Why sustainability starts in our communities

From care packs in Singapore to disaster relief in Sri Lanka, DHL’s GoHelp program has mobilized our people to volunteer their time and logistics expertise in their communities and beyond – all in the name of delivering help.

Joining forces in Singapore

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Singapore, migrant workers were among the most affected people. Many live together in dormitories, where social distancing is difficult to practice. The crisis also had a major impact on the lives of the elderly, who are at higher risk for severe illness if they contract the virus. Many found it difficult to get basic items because they stayed mostly at home or often faced empty shelves at the store. 

In order to support those vulnerable groups the Singapore Red Cross launched a care packs initiative to distribute personal protective equipment (PPE), such as facemasks and thermostats, to migrant workers as well as food and medical supplies to the elderly. 

DHL joined forces with the Singapore Red Cross to help sort, pack, collect, and deliver the care packs. As a company with a strong volunteer culture, it didn’t take long to bring together a group of highly enthusiastic volunteers from across our DHL Express, Global Forwarding, and Supply Chain business units. Each month now, more than 50 volunteers from both the Red Cross and DHL put together over 400 boxes for people in need. 

The Singapore Red Cross care packs initiative is one of the many volunteer humanitarian logistics activities in our DHL GoHelp program showing that we deliver much more than packages, freight, and other logistics services – we deliver help!

Joined forces

DHL and Singapore red cross


Boxes each month for people in need


Red Cross and DHL Volunteers

The masters of disaster

On December 26, 2003, an earthquake measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale struck the Iranian city of Bam, leaving the majority of buildings badly damaged. In the immediate aftermath of the quake, the humanitarian community worldwide flew tons of relief supplies into Bam Airport.

Because the airport was not designed to cope with the sudden rise of incoming relief supplies, it was forced to shut down. It was there that DHL employees realized that our expertise in logistics, our global network, and our employees’ commitment could be put to use to support airports in the wake of a disaster and help people in need around the world.

Our worldwide disaster management activities

Led by Chris Weeks, Director for Humanitarian Affairs at Deutsche Post DHL Group, a team of logistics leaders at DHL began working on a plan. They set up a "Disaster Response Team" (DRT) made up of our employees – a team that could quickly deploy to an airport after a natural disaster. The DRT's mission would be to prevent relief aid bottlenecks and ensure life-saving food and medical supplies get to victims as quickly as possible. 

Weeks and his team didn’t have to wait long to test their new model. The first time a DRT deployed was to Sri Lanka following the tsunami in 2004. Thirty-five DHL volunteers from Dubai worked at Colombo International Airport for three weeks, unloading, storing, and reloading 6,000 tons of donated goods from 135 unscheduled cargo flights.

“While we had issues and it didn’t all go smoothly, we worked with the airlines, army, airport authorities, UN, NGOs, and ministries to keep the airport open so the aid could flow,” says Weeks. “The model worked, and the DRT was born.”

Since the tsunami, DRTs have been deployed 40 times to over 20 countries following earthquakes, floods, and cyclones. Today we have three teams based in countries around Dubai, Panama, and Singapore, with volunteers coming from every business unit. While the help provided is mostly airport related and experienced airside staff are crucial, DRTs also need general logistics, warehouse, and support staff.

Chris Weeks often shares a lesson he learned in Pakistan in 2010: “I remember arriving at Islamabad one wet, windy Saturday morning to find the airport awash with water, food, clothes, and other aid items. We were despairing at the amount of work to do, but one of the local volunteers recruited a gang of 25 laborers from his village and set them to work clearing up and creating order from chaos. The airport was literally strewn with pallets of relief goods. Within two or three days we had the situation under control and managed to turn it into an efficient air hub. It taught me a lesson that I teach to the others: If you get in fast and know what to do, the deployment will be much easier than arriving late and having to catch up.”


Changing our communities for the better

Volunteerism plays an important role at DHL. We share the UN’s belief that it is the foundation for stable, resilient communities – for communities that can continue to make humanitarian progress even in times of crisis.

We provide a variety of instruments to encourage and enable our employees to volunteer in local-level projects and lay the foundation for long-term collaboration with charitable organizations. By helping solve problems in their local communities, they not only make a contribution to society, but create a sense of community and teamwork that carries over into the workplace and even into their personal development.

Our Global Volunteer Day (GVD) program is one of the ways we provide the framework to facilitate volunteerism at the local level and in close collaboration with independent local organizations and charities. Over the past decade, GVD has become a major component and driver of employee volunteerism across DHL and our entire group with more than 100,000 colleagues participating each year.

GVD sends a strong message of community and social cohesion. It also issues a challenge to companies to act on their social responsibility as corporate citizens. To be sure, it supports our company‘s business goals by boosting employee motivation and enhancing our overall reputation. Our example shows that giving back to society does indeed pay off – and that we are changing our communities for the better.


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What are GARD and DRTs?

Our Group-wide GoHelp program has two main focus areas: Get Airports Ready For Disaster (GARD) and Disaster Response Teams (DRTs).

Through GARD, we develop procedures and emergency response plans at airports in disaster-prone regions to rehearse for and avoid relief supply bottlenecks in the event of natural disasters. In cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), we conduct multiday workshops on-site for airport personnel and local disaster management organizations to evaluate existing logistics procedures and improve airports’ capacity for processing and dispatching large volumes of incoming relief workers and supplies.

During these workshops, our air freight experts act as trainers, helping participants analyze their emergency response plans and develop ways to increase airport capacity, including avoiding bottlenecks in the event of relief efforts.

Our DRTs provide timely support in the wake of natural disasters, handling a range of logistics tasks at airports and coordinating the transfer of relief supplies to local relief organizations. In cooperation with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), we have established DRTs in the Americas, Middle East/Africa, and Asia Pacific regions. This network allows us to provide disaster response coverage to approximately 80% of higher-risk countries.

If called upon by the UN, our DRTs can be deployed within 72 hours to manage the logistics of incoming relief supplies at airports, ensuring their efficient transfer to local relief organizations. Urgently needed supplies such as food, cooking utensils, and medical supplies are sorted and packed at the airport into waterproof polypropylene bags known as Speedballs, which can then be airdropped over remote areas.

Our GARD instructors and DRTs receive specially targeted training in preparation for their deployments and the situation on the ground. We prepare our logistics experts for both the physical and psychological challenges of DRT deployments with special courses that realistically simulate disaster-response workflows under difficult conditions. 

Published: October 2020


The 2019 Sustainability Report shows that every day, our employees bring the world together, united by one common purpose: “Connecting people, improving lives.”

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