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A Year Like No Other

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Nikki Clifton recently became President of Social Impact and The UPS Foundation. We sat down with Clifton to reflect on this moment in our shared journey and explore her insights on the road ahead for UPS and society at large.

Check out the wide-ranging conversation below:

Longitudes: When you learned you would take on your new role in the midst of everything taking place in the world, what were your thoughts?

Clifton: My first thoughts were, I am so grateful to have this incredible opportunity at this critical point in time. I felt very humbled and excited. I recognized the gravity of stepping into this role when society is at a significant inflection point that demands equitable social impact. 

Longitudes: What are your main takeaways from 2020?

Clifton: Clearly, the double pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice have provided enough takeaways to study for generations. COVID-19 revealed both how vulnerable and connected we are as a society. It also revealed how similar we are in terms of what’s most important to us: the safety of our families and our communities, the security of our health and the need to make sacrifices for the common good.  

The disease of racism and the antidotes of equity and justice remain incredibly challenging. There is no quick fix, but I am more optimistic than ever that we are on the right path because we are finally having open conversations and taking tangible actions that will advance the reckoning process. Ultimately, I want a better, more just world for my children and their children.

Trying to help my kids feel safe has been painfully hard, and the conversations around my dinner table have been incredibly complex. I am encouraged that my new position has given me a platform to help educate and create empathy and a shared understanding with my coworkers who don’t look like me but hopefully can learn through my own lived experience. I have a responsibility to share those stories and open up a platform for other UPS employees to share their experiences to help bridge the understanding.

Surprisingly, 2020 also has offered us blessings in disguise. The year has shone a light on the importance of family and of valuing basic things that matter the most, and how we spend our time. People have recognized that reaching out to support neighbors and communities — taking local action and being any ally — is a vital step forward. We have a lot to do before our society feels safe again.

Longitudes: How is UPS addressing the needs resulting from COVID-19?

Clifton: I’ve never been more proud to say I work for UPS. We’ve remained on the frontlines as an essential provider from the beginning, and we’ve just made history by helping to deliver the first vaccines in the midst of our peak holiday season. We literally became the safety net when people learned it wasn’t safe to come out, and now our workforce is delivering hope. On the Foundation side, we worked with our operations partners to deliver more than 12 million units of PPE.  One of our key priorities is working with humanitarian relief organizations to support equitable access to healthcare around the globe. We have become the world’s lifeline.

While COVID-19 dominated the world’s attention, other pressing healthcare and humanitarian relief concerns persisted around the globe, and The UPS Foundation answered the call. Our actions resulted in support for more than 50 million beneficiaries, a mindboggling number of people.

I also note that it’s one thing to react quickly —which clearly UPS does well. But the company also was well-prepared to step into this monumental healthcare crisis, which demonstrates our leadership as well as our commitment. With vaccine delivery, we had to anticipate needs and create groundbreaking solutions such as the freezer farms now being filled with early shipments. Had UPS Healthcare not done advance planning, collaborating with research, healthcare and life sciences teams, we would not have been ready. Preparation was critical, and the reason we are uniquely positioned now to move the world forward by delivering what matters!

Longitudes: What would you like people to know about UPS’s efforts to address social justice?

Clifton: First and foremost, I want people to know that we hear and understand the call to do more. I also want to emphasize that doing more to advance social justice ultimately will create a safer and more inclusive world for everyone. UPS has a long, solid record of championing diversity and inclusion efforts as part of our core company values. There is work to be done both internally and externally and I am committed to helping advance that work.

We created the UPS Equity, Justice and Action Task Force to foster progress and opportunity. Our framework is based on impacting areas where systemic racism persists and UPS is best positioned to move the needle. We’ve focused on advancing legislation against hate crimes and increasing voter engagement because we know inequities persist there. Our “Drive the Vote” campaign has helped our employees understand the importance of using their voting power to drive change.

We’ve also focused on creating safe spaces for UPSers to have difficult conversations. We’ve brought in world-class leaders like Bryan Stevenson from the Equal Justice Initiative to educate our leadership and made those conversations available to our entire workforce. We are examining our culture, mandating unconscious bias training for all management employees and offering professionalism training to model civility in the workplace. These steps are in addition to the more than $4 million we donate to external partners who are committed to this vital cause.

Longitudes: In terms of The UPS Foundation’s approach and efforts thus far, what impresses or inspires you the most?

Clifton: What impresses me most is our potential for impact. In 2020, by collaborating with partners and engaging our workforce—globally and locally—our efforts to provide humanitarian relief, advance equity and inclusion, support communities and protect the planet improved the lives and increased the well-being of 50 million people around the globe.

What inspires me most is that we can do more. And we can do it in a way that leverages the unique strengths of a world-class logistics company. We can reach more people, have more impact, and deliver greater good to the world just by asking ourselves how we want UPS to impact society.

Longitudes: As you begin to take on your new role, what do think are the most critical priorities?

Clifton: My job is to determine what is most important right now — how our assets and volunteerism can address the most urgent needs, including:

  • Advancing healthcare and humanitarian relief; and
  • Addressing racial injustice, by working — first — to ensure positive, welcoming and equitable lived experiences for all UPS employees, and then by mobilizing our combined strength to create a positive impact beyond UPS’s walls.

Longitudes: As we look ahead to 2021, what are your expectations for transformative change?

Clifton: This is not just a moment in time. What we’ve experienced over the last year has shaken us to our core. The world is demanding a change.

People who refuse to change will be left behind. I have faith the world is going to evolve into a better and more just society. And I believe that it’s the business community’s responsibility to help foster that change.

When efforts are based on equity and inclusion, and rooted in civility, that’s when you see change.

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