Kevin Etter, UPS & Gavi

Adding a TED Talk to your resume is a great opportunity. Breaking through philanthropic paradigms to have something to talk about during your TED Talk is another.

Corporate donations to organisations like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance are generally straight forward – a company usually writes a check or, in some cases, donates some of their “stuff” – their products, goods or services.

My company, UPS, did something different and unique in the world of corporate philanthropy – they donated me. I am the donation.

For background, in 2014 Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance approached UPS, the giant logistics and supply chain company, seeking private sector participation in their 2015-2020 fundraising campaign.  After several months of discussion, they landed on a unique solution – UPS would loan one of their experienced senior managers for a period of time to provide input for Gavi’s emerging work on supply chain – the challenge of getting vaccines where they need to be.

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The last mile of the supply chain in action – a nurse carries a cool box of vaccines to their final destination in DRC. Photo: Gavi/Phil Moore

Why is this important?  There are a number of reasons, but the number one reason a company should consider donating or sharing their talent is this: unlike donated funds, products or services, which are gone forever, donated people come back.  And not only do they come back, I contend that they return new and improved – with a fresh set of skills, insights and connections.  This is the win-win situation that everyone talks about.

UPS’ knowledge leadership in logistics complimented Gavi’s needs perfectly. Their vaccine supply chain strategy is built on four pillars – human resources, data management, cold chain equipment (e.g. fridges) and system redesign.  As the donation I have been active in driving solutions in all areas, but the cornerstone of my work with Gavi has been building supply chain expertise through the Strategic Training Executive Programme (STEP). This program offers training in people and project management, communication, and problem solving to those already working on the vaccine supply chain in the world’s 73 poorest countries. Students take part through a mix of distance learning and face to face instruction, so they can fit the learning around their critical ongoing work. This will be a key tool in strengthening immunisation supply chains by cultivating robust leadership and management.

The UPS/Gavi relationship has worked so well that earlier this year I was asked to give a TED Talk about my experience.  Over the course of my career, I have presented many times to crowds both large and small.  But a TED Talk is something different, nothing in my corporate training could prepare me for the process. TED values expediency and efficiency – another cardinal rule is that every word has to support your “idea worth spreading” and that you are there to illustrate, not explain, your idea.

Packaging my experience as a donation in this way helped me to reflect on the wider potential of this partnership. I count myself fortunate that I work for a company that values talent as much as money and services, and I hope to see more companies embrace the idea of supporting good causes by sharing some of their most prized assets – their employees.


You can watch Kevin’s full TED Talk here: