The best corporate social responsibility and philanthropy programs leverage the strengths of their underlying companies. That’s a heady proposition when you’re the multinational transportation and delivery giant UPS, with a strong ground game, logistics and supply chain savvy, and more than a century of transportation know-how on land, sea and air.
The everyday business model of UPS puts it in a unique position to help people in hard-to-reach places. COVID-19 is a case in point. Against a backdrop of vaccine inequity and supply chain issues, UPS announced a delivery milestone of more than 1 billion vaccine doses in December. Then there’s its human capital. A half-million employees in 220 countries around the globe became a lifeline when it wasn’t safe to come out, and a critical part of the global economic engine.
All of those assets are central to the company’s philanthropy, which has recently evolved. As the world spent the last year exploring ideas of what’s essential, so did the UPS Foundation. Under a new leader, Nikki Clifton, it examined its work and made hard decisions about what it considers critical to delivering “what matters” to create “a more just and equitable world.”
Here’s how the results of that process will impact foundation giving that totaled $68.8 million in 2020, and the 28% of overall philanthropy that was delivered in 170 countries across the globe.
Under new leadership
Since September of 2020, the foundation has been led by Nicole “Nikki” Clifton, president of social impact and the UPS Foundation. A lawyer by training, Clifton has been with the firm for nearly two decades in public affairs and government affairs roles, bringing along deep institutional knowledge.
Well before taking on her new role, Clifton led UPS’s response to human rights and equity issues. A TED talk she hosted in 2018 on how businesses can fight sex trafficking has been viewed more than 1.5 million times. She also heads the UPS Equity, Justice & Action Task Force, a cross-functional leadership team that’s working to address systemic racism inside and outside the company.
Clifton said that while the company’s new approach remained rooted in its “culture of service,” “fresh eyes” were an important part of the process. Strategically, the team steered away from using the “same people to do the same things.”
As the foundation approached its 70th anniversary, this change reflected a desire to become “less about writing checks,” and more about advancing a “theory of change” to help meet the world’s most pressing problems. Other key drivers were investing in measurable ways, and tapping opportunities that act as a “partner multiplier.”
The process took over a year. When complete, Clifton said the foundation layered in messaging to provide clarity for a full range of stakeholders from employees to local communities.
HELP where it’s needed
The foundation refocused its efforts around four areas, organized around the acronym HELP. “H” stands for health and humanitarian relief in underserved communities and impacted places around the globe. “E” represents funding to eradicate systemic educational and economic inequities—and boost economic empowerment for vulnerable populations like women and marginalized youth. “L” stands for leveraging the company’s human capital to engage with local communities. And “P” is short for “planet protection,” encompassing the foundation’s environmental justice and sustainability work.
Health and humanitarian relief
UPS has long delivered global humanitarian aid in times of crisis, leveraging grants, in-kind support and a coalition of relief partners to mount rapid responses in hard-to-reach places, using innovative delivery systems that include drones.
In 2020, the foundation responded to 43 global disasters and crises with more than 2,700 in-kind shipments across 115 countries. That includes a combination of corporate and foundation support totaling a half-million dollars for earthquake aid in Haiti.
Never has UPS’s on-the-ground expertise been in greater demand. As the pandemic rages on, Clifton said the foundation is proud of using its business assets to deliver in-kind biologics (items like vaccines and food that require controlled temperatures and special handling) around the world, while eliminating infrastructure barriers like cold chain storage for vaccines.
Those assets allowed the UPS Foundation to advance vaccine equity in pandemic hotspots that “don’t have the luxury of a booster” and can’t operate without a “sustainable healthy population,” Clifton said.
Last spring, the foundation partnered with UPS and Zipline, a for-profit drone delivery company that works with NGOs, and with Ghana’s state Ministry of Health, to deliver vaccines across the country, building on integrated supply services it funded in 2019 with partners like GAVI and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
It also tapped UPS’s cold chain packaging know-how to provide freezers and “Credo cubes,” boxes that stabilize temperatures for delivery in unequipped places like Sulawesi and across rural Indonesia.
The Medical Drone Partnership alone delivered nearly a half-million vaccines. Fifteen million doses landed across Ghana. And the foundation helped push 13.8 million vaccines through to remote villages in Indonesia. In all, the foundation’s efforts supported vaccine equity efforts in 18 countries across five continents.
By the end of 2021, the foundation had coordinated the delivery of 31 million doses of vaccine and funded cold chain packaging to support the delivery of 38 million more, totaling nearly 70 million.
A matter of equity and empowerment
Clifton characterized equity as one of the foundation’s “largest portfolios,” accounting for 25% of the overall budget, including diversity, equity and inclusion.
Globally, much of that is aimed at boosting women in business. “When you invest in women, you invest in entire communities,” Clifton said.
Work centers on a signature Women Exporters Program (WEP) that provides skills development to help beneficiaries better navigate the complexities of exporting in global markets like India, Mexico, Nigeria and Vietnam.
The foundation’s primary partner on WEP is the International Trade Centre (ITC) and WTO’s SheTrades initiative, which aims to connect 3 million women running micro, small and medium enterprises to global markets. The foundation said that more than 90% of the program’s 15,000-plus participants over the last four years report improved digital business operations as a result of their training.
Local communities and local employees
The UPS Foundation considers “UPSers” critical to achieving its mission, and backs their local community engagement.
After meeting an initial goal of 20 million global volunteer hours by 2020, the company bumped that up to 30 million hours by 2030. That’s news worth flagging for nonprofits that want to find a path to partnership. Currently, The UPS Foundation doesn’t accept unsolicited grant proposals, and says the best way to engage UPS is through its 500,000 local representatives and army of volunteers.
Employee contributions are currently matched at 15 cents on the dollar, and each UPS region, district and business unit supports local nonprofits identified by UPS employees, giving that represents 21% of overall giving, or $10.2 million, in 2020.
An example of employee dynamics in action is UPS’s collective effort to disrupt human trafficking. Through the foundation grantee Truckers Against Trafficking, or TAT, more than 100,000 UPS drivers have been trained to recognize and report red flags they see on their routes. Employees also rallied around the cause with more than $5 million in workplace giving last year to support the United Way Human Trafficking Fund.
Clifton said, “We are proud UPS drivers are part of the everyday heroes keeping communities safe by identifying and reporting red flags of human trafficking networks,” like girls waiting at off-ramps.
Globally, Clifton also cited IAVE, the International Association for Volunteer Effort, as an important partner. The international network of NGOs, grassroots organizations, businesses and volunteer centers has members in more than 70 countries.
Protecting the planet
Environmental justice is a common and hard-to-ignore CSR priority for airline and trucking companies. The foundation considers itself a full partner in the UPS ESG Strategy, which is working to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050—and has invested research dollars toward that end.
On sustainability, Clifton noted another signature program, a Global Forestry Initiative established in 2015. The foundation met an initial goal of planting 15 million trees by 2020 in early 2019.
In 2021, it joined 1t.org, the World Economic Forum’s platform for private-sector engagement in environmental sustainability, which set an aggregate goal of planting 1 trillion trees globally.
Overall, the foundation has funded the planting of more than 20 million trees to date, and upped the goal to 50 million by 2030. It reports plantings in 66 countries, a quarter of which went into the ground in a region that includes Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa.
Clifton said that going forward, the question “is always what communities need most.” Then it’s a matter of partnering with direct service organizations and “layering on” volunteerism. Right now, UPS is mobilizing the full measure of “what operations can handle.”
“That’s the value we can provide,” she said.