Meet the expert: James Hale

James Hale has been working on the UPU’s Postal Social Services Project for more than half a year. More recently, he has narrowed his focus on social services Posts have offered to help their communities cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. He explains the project to Union Postale.

Unione Postale: What was the motivation behind launching this project and sharing these resources?

James Hale: Citizens, charities, governments and the private sector have mobilized to respond to COVID-19, working to reduce the spread of the virus and care for the sick. However, there is also a range of indirect social impacts that need to be addressed. Most notably, isolation at home and social distancing restrict people’s access to food, medicines, education and social contact. In March, we became aware that designated operators were responding to the pandemic by rapidly implementing new social services. The aim of our project was to create a platform for Posts to share their stories, and for the UPU’s International Bureau (IB) to publish analyses of how Posts were able to implement new services quickly. Essentially, we wanted to create an efficient way to inspire and support posts in supporting the public during the pandemic.

The IB is well-placed to coordinate this sharing of expertise.

How do these COVID-19 services compare to social services offered before the pandemic?

Many posts were already offering social services, although it is still too early to evaluate whether demands for existing services have increased in the last few months. What is clear is that a subset of services have become very relevant during the pandemic, and that some Posts implemented these as a direct response. For example, more Posts are now involved in the delivery of prescription medicines, food aid and children’s homework, as well as home-checking of seniors and other vulnerable residents. We have also seen Posts form direct partnerships with factories that produce masks and alcohol hand wash in order to secure broad public access to these essential items.

What are some of the most innovative services you’ve seen developed in relation to the pandemic?

Correos de Costa Rica and Jersey Post have both used private companies to deliver prescription medicines to the most vulnerable. These are interesting examples of Posts making use of the broader resources that became available during the crisis. In Costa Rica, private car-rental companies offered to supply vehicles, fuel and drivers for free to help the Post deliver critical medicines to residents. Because fewer people were renting cars during COVID-19, this initiative allowed these companies to keep their staff active, while also contributing to the national pandemic response. Similarly, in Jersey, taxi drivers helped to temporarily expand the postal delivery fleet in support of its new medicine delivery service.

What kind of response have you received from member countries?

The response has been positive, with many Posts sending us examples of their COVID-19 initiatives for inclusion on the new platform. The IB was also contacted by a union representing postal workers, seeking examples of new services that our members have introduced, in preparation for a meeting with the government ministry about postal diversification.

How has this project and the increased publicity of postal social services changed the perception of the Post with its stakeholders?

Whilst the primary aim of this platform was to facilitate rapid knowledge sharing between Posts, it also serves as a library of examples for the IB to use in its advocacy work. A recent letter from the IB to the governments of member countries called for urgent support for the postal sector. It made the point that Posts should be treated as critical infrastructure, and that they are being used by governments to deliver a range of social and financial services to the public. This project has also been accompanied by extensive social media coverage and news articles, which aimed to reinforce the message that Posts can play a key role in improving people’s wellbeing and prosperity, particularly during this challenging time.

Based on your research, are there any common threads leading to the success of these services and their implementation?

We still expect to receive many more examples of how posts are responding to the pandemic, and the current list of examples is very diverse. However, during a series of interviews with Posts about their new services, we identified the following common success factors:

  • Understanding the needs of customers and other stakeholders
  • Seeking diverse partnerships
  • Building on existing products, services and relationships
  • Creating dedicated and well-resourced project teams
  • Establishing clear processes for internal and external communication about the project

You’re working on a broader social services project in parallel to this. Could you tell our readers a bit about that project?

This project was launched in November 2019 to document and provide broad guidance on postal social services, with funding from the Japanese Ministry of Information and Communications. The IB was already aware that UPU members were providing services in sectors such as health, social care and education. However, there was a need for an overview of these services, and a better understanding of the motivations for Posts to diversify in this way.

One hundred and nine UPU members responded to our questionnaire, providing numerous examples of their postal social services. These ranged from offering document translation for immigrants and delivering a national awareness campaign on human trafficking, to the collection of batteries and unused medicines for safe disposal. The reasons given for offering such services included generating additional revenue, increased business resilience, added value for customers and ensuring the Post remains broadly relevant to implementing government policy.

Case studies and a guide to postal social services will be published at the end of this year, so we are very keen to receive more examples from Posts. We also want to know about checklists, protocols or other tools that could be shared. Please send these examples, along with any questions or requests for support to

This article first appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of UPU’s Union Postale magazine. Subscribe now to be the first to receive content like this.