Last year saw the Universal Postal Union continue to redefine itself for the 21st Century and reaffirm its pivotal role as the global voice of the international postal network. Here are some of the highlights.
Seeing Eye to Eye
Whether signing a groundbreaking trade facilitation agreement with the Moroccan government or a trailblazing memorandum of understanding with the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to help halt the opium tide, the UPU strengthened its strategic partnerships in 2018.
The UPU and Morocco inked the agreement in April and will implement the pilot programme over the next two years. Thanks to the agreement, the UPU can test and improve the project before rolling out the programme to other countries globally.
The April plenary session of the Postal Operations Council witnessed an agreement with INCB on deadly opioids. INCB and the UPU agreed to promote technical assistance and share information on trends and patterns in drug movements, as well as alerts on concerned substances, among other activities. The new agreement takes place against the background of a spiraling epidemic in overdose deaths, especially in the United States, fuelled by powerful fentanyl-related substances that can be 50 times deadlier than heroin.
Facilitating greater cooperation on international carriage of postal items, the UPU signed an agreement in January with the Intergovernmental Organization for International Carriage by Rail formalizing ties between the two organizations.
The UPU Director General Bishar A. Hussein and Ethiopian Minister of Innovation and Technology Getahun Mekuria, in December, signed a cooperation agreement in Ethiopia to develop an e-commerce hub for East Africa under the UPU’s Ecom@Africa initiative. UPU is offering expert advice to Ethiopia on the project’s design and implementation.
Include me, do not exclude me!
Financial inclusion was another significant topic area where the UPU helped drive the agenda forward in 2018. In March, the organization’s financial inclusion and e-commerce experts took part in the World Summit on the Information Society or WSIS. Nearly 2 billion people still have no access to financial services. The result: crippling financial exclusion for small businesses and millions of people, many of them women, in rural areas. With more than 670,000 outlets reaching some of the world’s remotest areas, the Post is a perfect partner for expanding financial inclusion.
Further proof of the UPU’s commitment to reducing financial exclusion’s impact came in December at UNCTAD’s Africa eCommerce Week. In a speech, Mr. Hussein announced the UPU would roll out digital financial services projects reaching as many as 800,000 people under its Financial Inclusion Technical Assistance Facility—FITAF—in 2019.
Diplomacy and the art of global engagement
Winning over heads of state, convincing governments about the ability of postal operators to contribute to national economies are crucial elements of the work undertaken by UPU’s senior officials. In 2018, Mr. Hussein undertook exhaustive travel to spread UPU’s message that posts have crucial roles to play in e-commerce and digitalization.
During June, he travelled to Fiji and met with the country’s Acting Prime Minister and Attorney General, Mr. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, to invite Fiji and other countries in the region to increase their role in the UPU. He then met the President of Vanuatu, Pastor Obed Moses Tallis in Post Villa, the country’s commercial capital. President Tallis called upon the UPU membership to encourage the participation of small island nations in the organization’s discussions and said many of the small islands are unable to pay their membership contributions.
On a July mission to Saint Lucia, the UPU Chief and Deputy Director General Pascal Clivaz stressed financial inclusion as a business imperative for the Caribbean region. Later that same month, Mr. Hussein and Mr. Clivaz met with Viet Nam’s Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam. The Deputy Prime Minister said the government was using the postal services to deliver a variety of services to the citizens, especially in remote parts of the country. In Madagascar, the UPU head spoke at the Fifth Extraordinary Session of the Pan African Postal Union, and met with President Rajaonarimampianina for a wide-ranging discussion on postal matters and related issues.
Reaching out, drawing audiences in
High profile events are essential for underscoring UPU’s global activities and generating partnerships and cooperation among postal operators and the wider United Nations. One of UPU’s premier events, the World CEO Forum, was held together with Turkish Post in Istanbul in May. The Forum brought together the world’s postal CEOs to discuss new strategies, trends and developments in the postal sector.
At the first session of the UPU World CEO Forum, Mr. Hussein said of the international postal network, “We adopt, we embrace,” he said. The real question, noted Mr. Hussein, is: “How quickly can we adopt new technology and how can we improve e-commerce?” Similar themes were also discussed at UPU’s Second Extraordinary Congress in Addis Ababa in September. “This is the first time a UPU Extraordinary Congress has been held on the continent of Africa. We are glad it is taking place in Ethiopia; the cradle of mankind, the country of very rich cultures and friendly people,” the UPU head said at the opening.
Ministers in charge of the postal sector, chiefs of regulatory authorities, heads of intergovernmental agencies and other high-level representatives of organizations came to together to discuss trends in the postal sector at a Ministerial Strategy Conference held during the Extraordinary Congress.
At the end of the Extraordinary Congress, countries agreed improvements enhancing UPU’s efficiency, as well as its role and relevance. In his own statement at the closing ceremony of the Second Extraordinary Congress, Mr. Clivaz said, “Several years ago as you will recall, we crafted a vision for the Union in the Nairobi Postal Strategy, once again positioning the postal sector as an essential component of economic development. The UPU is now on the radar of even the most powerful leaders around the globe.”
In October, the UPU celebrated World Post Day with two high profile events. The UPU presented awards to the top-ranking countries in its comparative development index. Switzerland took the top prize in a ceremony hosted at the UPU’s Berne, Switzerland, headquarters.
The Integrated Index for Postal Development, released earlier in the year is a comparative index providing an overview of postal development around the world, using the UPU’s unparalleled collection of postal big data to create a ranking of 173 countries. It benchmarks performance across four key dimensions: reliability, reach, relevance and resilience.
Mr. Clivaz said in a keynote speech at the ceremony, “The Integrated Index for Postal Development or ‘2IPD’ clearly shows the state of the sector in an age of digitalization and booming e-commerce. It also shows how the UPU is accompanying Posts in this new world.” Later on the same day, the UPU celebrated the International Letter Writing Competition won by 13-year old Chara Phoka’s letter depicting the brutality of conflict and migrant smuggling. She received a gold medal during a moving ceremony at the UPU’s headquarters.
Mr. Clivaz said in a statement congratulating Ms. Phoka, “The message is therefore not only a letter of our times, but also a lesson for our times: We must not give up on the “greatness of human life,” we must not give up our humanity, and we must not give up our hope…” The theme of this year’s competition was, “Imagine you are a letter travelling through time. What message do you wish to convey to your readers?”
On the following day, on the margins of the highly successful Post-Expo in Hamburg, Germany, the UPU held its World Postal Business Forum. In 2018, the forum tackled some of the tough issues confronting the international postal network under the banner “Dealing with challenges, while seizing opportunities in the digital age.”
Exploring the impact of data protection and privacy laws on postal services and e-commerce markets was the topic of a high-profile conference in Berne in late October. Mr. Hussein said in his opening remarks, “As there have been many issues and challenges in data protection and privacy, new laws and regulations have been passed in order to cope with the new environment.”
Remittances and postal innovation
June saw the UPU celebrate the International Day of Family Remittances. The world’s international postal network was founded on a universal service obligation—the concept of providing a network of networks for delivering letters and parcels to everyone on this planet. With Posts already delivering a public service, there is a real opportunity for them to harness existing operations to ensure that families everywhere can access financial services.
As part of his work to empower postal operators to deliver innovation, the UPU Director General praised the “unique model” of the East African Communications Organization and called on Posts to embrace e-commerce opportunities. “Through innovation, the Post has taken advantage of technology to roll out new services. The new services, coupled with its large physical network and years of experience with customer services, have made it possible for the Post to remain competitive in the market,” said Mr. Hussein.
Greening the blue
In December, the United Nations released its most recent environmental sustainability report, entitled Greening the Blue. The report outlines the environmental footprint of the entire UN system, providing details for each UN agency, including the UPU. Formerly known as Moving Towards a Climate Neutral UN, the report looks at greenhouse gas emissions, offsetting, waste, and environmental management.
As part of the Sustainable United Nations (SUN) group, the UPU continues to support the environment by applying a systematic approach to reducing its environmental footprint and by taking additional measures such as choosing video and teleconferences over flights for work purposes and joining the UN Green Champions initiative.