An international organization is one that includes members from more than one nation. Some international organizations are very large, such as corporations. Others are small and dedicated to a specific purpose, such as conservation of a species.
Many international organizations are intergovernmental. Intergovernmental organizations arise from multiple governments forming an international organization. There are more than 300 intergovernmental organizations around the world.
The United Nations (UN) is the largest and most familiar intergovernmental organization. In 1945, at the end of World War II, governments wanted to avoid future wars. They formed the UN.
The UN's main goal is to keep peace. It conducts peacekeeping missions by sending representatives to countries or regions in conflict. The UN currently has peacekeeping missions all over the world. In the nations of South Sudan, Mali, and the Central African Republic, UN peacekeepers monitor local and regional conflicts. On the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, UN peacekeepers supervise the buffer zone in the dispute between Greek and Turkish claims to the island.
The UN has several specialized subgroups, such as the World Health Organization (WHO). It is also affiliated with the World Bank. WHO is responsible for giving direction on international health issues, setting standards, and providing information for governments to make decisions. For example, WHO took the lead during the swine flu outbreak in 2009. It tracked the spread of the flu, offered recommendations about who should get vaccines, and told people how to avoid becoming sick.
The World Bank is a bank for nations, not people. The World Bank has two separate groups. One group, the International Development Association, provides loans to the world's poorest countries. The other group, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, gives loans to developing countries.
The UN also has groups focused on culture (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)), justice and law (the International Court of Justice (ICJ)), and refugees (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)), among others. Each of the subgroups has headquarters in a different place. The main UN offices are in New York City, New York, United States. The World Health Organization has its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The World Bank is based in Washington, D.C, United States. The International Court of Justice is in The Hague, Netherlands. Most countries of the world belong to the UN and its subgroups.
Many countries form regional multi-country organizations with military, economic, or political purposes. For example, the United States, Canada, many European countries, and Turkey belong to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO is a defense organization, meaning these nations have promised to support each other during times of conflict.
Other intergovernmental organizations are based on trade. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a group of 12 nations that export large amounts of oil. OPEC includes many members in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, the world's largest exporter of oil. However, African nations such as Nigeria, and South American nations such as Venezuela, are also members of OPEC. OPEC members meet regularly to address issues concerning oil use and prices.
Some international groups exist for profit. Toyota, the world's largest automaker, is an international corporation, often called a multinational corporation. It is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. Toyota has factories around the world, including in the United States, China, and South Africa. Although the chief executive officer (CEO) of Toyota is responsible for the work of the entire company, Toyota employs managers and workers from the regions in which its factories is located.
Toyota manufactures and sells cars in different countries around the world. The company must advertise in dozens of languages. Multinational corporations like Toyota must consider local culture and traditions when establishing a factory or selling a product.
Other large multinational corporations are Coca-Cola (based in Atlanta, Georgia, United States), the De Beers diamond company (based in London, United Kingdom), and Adidas (based in Herzogenaurach, Germany.)
Several well-known nonprofit organizations are international. Nonprofit means these groups do not seek to make money from their efforts. Nonprofits usually have a focus or shared interest, such as the environment, humanitarian aid, or entertainment.
The National Geographic Society is a nonprofit organization. It was formed in 1888 and has its headquarters in Washington, D.C. It is one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world. National Geographic's mission is to "illuminate and protect the wonder of our world."
The National Geographic Society also supports international research and exploration. It has sponsored or assisted with more than 15,000 projects. Some of the most famous expeditions associated with the National Geographic Society include the expedition to the South Pole by Robert Peary and Matthew Henson in 1905; exploration of the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu, Peru, in 1913; and the discovery of the final resting place of the Titanic by Robert Ballard, in 1985.
Other international organizations share a more specific interest. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is an international nonprofit based in Lausanne, Switzerland. The IOC organizes and regulates the Summer and Winter Olympics. The IOC includes administrators, sports officials, and former athletes from all over the world.
The Red Cross provides food and other aid to people and areas in distress. The International Red Cross has its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The organization is officially called the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The Red Crescent honors members from primarily Muslim countries. The Red Crystal, a diamond shape, honors Israeli members of the organization.
The Red Cross is probably the most recognizable aid organization in the world. It helps survivors of hurricanes, such as Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast of the United States in 2005. The Red Cross helped provide shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina whose homes were destroyed, for instance. The Red Cross also helped survivors of the earthquake that occurred in Haiti in 2010. It worked to provide medical care for those injured in the quake and helped organize sites so survivors could find missing family members.
Other International Organizations
Some international organizations combine parts of all three types of organizations.
Perhaps the most familiar type of international organization that does not fit neatly into the three categories is organized religion. Sometimes, a religion directly influences government. The government of Israel, for instance, supports Jews and Judaism around the world. Jews from other nations have a legal law of return to Israel, meaning they can immigrate there and establish citizenship. Jews from countries as diverse as Russia, Ethiopia, and Mexico have settled in Israel.
Organized religion can indirectly influence governments, too. Priests and bishops of the Catholic Church, for instance, do not usually run for political office. But their influence on their congregations can be enormous. Catholics are led by the pope, with headquarters in Vatican City, which is surrounded by Rome, Italy. In many ways, the Catholic Church is run like an international corporation. There is a similar structure for religious ceremonies (such as Mass) and organization (such as the way dioceses are divided) for Catholics all over the world. Local priests, nuns, and bishops work with their congregations to make life better for their communities. This is similar to the way an international corporation organizes its workers in other countries.