Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Mark Ungar

Subject Categories

International Relations | Other International and Area Studies | Other Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration


United Nations, UN trust funds, UN Democracy, constructivism, Principal-Agent theory, norm adaptation function


This thesis focuses on existing large-scale general trust funds at the United Nations (UN) Secretariat, as one example of the important transformations of the UN. They were created around the 1990s amid a paradigm shift in international relations after the end of the Cold War. They function as autonomous entities to carry out specific mandates to tackle emerging global issues in responding to the requests of a limited number of UN member states that provide voluntary contributions of significant sum. The thesis explores answers to the questions of why such general trust funds were created within the UN Secretariat, and why they continue to exist and expand. To address these questions, two theories of international relations are called upon: first, the theory of Principal-Agent relationship based on rational functionalist approach focusing on the trust funds’ efficiency and accountability to meet the interests of donors; and, second, constructivism highlighting the trust funds’ autonomous function in adapting and diffusing norms. The thesis illustrates the theoretical application by presenting a case study of one of the UN general trust funds - the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) - and how its functional efficiency has been fulfilling donor interests and how and to what extent it has been adapting and diffusing its specific norm and practice: the promotion of democracy at the grass-roots level and the engagement with non-state actors within the UN.