Ms. Lane has engaged with sellers of the pungent durian fruit in Malaysia to help them learn how to reach new markets. Photo: Trevor Williams

Editor’s note: During the National Center for APEC’s recent Atlanta roundtable, Global Atlanta caught up with Laura Lane, president of global public affairs at United Parcel Service Inc., to discuss how APEC can help address the systemic issues that keep female small-business owners from engaging more deeply in the global economy. This interview has been edited for length and flow. 

Global Atlanta: UPS is working with the White House and USAID on an export initiative for women entrepreneurs around the world. UPS also helps train female business owners in the art of finding global markets via webinars and workshops. A recent news release noted that the company spent $600 million purchasing from women-owned businesses last year. Tell us more about these efforts. 

Laura Lane, president of Global Public Affairs, United Parcel Service, photographed at her office in Washington, D.C. Photo by David Bohrer – August 16, 2017.

It’s about empowering women everywhere. The objective with Ivanka Trump’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative is to raise 50 million women out of poverty, with a big investment by the government, but also by bringing all parts of the government together. 

If you operate in silos trying to address specific issues that keep small and medium-sized companies or women-owned businesses from exporting, but you don’t address it holistically, you’re just creating another link in the chain, but the chain isn’t all connected together. 

I’m pretty excited about our partnerships with just the White House, but also the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades initiative

Global Atlanta: What are the issues specific to women that are different from challenges male-owned small businesses might face? 

Sadly, women in many countries can’t own property in their name. It’s only a man that can own property. How do you run a business if you can’t own the property? 

Women sometimes can’t open bank accounts on their own. They have to have a male co-signer to open an account and/or secure a loan because the laws of the country say that the only credible co-signer is a man. 

What about the fact that in some of these markets, and I’m talking lesser-developed markets, women when they reach age 16 are not encouraged to continue their education. So how are they learning about the transformative power that getting on the Internet and connecting to a broader array of customers can do for the small business that they’re running in their local community? 

It shouldn’t be a gender issue; (business) evaluation should be based on, is it a good product, is it a good business to invest in? 

The U.S. pulled out of the TPP and has all but sworn off multilateral trade deals. What do you think sets the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation apart as a forum focused on cooperation rather than binding trade negotiations toward trade agreements? 

(In multilateral forums) we need to not necessarily be focusing on how many more regulations or policy commitments we need, but it’s about creating that enabling environment that allows things to happen, that allows businesses of all sizes to flourish. 

It isn’t about checking a box and saying we got the following agreements done with the following commitments. It’s about how many businesses we have empowered to do more. That should be the metric for success. That’s how our company looks at it. It’s not about how many packages delivered. It’s about how many companies we have helped grow. 

The value that I see particularly from APEC is that you have such a range of economies — different sizes, different levels of development — and if you can incubate solutions with that broad array of differences, then they become lasting ones.

UPS is a network company. If there’s issues with one part of the network, another part of the network feels it. APEC is the network, if you think about it, for bringing those ideas and solutions together and then coordinating them across that region. So the network works.  

UPS has one of the three sitting members of the U.S. APEC Business Advisory Committee. Given that some say people now trust their employers more than their governments, what role do companies have to play in touting the benefits of trade and globalization?

I think it is our responsibility to use the trust we establish with our customers, with our employees, in the communities where we work, to really tell the story how we’re all interconnected. Trade has become a dirty word, and sometimes it’s held accountable for a lot of the challenges that societies are dealing with, when in reality a lot of the dialogue needs to be about how we can work together to create fulfilling jobs in a more modern economy and build on that trust that people have in the companies that they work with to empower them to be at that next level.


Ms. Lane was one of the speakers at the World Affairs Council of Atlanta’s recent International Women’s Day breakfast. Learn more about that event here

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...