Union of Intelligible Associations
Union of Intelligible Associations

Future-oriented Sustainability

within a strategic reframing of the Union of International Associations (2005)

[reframe index]

Future orientation


Century of activity

Following its foundation in 1907, the Union of International Associations produced many publications on international organization, the main series being the Annuaire de la Vie Internationale (Vol. 1: 1908-1909, 1370 pages; Vol. 2: 1910-1911, 2652 pages). These have  now developed into other publications and web-disseminated databases.

Long-term clearinghouse commitment

The documentary activity at the UIA is based on commitment to coverage of international organizations and their preoccupations, notably to facilitate diachronic studies of their evolution.

Collective memory function

The UIA has traditionally been associated with an interest in archival work. In this connection, and in view of its own centenary, an investment has been made since 2002 in the recovery (by scanning) of UIA historical documents of research significance published prior to the electronic era. This information is of value to those undertaking diachronic research.

Future orientation

Although valuing achievements of the past, the UIA has a strong future orientation. These is most evident in its documentation of scheduled future meetings of international bodies. It has also been evident since the 1970s through the UIA's involvement in the futures studies academic community, and its commitment to production of an Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential that arose from that.

“Negative capability”

The UIA might usefully be understood as operating out of domain defined by negatives. This condition has been famously and fruitfully defined by the poet John Keats as "negative capability", namely the capacity to be "in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason" (1817).

Non-profit legal status

The UIA is incorporated in accordance with a Belgian law of 25 October 1919 providing (uniquely) for the establishment of international non-profit associations. Pressures based on for-profit criteria tend to be resisted where they conflict with improving the quality of data content and coverage


The UIA is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) and is so recognized by the provisions of Article 71 of the Charter of the United Nations.

Non-political commitment

The documentary commitment, and centennial tradition, of the UIA precludes any particular political or ideological commitment. It is fundamentally non-partisan. This is reinforced by its criteria of membership. In order to ensure adequate documentation and coverage of any variety of human activity expressed internationally it has notably resisted political pressures exerted by intergovernmental organizations.


Being essentially self-funding, the UIA avoids dependency relationships associated with many conventional forms of program funding and partnership.

Non-formal dimensions

Although conventionally defined as "operating as an institute for research, study, information, consultation, promotion and service" with an appropriate General Assembly and Executive Council, the operations of the UIA benefit to a high degree from an informal supporting network of bodies and individuals.

Non-traditional focus

The UIA is an unusual body both in its focus, in its mode of action, and in the quality of the people who are attracted to its working environment.

Self-financing capacity

It is useful to recognize that UIA funding is unlike that of many other NGOs and IGOs. It is not dependent annually on funds from its Full Members or their capacity to facilitate access to funding. Unlike many NGOs, the UIA is also not dependent, for the long-term continuity of its activities, on ability to obtain funding or subventions from unpredictable sources.

Income generation

The prime source of income is the sale of information products (notably its refrence books and their electronic variants) and services (notably extracts from its databases).

Minimal subsidies / sponsorship

The international, interdisdiciplanary focus of the UIA's comprehensive data collection does not usually fit within the specialized priorities of funding institutions and foundations. Consequently the UIA does not actively seek funding from such sources, although it has occasionally benefited from such funds.

Project contracts

The UIA has undertaken projects for the US National Science Foundation, for the Commonwealth Science Council, for UNESCO, and for the European Commission.


In responding to contract opportunities, notably with the European Commission and the world Bank, the UIA has successfully partnered with international NGOs based in Western and Eastern Europe, and in Asia.

Commercial associates

The UIA has partnered since the 1980s with K G Saur Verlag (Munchen) as one of the principal publishers of international reference books to libraries. through its Associate membership, it has a long association with for-profit bodies providing meeting services.

Production capacity

The UIA has an international reputation for producing registry products of high quality on a regular basis, over decades, within the very tight production schedules required for low-cost reference book and CD production in partnership with for-profit enterprises. These capacities have been seamlessly integrated with the interactive services associated with the web dissemination of this registry data since 1996

Profiling: 5,000 pages / year

For its printed reference books, the UIA produces some 5,000 pages / year, in addition to information made available on CD-Rom or over the web.


An extensive range of statistics on international organizations (geographical distribution, membership, etc) and international meetings is produced each year and distributed in dedicated publications and over the web. This covers periods back to 1910

Paradoxical viability

In a world much-challenged by resource constraints, in which there are multiple, urgent demands to respond to specific issues, the viability of the comprehensive scope of UIA activity is a paradox to many.

Improbable range of initiatives

Many other bodies focus on specific aspects of the range of initiatives of concern to the UIA, using more extensive resources to greater effect. Few venture to interrelate these initiatives to highlight the challenges and opportunities of governance.

Minimal institutional support

Largely because of the range of its long-term preoccupations, and its international focus, the UIA initiatives are not well-profiled for funding from institutions with conventionally specific, short-term program priorities.

Minimal operating budget

The UIA has successfully operated on subsistence budgets that have nevertheless enabled it to provide information services consistent with its objectives and scope -- exploring possibilities where others have not cared to venture.

Difficult-to-explain coherence

In endeavouring to track the complexity of organized response to the challenges of society, the range of UIA initiatives necessarily takes on this quality of complexity. This makes the "miracle" of the coherence of the enterprise difficult to explain. Beyond formal statements, however, the integrity of the operation is sustained through computer-enhanced information systems and the insight with which they are developed and rendered accessible.