In Nepal and Beyond, This Corporate Funder Takes on the World's Biggest Disasters

A perennial problem in dealing with humanitarian disasters is that even when armies of donors step forward to provide help, that assistance often can't get to those who need it because of a host of logistical problemsranging from destroyed infrastructure to poor coordination. 

Just as generals know that so much of war boils down to logistics, humanitarians know the same thing. Aid is of little use if it piles up in warehouses. 

The challenges facing relief efforts for Nepal, the landlocked and mountainous country that's been devastated by a huge earthquake, are particularly great. Which is why it's good to know that the UPS Foundation is stepping up to lend a hand, announcing earlier this week that it will provide both cash and logistical support to aid Nepal's recovery. 

Of course, other foundations are contributing to Nepal relief efforts, too, including the Ford Foundation, the Metlife Foundation, the Kellogg Company Fund, and the Ikea Foundation. But none of these funders have what UPS does: The world's largest infrastructure for moving cargo, and fast. 

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The UPS Foundation is keenly aware of the unique assets of its parent company, and has carved out an exceptional and indispensable role in the realm of disaster philanthropy. The foundation is a veritable one-stop shop for relief and humanitarian organizations. It isn’t unusual for the foundation and the company to team up to offer financial support in the form of grants and donations, while throwing in inventory-tracking software tools, transport vehicles, and employee volunteers for good measure.

UPS efforts to help Nepal shows this impressive relief machine in action.

First, the foundation immediately gave cash to three top relief organizationsthe United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Programme, and CARE—to help buy the basic supplies that disaster victims need: temporary shelters, solar lanterns, food, blankets, and more.  

Second, UPS began working to help coordinate charter flights to bring supplies to Nepal, and it connected up with the United Nations Logistics Cluster and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) to see what other logistical needs it could help with to get Nepal back on its feet. 

These efforts come not long after UPS was closely involved in helping the remote Pacific island nation of Vanuatu recover from a typhoon that nearly wiped it off the map. Last year, UPS helped move medical supplies to bolster the global response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. 

Related: The UPS Foundation's Added Value in the Ebola Crisis

Meanwhile, the UPS Foundation hasn't forgotten about the Syrian refugee crisis, which is the largest ongoing humanitarian crisis in the world. The foundation recently gave UNICEF more than $1 million to support its work with Syrian refugees. In addition to the million dollar give, UPS delivered loads of in-kind support including the delivery of 20,000 winter clothing kits to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Iraq and 220,000 pounds of emergency aid to the region including health kits, education kits, water and sanitation supplies, and ready-to-use therapeutic food.

Related: With Help Dwindling for Syrian Refugee’s Western Union and UPS Step Up

In a longer-term effort, UPS and the UPS Foundation are working to improve the ability of the international community to get urgently needed supplies into the hands of those who need them, quickly and efficiently. 

In partnership with UNHCR, UPS and its foundation launched the UPS Relief Link program to improve humanitarian supply chain logistics. Relief Link combines the use of handheld scanning devices and identification cards not only to improve the distribution and tracking of critical supplies, but to minimize theft as well.

Using the handheld Relief Link device, aid workers quickly scan identification cards containing some biometric information of the recipient. This technology allows for workers and relief agencies to meet humanitarian needs through the last mile of delivery. Last-mile delivery of supplies in humanitarian work has always been difficult for a number of reasons, including data errors and inconsistency in supply distribution. Relief Link allows for the tracking of supplies to their final destinations and provides up-to-date information regarding items that are most urgently needed by people in remote areas.

Related: The UPS Foundation's Added Value in the Ebola Crisis

This is a great example of UPS bringing its unique assets to the field of disaster philanthropy. Tracking millions of packages in real time moving around the world is essential to the company's business, and you can see why that capacity would be incredibly helpful for humanitarian efforts. Relief Link is making it easier for aid workers to keep on top of the river of supplies that often flow into disaster zones, know what's been delivered, where, and how much is left. The system also reduces redundancies in which too many supplies are shipped to some places while other areas don't get adequate relief. This ensures that everyone is receiving the aid they need.  

Relief Link was piloted in Ethiopia and Mauritania to much success, and the Dubai-based International Humanitarian City recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UPS that will allow the IHC to use UPS’s humanitarian supply chain solutions in the Middle East.  

Related - UPS Foundation: Grants for Disasters