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Call & Response

Aramex has become a regional leader in disaster relief, combining its logistics capabilities with innovative use of social media to create campaigns with lasting impact

For a company that measures success as much in terms of its community impact as the zeros on the bottom line, Aramex has long utilized its logistics expertise to provide life-saving relief to the victims of disasters – whether natural or man-made. With proactive use of social media, innovative inclusion of volunteers and an all encompassing approach to partnerships in both the public and private sector, Aramex has emerged as genuine regional leaders in the field of corporate activism.

Disaster relief is, according to Raji Hattar, built into the DNA of the company, even if the most conspicuous campaigns have only appeared in the last half-dozen years. Sitting in his office in Jordan’s capital, Amman, surveying a city whose serenity is a far cry from the devastation the company has often helped to alleviate, Raji lists some of the engagements he has overseen in his time as Chief Sustainability Officer.

“The Pakistani floods of 2004 was a major undertaking, as was the Tsunami in Sri Lanka in 2005, when we actually ran the country’s main airport and took control of all the relief transactions for two months,” he says. “We helped during earthquakes in Iran, another in Pakistan, floods in Egypt and of course delivering vital supplies to those affected by the war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006.”

The latter campaign, which brought much-needed aid to the more than half a million displaced people, underlined the flexibility that comes with being a federalized organization. The local Aramex station is itself a Lebanese company and was able to respond immediately to the unfolding situation – including devising new routes, bypassing areas signaled out for strikes and liaising with both Lebanese and Syrian border officials. It also demonstrated the importance of developing partnerships both with the Lebanese Higher Relief Commission (HRC), which coordinated the distribution of materials collected in various aid drives across the region, and with the Jordanian Air Force, whose planes were the only ones allowed to enter the country’s airspace and who helped deliver a significant proportion of the aid.

The challenge of Gaza

“We joined hands with the HRC to execute our own aid campaign in Jordan and the Gulf, where 500 tons of aid material were collected and shipped by land through the Al Masnaa border,” Asma Zein, Aramex’s Lebanon Country Manager, remarked at the time. “We also allocated specialized teams to support the HRC, where more than 30 Aramex experts in IT, third-party logistics, and supply chain management coordinated with other transportation companies to ensure the aid was delivered promptly. We were able to dispatch between six to nine trucks of aid on a daily basis to all the Lebanese municipalities.”

As remarkable as the Lebanon campaign was, the campaign to collect and deliver vital aid to Gaza in the winter of 2008 and 2009 helped to rewrite the model for corporate relief programs – and placed Aramex at the forefront of this kind of corporate social responsibility. “Gaza was the first campaign that really embraced the use of social media,” says Raji Hattar, explaining how their collaboration with, a local news agency and blogging community, enabled them to initiate, coordinate and update a public committed to helping. “But it was also the first that really allowed the volunteers to not just help, but to actually run key parts of the process.”

The Gaza campaign was, says Raji, a phenomenon. The volunteers not only arrived in unprecedented numbers but they decided how best to arrange the sorting and packing of items, with clear community leaders emerging to organize the armies of helpers who turned up daily at the Aramex depot in Amman. “We put a plan on how we wanted to operate, but the volunteers actively changed that themselves, putting in their own plans to how they felt they could best contribute – and we allowed them to do that. And people came every day. Five women came and said they wouldn’t leave until they’d fill a certain amount of parcels. They, make most of the volunteers, didn’t move until their work was done.”

The Gaza campaign was, in effect, the month-long practice of “the ends justify the means”, in which centralized control was sacrificed in favor of total community engagement. In conjunction with partnerships with retail groups such as al-Futtaim in the UAE and Cozmo and Pharmacy One in Jordan, the volunteers were able to collect, sort and pack over 600 tons of goods that the Convoy of the Hashemite Charity Organization – the only body permitted to take trucks into the area – delivered to the people in need.

“We never work solo,” says Raji, confirming the inclusive nature of Aramex’s relief campaigns. “It doesn’t matter how strong you are, you never have all the knowledge or financial strength to do everything. During the Gaza campaign, for instance, a pharmaceutical company wanted to deliver two trucks full of medicines that he knew would be needed. We couldn’t have known what was required, nor have the means of buying it ourselves. We’re not interested in owning a program – this is not about self-promotion. This is about helping people in need.”

Such was the power and reach of the campaign, and the innovative processes and publicity tools used, the experience was compiled in a white paper, Deliver Hope to Gaza. The document outlines the lessons learned and, perhaps more importantly, practical recommendations for future disaster relief efforts. To Raji’s best knowledge, it is the first time a corporation has shared knowledge on relief campaigns in such a way. In the year since it’s publication, it has become a widely-circulated document.

“We are receiving feedback about the White Paper even today,” says Raji. “It is becoming a reference tool for academics, social media companies and others looking to create similar programs. I wouldn’t say Aramex has become the model in these activities, but the White Paper has certainly become an important reference point.

The lessons were put to good use in the Pakistan floods of 2010, in which 1,300 people lost their lives, 302,000 houses were damaged and eight million people required urgent aid. In partnership with Emirates National Oil Company and Volunteers in Dubai, Aramex launched “Support Pakistan” to provide perhaps their largest single relief campaign to date. The aid is still being collected – and still making its way to those in need.
“We don’t have any rules, honestly,” says Raji, offering perhaps the best clue of all to Aramex’s relief philosophy. “We simply react to events and see if there is a way in which we can help.”

  Copyright 2011, Aramex International