The United Nations' Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) assists the General Assembly in promoting international economic and social cooperation and development. ECOSOC has 54 members, 18 of whom are elected each year by the General Assembly for a three-year term. The U.S. has been a member since the UN was founded. ECOSOC meets once a year. The president is elected for a one-year term. Voting is by simple majority.
Through much of its history, ECOSOC has served primarily as a discussion vehicle for economic and social issues. ECOSOC had little authority to force action and a number of member states were concerned that its utility was only marginal. However, beginning in 1992, the U.S. and other nations began an effort to make ECOSOC more relevant by strengthening its policy responsibilities in economic, social, and related fields, particularly in furthering development objectives.
The resulting reform made ECOSOC the oversight and policy-setting body for UN operational development activities and established smaller executive boards for the UN Development Program (UNDP), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) which would provide those agencies with operating guidance and promote more effective management. The reform also gave ECOSOC a strong hand in ensuring that UN agencies coordinated their work on issues of common interest, such as narcotics control, human rights, the alleviation of poverty, and the prevention of HIV/AIDS.
One positive impact of this reform was the manner in which the UN development system began to respond more coherently and efficiently to humanitarian crises around the world. Secretary General Annan's recent reform initiatives have attached considerable importance to further strengthening coordination among relief agencies.
Another example was the ECOSOC decision in 1994 to authorize the creation of a new joint and cosponsored UN program on HIV/AIDS. This program will bring together the existing AIDS-related resources and expertise of the World Health Organization, UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, UNESCO, and the World Bank into one consolidated global program, eliminating duplication of effort and enhancing the ability of member states to cope with the AIDS pandemic. It began operating in January 1996.