Partnership story

The GoHelp Initiative of Deutsche Post DHL and UN OCHA


By: Isabelle de Muyser-Boucher, UN OCHA

Year after year, the world is confronted with the havoc wreaked by earthquakes, hurricanes and floods. The Haiti earthquake in 2010, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011 or, more recently, the earthquake in Nepal demonstrate just how helpless mankind is in the face of natural disasters, and how life-shattering they can be.

When disasters strike, communities and organizations around the world mobilize to help, and aid workers and relief materials converge to the airports closest to the disaster zone. However, a post-disaster situation can quickly turn from bad to worse when international relief aid begins to arrive, but cannot reach the people in need. In this respect, managing disaster relief logistics is a huge and potentially life-saving job. Most local or regional airports are equipped to handle only just a few commercial flights a day, thus there is considerable risk of bottlenecks as a result of the sudden upsurge of incoming relief traffic in the aftermath of a disaster. According to Chris Weeks, Head of Humanitarian Affairs at DPDHL Group – the world’s leading mail and logistics company with about 510,000 employees worldwide: “Regional airports can become quickly congested by the food, medical supplies and tents arriving from all over the world – all of which are urgently needed in the field. Very often there is no set disaster plan on how to manage such situations.”

Together with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Deutsche Post DHL Group decided to help tackle this particular problem thanks to its core logistics competencies. It’s “GoHelp” initiative – which, among other parts, comprises Special Disaster Response Teams (DRT) and a capacity-building project “Get Airports Ready for Disaster (GARD), helps ensure an uninterrupted and effective supply chain at the airport closest to the affected area in the wake of a disaster. Although closely related, these projects work independently from each other.

After a natural disaster occurs, the DRTs step in to help manage the logistics of disaster relief goods at the request of either UN OCHA or of the affected authorities. Whenever possible, a written agreement is signed in advance, usually with local authorities or relief organizations, in order to define both the place and duration of deployment and settle the legal implications of the work of DHL at the airport.

The DRTs consist of some 400 employee volunteers worldwide, trained to handle the challenges of a deployment. Together with local authorities and airport staff, they take care of incoming relief goods, set up and manage professional warehousing, sort and inventory relief items. This also includes the handling of unsolicited donations with no consignee, which remains a recurring challenge. The DRT Americas (in Panama), DRT Middle East/Africa (in Dubai) and DRT Asia Pacific (in Singapore) cover the world’s most disaster-prone areas. The teams, which are fully self-supportive, are ready for deployment within 72 hours. Each deployment typically consists of anywhere between 15 and 30 volunteers operating on a rolling basis, with the average length of the deployments being approximately 3 weeks. This support is provided pro bono to the United Nations and the affected country.

In addition to the DRTs, the GARD program – developed in 2008 by Deutsche Post DHL Group and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – guides local communities in pro-actively filling capacity gaps in some of their disaster response mechanisms before disaster strikes. It offers a hands-on approach to disaster preparedness, mixing classroom elements, on-site assessment work and applied contingency planning to provide airport authorities and local officials with the tools and know-how they need to make their facilities and people disaster-ready. Stepping up preparedness at potential disaster-site airports ultimately leads to better organized relief logistics and improved disaster response.

In December 2005, the three partners agreed to cooperate on disaster preparedness and disaster response with a view to developing long-term solutions to the logistical challenges and bottlenecks recurrent in disaster management. A series of agreements, which were extended in 2013 and again in 2016 for three years respectively, helped define the scope of the partnership and manage expectations from both sides. Although such steps sound very formal and cumbersome, the fact that the partnership was formalized and its goals clearly articulated from the beginning contributed to its success.

What drove Deutsche Post DHL Group to partner with the UN and to offer its core competencies to support humanitarian operations? As a publicly-listed global company, Deutsche Post DHL Group is faced with navigating the delicate balance between economic, environmental and social interests. While embracing its responsibility to society and the environment, the Group also looks toward all of its stakeholders, especially its employees, customers and investors. Deutsche Post DHL Group has therefore made corporate responsibility and sustainability an integral part of its overall business strategy. The GoHelp initiative, which successfully leverages its core expertise in logistics, is one of the company’s corporate responsibility efforts. The company desired to have a positive impact both on the society and environment as well as on the company itself. GoHelp demonstrates that both are possible.

According to Deutsche Post DHL Group, the most important element of its efforts, and the key to the success of its programs, are its employees. On a daily basis they demonstrate their enthusiasm and commitment around the world by volunteering their time and expertise not only to GoHelp, but also to the other corporate responsibility programs and local and regional investment initiatives. During deployments, DRT staff must deal with difficult living and working conditions in order to contribute to the speedy delivery of much-needed relief supplies to beneficiaries. These kinds of projects are not only humanitarian acts, however. Deutsche Post DHL Group also recognizes the long-term value to the company of maintaining employee motivation, increasing recognition for corporate responsibility engagement, enhancing reputation among customers and, as a result, strengthening competitiveness.

Those who have spoken with DRT members can feel the sense of pride they have in being part of the effort of offering humanitarian logistics in a very specific, true-to-company way that contributes to humanitarian response operations.

For more information, please click here or contact Isabelle de Muyser-Boucher.