In August 2021, following an extensive career in both the Japanese and international postal sector, Masahiko Metoki was elected Director General of the Universal Post Union (UPU), a UN specialized agency and the primary forum for international postal cooperation. His deep experience has included roles in the postal financial field, and with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Japan in Thailand, positions that provide excellent international preparation for his current role.
The role brings rewards, notably being able to lead knowledgeable staff in a rich multicultural environment, all who bring diverse ideas and perspectives to the table. This generates a great sense of responsibility both to the people served across the Union’s 192 member countries, as well as to the staff. As Director General, Metoki notes that he must “ensure the Union considers the needs, challenges and expectations of each of those member countries, and listening to UPU stakeholders within the postal sector and beyond has developed an even firmer belief that the Post plays an essential role in reaching every person all over the world.”
This is the mandate. Whether helping a small business owner in the remote Pacific Island to access the global marketplace through affordable e-commerce services or ensuring that those facing crises — natural disasters or conflicts — continue to have access to humanitarian assistance, the Post is there to deliver.
As the world’s second oldest international organization, the UPU also has a venerable history to communicate, and it does so via World Post Day, celebrated on 9 October. As the rise of globalization from the eighteenth century on created the need for multilateral solutions to support the growth of international communication and commerce, the UPU’s formation on 9 October 1874 provided one of the first solutions to this need. It paved the way for the first-ever truly global forum for postal cooperation and development. Director General Metoki notes that the Post has, perhaps as much as any other international institution, woven together all corners of the world, and the celebration of this pivotal event through World Post Day provides an opportunity to raise awareness about just how essential the role has been that the Post played, and continues to play, in global socioeconomic development by connecting people, businesses and institutions. Its global network of over 600,000 officers comprising over 5 million staff deliver everywhere, over land and sea, to the rural and truly remote. As such, the Post is an important provider not only of communication, but also of trade, financial, social, governmental, and digital services.
Director General Metoki explains how, each World Post Day, a particular theme is chosen that is deemed relevant not only to postal services, but also to the customers they serve. “This year we will celebrate World Post Day under the theme ‘Post for Planet,’ acknowledging the serious nature of the climate crisis and the Post’s role in helping to solve the issue.”
As global society becomes quickly more aware of the need to make urgent changes to reduce environmental impact, the postal sector has naturally needed to react. The e-commerce boom, compounded further by the pandemic, together with the complex network of partners involved in delivering items, has shaped the Post’s approach to environmental sustainability within the sector. This has fundamentally meant an acknowledgment of the Post’s role in helping to reduce global carbon emissions as a key component of the e-commerce ecosystem. This has included huge shifts in developing sustainable packaging for e-sellers, rethinking how postal outlets are powered, finding sustainable transport options (and in doing so, often providing a model for scaling up to mass market adoption), greening postal delivery fleets, and reformulating delivery routes to optimize and reduce emissions. Similarly, the development of the Online Solution for Carbon Analysis and Reporting (OSCAR) is committed to carbon reduction.
Additionally, last year, UPU members passed a resolution that commits the organization to investigate possible emissions reduction targets and carbon-neutral cross-border services in the postal sector. As part of this, knowledge sharing on emissions reduction strategies, climate finance, and climate adaptation will be facilitated.
As a UN organization, the UPU is also collaborating with the UN Secretariat on the Global Digital Compact. In this respect, Director General Metoki points out that there are certain challenges that will be faced in working towards an open, free, and secure digital future for all.
Firstly, digital development can commensurately increase inequalities. The postal sector has already demonstrated how it can bridge such digital divides and reduce inequalities and the national level by supporting the rollout of digital infrastructure, together with the adoption of digital services in all economies, but especially in underserved communities. As an example, some 1.5 billion people worldwide access their financial services through the Post, making the Post the second largest contributor to financial inclusion globally. Many posts already offer some type of digital financial services, while UPU is actively supporting others to digitize their financial service offerings. The Post is a key global player not only for the uptake of digital financial services, but also for e-trade, e-government, and other digital services.
A secondary challenge the Compact may confront is that digital development could also significantly erode people’s trust in institutions. However, since posts are trusted national institutions around the world, they are leveraging this long-term trust to promote the adoption of digital services which, in turn, promote socio economic development across all levels of the economy.
With such ongoing challenges in mind, the UPU, under Director General Metoki’s leadership, is now consulting member states for their thoughts on other ways the Post can contribute to the Compact, and the results of this consultation will be made available soon.