• An international organization is one that includes members from more than one nation. Some international organizations are very large, such as business corporations. Others are small and dedicated to a specific purpose, such as conservation of a species.

    Intergovernmental Organizations

    Many international organizations are intergovernmental. Intergovernmental organizations form as multiple governments form 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 UNs main goal is to keep peace. A UN peacekeeping mission is when the UN sends representatives to countries or regions in conflict. The UN currently has peacekeeping missions all over the world. In the nations of Sudan, Chad, and the Central African Republic, UN peacekeepers monitor the conflict in the area known as Darfur. 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) and 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 immigration (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. The World Health Organization has its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The World Bank is based in Washington, D.C. 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 worlds 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 region in which the factory is located.

    Toyota sells, as well as manufactures, 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. For instance, an advertisement with models in bikinis may appeal to customers in the United States, but would probably not appeal to customers in Saudi Arabia, a much more conservative culture.

    Other large multinational corporations are Coca-Cola (based in Atlanta, Georgia), the de Beers diamond company (based in Johannesburg, South Africa) 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 is primarily focused on exploration, geography, archaeology, and natural science. It also promotes environmental and historical conservation, with its logo, "Inspiring people to care about the planet."

    The National Geographic Society also supports international research and exploration. It has sponsored or assisted with more than 9,000 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; discovery of the final resting place of the Titanic by Robert Ballard in 1985; and the National Geographic Bee, an annual geography contest for American students.

    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 struck 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. There are parts of the National Geographic Society that are run as a corporation, for instance. They create revenue, or profit, to support themselves.

    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 emigrate 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 in 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.

    international organization
    The United Nations is a flagship international organization.

    World's First Multinational Corporation
    The Dutch East India Company was the world's first international corporation. It was established in 1602 in the Netherlands and gained enormous amounts of power. It could wage war, establish colonies, create (coin) money, and negotiate treaties.

    Biggest Multinationals
    Oil and gas companies dominate the list of the most-profitable multinational corporations:
    1. Wal-Mart, retail (Bentonville, Arkansas, United States)
    2. Exxon-Mobil, oil and gas (Irving, Texas, United States)
    3. Royal Dutch Shell, oil and gas (The Hague, Netherlands)
    4. BP, oil and gas (London, England)
    5. Sinopec, oil and gas (Beijing, China)

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    administrator Noun

    person who organizes and manages the policies, rules, and requirements of an organization.

    ancient Adjective

    very old.

    archaeology Noun

    study of human history, based on material remains.

    Encyclopedic Entry: archaeology
    athlete Noun

    person who participates or competes in sporting events.

    avoid Verb

    to stay away from something.

    bikini Noun

    women's two-piece swimsuit.

    bishop Noun

    leader of a church's diocese.

    Catholic Adjective

    having to do with the Christian denomination with the Pope as its leader.

    chief executive officer (CEO) Noun

    highest-ranking leader of a company or other organization.

    citizen Noun

    member of a country, state, or town who shares responsibilities for the area and benefits from being a member.

    coin Verb

    to produce money.

    colony Noun

    people and land separated by distance or culture from the government that controls them.

    conflict Noun

    a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

    congregation Noun

    group of people who worship at the same church.

    conservation Noun

    management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

    Encyclopedic Entry: conservation
    conservative Adjective

    traditional or reluctant to change.

    cooperation Noun

    the act of working together.

    corporation Noun

    business made up of a group of stockholders, or people who own interest in the business.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    Darfur Noun

    region in western Sudan.

    destroy Verb

    to ruin or make useless.

    diamond Noun

    type of crystal that is pure carbon and the hardest known natural substance.

    diocese Noun

    division of many churches or organized religions, led by a bishop.

    dispute Noun

    debate or argument.

    dozen Noun

    a group of 12.

    Dutch East India Company Noun

    (1602-1798) corporation established to expand trade and carry out colonial activities in Asia.

    earthquake Noun

    the sudden shaking of Earth's crust caused by the release of energy along fault lines or from volcanic activity.

    economic Adjective

    having to do with money.

    emigrate Verb

    to move from one's native land to another.

    employ Verb

    to hire or use.

    enormous Adjective

    very large.

    entertainment Noun

    performance or material produced to interest and amuse.

    environment Noun

    conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

    establish Verb

    to form or officially organize.

    expedition Noun

    journey with a specific purpose, such as exploration.

    exploration Noun

    study and investigation of unknown places, concepts, or issues.

    export Noun

    good or service traded to another area.

    flu Noun

    (influenza) contagious disease, characterized by fever, exhaustion, and difficulty breathing.

    geography Noun

    study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    Gulf Coast Noun

    land in the United States surrounding the Gulf of Mexico.

    headquarters Noun

    place where an organization or project is chiefly located.

    humanitarian Adjective

    having to do with relief, aid, or other support to people in need.

    hurricane Noun

    tropical storm with wind speeds of at least 119 kilometers (74 miles) per hour. Hurricanes are the same thing as typhoons, but usually located in the Atlantic Ocean region.

    immigration Noun

    process of moving to a new country or region with the intention of staying and living there.

    Inca Noun

    people and culture native to the Andes Mountains and Pacific coast of South America.

    influence Verb

    to encourage or persuade a person or organization to act a certain way.

    intergovernmental Adjective

    having to do with the national governments of more than one state.

    International Court of Justice (ICJ) Noun

    United Nations body dedicated to resolving legal disputes between nations.

    international organization Noun

    unit made up of governments or groups in different countries, usually for a specific purpose.

    Encyclopedic Entry: international organization
    island Noun

    body of land surrounded by water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: island
    Judaism Noun

    religion based on the holy book of the Torah and the teaching surrounding it.

    justice Noun

    administration of law.

    language Noun

    set of sounds, gestures, or symbols that allows people to communicate.

    law Noun

    public rule.

    law of return Noun

    Israeli law allowing Jews from all over the world to emigrate to Israel and establish citizenship.

    loan Noun

    money, goods, or services given to a person or organization with the intention that the person or organization will return it.

    Middle East Noun

    region of southwest Asia and northeast Africa.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    moderate Verb

    to preside and reduce conflict over a debate.

    monitor Verb

    to observe and record behavior or data.

    multinational corporation Noun

    business that manages the production of goods or delivers services in several countries.

    Muslim Adjective

    having to do with Islam, the religion based on the words and philosophy of the prophet Mohammed.

    nation Noun

    political unit made of people who share a common territory.

    Encyclopedic Entry: nation
    National Geographic Society Noun

    (1888) organization whose mission is "Inspiring people to care about the planet."

    NATO Noun

    North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Military alliance of 28 North American and European countries.

    natural science Noun

    study that focuses on physicial characteristics, nature, and natural environments.

    negotiate Verb

    to discuss with others of different viewpoints in order to reach an agreement, contract, or treaty.

    nonprofit organization Noun

    business that uses surplus funds to pursue its goals, not to make money.

    oil Noun

    fossil fuel formed from the remains of marine plants and animals. Also known as petroleum or crude oil.

    Olympics Noun

    international sports competition divided into summer and winter games held every four years.

    OPEC Noun

    Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. As of winter 2018, OPEC members are Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

    outbreak Noun

    sudden occurrence or rapid increase.

    photography Noun

    art and science of producing still or moving images using the chemical reaction of light on a sensitive surface, such as film or an electronic sensor.

    policy Noun

    set of actions or rules.

    pope Noun

    leader of the Catholic Church.

    priest Noun

    title of religious leader in many faiths.

    primarily Adverb

    first or most important.

    profit Noun

    money earned after production costs and taxes are subtracted.

    recognize Verb

    to identify or acknowledge.

    Red Cross Noun

    international organization focused on humanitarian aid and disaster relief. Formally called the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

    refugee Noun

    person who flees their home, usually due to natural disaster or political upheaval.

    religion Noun

    a system of spiritual or supernatural belief.

    representative Noun

    someone or something who acts in place of a group of people.

    research Noun

    scientific observations and investigation into a subject, usually following the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, analysis, and conclusion.

    revenue Noun

    income, or money earned before production costs are subtracted.

    shelter Noun

    structure that protects people or other organisms from weather and other dangers.

    specific Adjective

    exact or precise.

    sponsor Verb

    to support and finance.

    trade Noun

    buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.

    tradition Noun

    beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.

    treaty Noun

    official agreement between groups of people.

    UNESCO Noun

    the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

    Encyclopedic Entry: UNESCO
    United Nations Noun

    international organization that works for peace, security and cooperation.

    United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Noun

    United Nations agency whose goal is to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another country, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally, or to resettle in a third country.

    UN peacekeeping mission Noun

    United Nations project to send armed representatives to regions in conflict.

    virus Noun

    pathogenic agent that lives and multiplies in a living cell.

    wage Noun

    money or goods traded for work or service performed.

    war Noun

    large-scale armed conflict.

    World Bank Noun

    United Nations organization that loans money to poor and developing nations.

    World Health Organization Noun

    United Nations agency concerned with public health.

    World War II Noun

    (1939-1945) armed conflict between the Allies (represented by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union) and the Axis (represented by Germany, Italy, and Japan.)