UPS is helping women in India access resources to connect better to the global trade ecosystem. Photo: Trevor Williams

If they were left out before, some 500 women across India have now gained a baseline knowledge of global trade thanks to a partnership with an Atlanta corporate giant that understands how to deliver.

United Parcel Service Inc. last month kicked off its Women Export Program in India, aiming to break down barriers that have kept women from fully participating in the global economy. 

The move is consistent with UPS’s focus on empowering women through economic access, particularly across Asia but also throughout many other points in the 220 countries and territories it serves.

Laura Lane

It also came as Laura Lane, the company’s executive vice president and chief corporate affairs and sustainability officer, traveled to India on a trip that underscored the company’s commitment to women through a variety of business and philanthropic endeavors. 

The Women Exporter Program has run in countries as varied as Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam; while the specific hurdles are different based on each country’s culture and regulation, the uphill battle women face is the same almost everywhere, Ms. Lane says. 

In some societies, women aren’t allowed to own property or assets, open a bank account or gain access to financing without a male co-signer. In others, women can’t travel, either within their country or across borders. These rules keep many from controlling the destinies of their companies, Ms. Lane told Global Atlanta in an interview. 

“How do you run a business if you can’t own the property and the assets you use to produce the product?” Ms. Lane said, also pointing out inequities in access to capital. “For any small and medium-sized business, in order for them to grow and scale, they’ve got to have access to financing for growth of the business, but also trade financing to be able to engage in exporting opportunities. How do you do that if  there are laws and regulations that prohibit women from being able to access that kind of credit?”

UPS has been working within multilateral organizations to push top-down change, advocating for World Trade Organization member nations to add language to their country’s General Agreement on Trade in Services banning gender discrimination. That push came out of a similar initiative in the APEC Business Advisory Council, or ABAC, where Ms. Lane is one of three corporate representatives bringing the U.S. perspective to the Asian forum. 

Since the launch of the Women Exporter Program in 2018, UPS has also worked at the grassroots, teaching women essential skills like marketing, warehousing, customs, finance, operating e-commerce platforms and more, bringing in partners like Visa and Mastercard to help with credit and payment access as well as companies like Microsoft and Google to provide digital up-skilling. 

Ms. Lane launched the India edition in March in partnership with the government’s Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in Delhi and the Mumbai-based India SME Forum. The first 500 slots were heavily oversubscribed, with just over 2,000 applications coming in. 

“I often get the question, ‘Well, it’s only 500 women, but we want to make sure we have 500 success stories, so we’re taking it slow and methodically working with every woman as an individual, understanding their unique product offering and their unique market opportunities, and ensuring that we’re running right alongside them so that they can be successful. And then it’s going to be wash, rinse, repeat,” Ms. Lane said. 

Ms. Lane spoke to Global Atlanta the day before she would be in Atlanta to kick off the third edition of the Women’s Export University program here, a one-day program operated in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and International Affairs. Read more about that program here

While the Atlanta program garnered substantive participation, the scale in India was much larger, in part because the need is greater.

“Outside the United States, there are a lot of women entrepreneurs that don’t have the benefit of a U.S.-size consumer market to be able to sell to,” Ms. Lane said, and while many may be apprehensive about the risks of selling abroad, the training helps allay their fears. 

“I think once we explain the risks, a lot of these women-owned businesses recognize that they don’t have to limit their growth potential, just by how far their community reaches,” she said. 

While in India, Ms. Lane also signed an agreement with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, or FICCI, to partner on its Green Exporters program, which since 2022 has helped small and medium-sized companies assess their environmental impact and gain certifications that will make their products more appealing to larger buyers. 

She also joined UPS team members planting 900 trees at a senior home in Pune, where she also presented a UPS Foundation grant to a nonprofit taking kids off the streets. The UPS Women’s Leadership Development Business Resource Group donated more than 4,000 feminine hygiene products to the same organization. 

From there, Ms. Lane spoke on a panel on “The Startup Planet: Reclaiming Half the Sky” during the second day of the Raisina Dialogue, a high-level conference economics and geopolitics held in Delhi.

Learn more about the Women’s Exporter Program

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...