UPU Review 2020

Challenges drive innovation in a momentous year

The year 2020 will certainly be a year that we will never forget. Covid-19 has seen borders close, countries lockdown, and physical distancing change the way we work and live. For the postal sector, letter volumes decreased significantly, and workers put their lives on the line to continue delivering mail. But new opportunities arose – ones that fostered inclusion for the entire postal industry and ones that enabled posts to capitalize on the booming e-commerce sector.    
Prior to the global widespread outbreak of Covid-19, the Universal Postal Union (UPU) kicked off its year with its High-Level Forum on wider postal engagement – something which became essential during 2020. The event examined how the UPU could deepen private sector engagement. Following the meeting, a task force was set up to propose the way forward. Recommendations from the task force will be fed into the strategy developed for the next four years of the UPU’s business cycle.
Due to the global pandemic, however, the UPU had to make the difficult decision to postpone its 27th Universal Postal Congress, which was to be held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire in August 2020. Congress will now be held in August 2021 in Abidjan.
Speaking in March, Hussein said, “I want all of UPU’s many stakeholders to know that, in this difficult time, we will continue to offer you a world-class service and to uphold our postal mandate as a UN specialized agency.”  
As part of this commitment, in March the UPU strengthened its relationship with the UNI Global Union – the representative for postal workers worldwide, to help support postal operators and their unions to take informed and pro-active approaches to safeguarding the health of workers and customers.
As a result, posts adopted contactless delivery methods, staggered working rotas for staff, and deployed millions of PPE items – both for employees and for local communities and businesses. The UPU also assisted with the delivery of PPE. In July, the union reported that it had provided 1.2 million masks to least developed countries as part of a joint project with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).
The UPU also worked hard to ensure that cross border deliveries could continue. In April, the UPU joined a campaign launched by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to help keep cargo planes moving as governments suspend passenger flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UPU also worked with countries to develop new cross border routes. In a world first, mail-only trains from China helped clear the huge backlog of mail destined for Europe and deliver medical supplies in April. The use of the rail network to deliver mail is a success for the Universal Postal Union’s Supply Chain Team, which championed the rail network for the delivery of mail between Europe and Asia.
During the pandemic posts played an important role in keeping communities connected. In April, the UPU launched a new project to highlight this – an online resource center to collect stories regarding how posts are delivering social and financial services to their citizens. “It shares case studies on successful examples in the hopes of encouraging policy-makers around the world to collaborate with their posts on similar services,” said Hussein.
An Post, for example, has provided activity books for children and carried out daily visits for the elderly. Australia Post, meanwhile, set up its Pharmacy Home Delivery Service at the end of March to deliver citizens much-needed medicines. And in France, La Poste helped deliver spare school computer equipment to children in need.
The UPU also worked closely with posts to help them improve their services. In March, it met with high-level representatives from the Government of Côte d’Ivoire to boost the participation of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in the country’s e-commerce market as part of the eTrade for All project.
The union also launched a new E-commerce Guide, which charts the explosion in smartphone applications. The guide sets out the UPU’s capacity building and technical assistance to posts to help them succeed in the e-commerce market.
Meanwhile, in July using UPU’s PosTransfer standards, Haypost and Russian Post launched new money transfer systems in the CIS region. The transfer system will offer financial services to individuals living in the remotest areas of Armenia and Russia. 
These are just some examples of how the UPU’s work has supported posts throughout 2020. The union continues to innovate. One example in 2020 was the launch of a new blockchain project to create a digital marketplace to host, trade and track crypto-stamps. Furthermore, in August the UPU’s Postal Technology Centre created the eCom API, a package of application programming interfaces (APIs) that builds a comprehensive e-commerce solution. And more recently the UPU has revealed that it will develop a new environmental sustainability program as part of the UPU 2021-2024 Strategy.
Speaking in July, Hussein summarized the key to Covid-19 recovery for the postal sector, “During the pandemic, postal workers have been viewed as essential workers; courageously making the rounds in the face of the deadly virus. Almost every postal operator has been able to adapt and change their business model during this crisis. That is an incredible achievement. If we continue that spirit of innovation, I believe the momentum from the Covid-19 pandemic will drive the industry forward long after the crisis has ended.”