the basis of UNESCO’s dialogue between cultures and civilisations