COVID-19 Business in Action Interview Series: The UPS Foundation

May 14, 2020

The unprecedented spread of COVID-19 has brought a great deal of uncertainty to our world, with communities, businesses, and governments taking drastic measures to adapt to this new reality. As the coronavirus situation continues to unfold, one thing is clear: the business community is on the frontlines of the fight against the pandemic, demonstrating unparalleled agility and innovation to help our country navigate this health and economic crisis as fast and effectively as possible. 

We sat down with business leaders driving the global corporate response to COVID-19 to learn more about their efforts, how they are navigating this uncharted territory, and what advice they have for others.

Q1: Thank you for participating in our interview series with business leaders driving their organization’s response to COVID-19. Can you tell us a little about your efforts at The UPS Foundation to address the impacts of COVID-19? 

The UPS Foundation and UPS are collaborating with government and NGO partners, for-profit businesses, and across business units within our own organization to provide urgent and immediate relief to address the global and local impact of COVID-19. 

UPS is delivering urgently needed medical supplies and materials through its global network and using its logistics expertise to help customers who are pivoting their businesses to join the fight. Our team is working closely with the President’s Coronavirus Taskforce, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and state health agencies. We are collaborating closely with FEMA to provide supply chain services for their distribution of PPE and necessary materials throughout the U.S., including respirators, N95 masks, and gloves for use by healthcare workers across the country. As part of the collaboration, FEMA has also been provided space in UPS’s expansive Worldport® facilities, our global hub in Louisville, for temporary staging of critical shipments from overseas.

Additionally, UPS is working with an array of government agencies, NGOs, and other organizations to support rapid transportation of test kits, PPE, supplies and medical devices.
We continue to help support preeminent relief organizations such as the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, World Food Program, UNICEF, CARE and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

We have been working closely with the Global Logistics Cluster, the World Health Organization and the Pandemic Supply Chain Network since January to provide supply chain solutions and intelligence on air and ground network capacities, customs clearance and safety protocols. Our relief program and strong stand-by partnerships enabled us to move quickly to engage.

We continue to work with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, as we have for the past seven years, to provide resources to small businesses to improve their ability to prepare for and recover from disasters.  We’re also supporting local community organizations addressing urgent needs, and those that will provide support for the long-term recovery ahead. 

Since the beginning of 2020, The UPS Foundation has allocated more than $21.5 million to leading relief organizations to aid in the fight against COVID-19, and to address the sustainability of local communities and the non-profit organizations that serve them. Our coronavirus support is focused on getting personal protection equipment to healthcare providers and first responders, addressing food security challenges in local communities, supporting unique education needs, and providing support to enhance the financial sustainability of families and businesses. 

Q2: This is a fast-moving situation and the needs are evolving every day. What are the some of the immediate needs that you’re seeing in communities and how can businesses help? 

This is an “all hands on deck” scenario, and we’re using our logistics expertise, our vast global network, and the strength and determination of our people to help get urgently needed relief items to the people who need them – especially the first responders and healthcare workers on the frontline.

We’re also supporting customers who have pivoted their businesses – sometimes entirely changing industries and business models. As an example, UPS’s strategic partner Fast Radius – and others, including the University of Louisville – are using 3D printers to print medical devices, such as face shields. Our ability to help customers create supply chain solutions to move and manage materials and get them to their final destination is enabling customers to rapidly stand up production sites with life-saving results.

During times of disaster, we also find that some of our most vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected. We continue to support human and civil rights-centered programs to empower individuals and help safeguard communities of all kinds. 

Q3: How is the coronavirus pandemic different than other disasters or crises you’ve responded to? Do you have any lessons learned or best practices you’d like to share with the larger business community as they navigate their response? 

We’ve learned an incredible amount from working directly with relief organizations, and from the UPS logistics experts who have deployed to provide support on the front line of global disasters. 

We’ve learned that it’s important to be tuned in to what is actually needed, and that needs can change daily or even hourly. Too many times we’ve seen items shipped into disaster areas that are unneeded or even inappropriate – such as blankets shipped to a tropical location. These unnecessary items can slow the progress of the items that are actually needed. 

We’ve also learned that communication and coordination are critical to effective responses. We often provide support in coordination between large relief organizations and the smaller NGOs at the frontline receiving support. Collaboration between the private sector, government agencies and civil society is critical to finding fast, effective solutions. 

Q4: Are you working with any external partners? What is the value of partnerships particularly in emergencies like this? 

The UPS Foundation has a global network of leading relief organizations, such as the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, World Food Program, UNICEF, CARE and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Additionally we’re working with government and non-government agencies, customers, and strategic partners. Beyond this, we’re providing support to local non-profit organizations through grants and where possible, through volunteer efforts. In many cases, we’re acting as a convener to create connections that drive results. For example, we’re actively working to connect the local affiliates of our global and national partners to local UPS teams in communities around the world to align on support and relief efforts.  This vast network of partners is enabling us to provide extensive, life-saving support on a global scale. We are able to support our partners using funding, in-kind support and our expertise, and together we’re able to accomplish far more than we could on our own.

Building resilience in our communities is a key focus area for The UPS Foundation. We work with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation in various regions of the world to help communities better prepare to withstand sudden onset disasters and humanitarian crises.

The UPS Foundation was very engaged with U.N. partners and other humanitarian agencies in response to the Ebola outbreak of West Africa. The challenges faced in West Africa led to the formation of the Pandemic Supply Chain Network, which has been working closely with the World Health Organization to provide intelligence on supply chain and manufacturing of critical health care products. This collaboration underscores the importance of a strong supply chain and last mile delivery system. Since the Ebola outbreak, The UPS Foundation has been a key leader in pandemic preparedness coalitions such as the Private Sector Round Table which is connected to the Global Health Security Agenda and the Pandemic Supply Chain Network.

Q5: How can business leaders make sure their efforts support long-term recovery and are not just a band-aid?  

It’s incredibly important to understand the issues and challenges before applying solutions. By gathering with leaders and experts, with organizations that are tuned in to the needs of individuals and communities, and working together to solve the challenges we’ll be facing, we can create solutions that move us forward.

Sharing best practices to create efficiency and success stories to inspire continued effort are also effective ways to drive continued results. And don’t underestimate the value of the people within your organization. There’s a tremendous momentum right now that can provide a huge amount of support, inclusion will allow these individuals to engage in a meaningful and memorable way.

Q6: A lot of CSR departments are shifting their resources to deal with the impacts of COVID-19. What do you think this will mean for the companies’ broader CSR efforts? How can they continue the momentum on other important areas as well? 

It’s challenging to understand that this is a moment in time right now. There’s going to be a next phase, and another phase after that, as recovery begins and the “new normal” emerges. I believe that this was a global wake-up call, and a cultural shift that will result in new definitions of what is important, and the role we each play in our lives.

I’m optimistic that we can move forward from here, that our decisions will be informed by a deeper understanding of the importance of human lives and our well-being. This experience can provide momentum that will drive us toward a better world, and that would be a truly meaningful outcome.