Akhilesh Mathur > What I do

A description of my professional activities.










The Universal Postal Union

UPU logo

I am an international civil servant working for a United Nations specialized agency called the Universal Postal Union.

The UPU is an intergovernmental organization based in Berne, Switzerland. It develops common standards and procedures for the international postal service. What are standard envelope sizes? How much can a mailbag weigh? How should countries share costs and revenues? What customs procedures apply to mail? Who can send blood samples by post? How do you prevent mail theft? These are just some issues the UPU handles. It works with bodies like IAEA, WHO, UNODC, ICAO, IATA, ISO and the World Customs Organization to develop common standards, rules and procedures applied across 191 member states. It also provides technical assistance to developing countries and acts as a clearing house to settle accounts between its members.

The posts taken together constitute the world's biggest logistic network. Their numerous points of contact with the public allow them to diversify easily into new areas like financial services and e-business, and many posts the world over are offering new services in addition to the traditional postal service.

The UPU was founded in 1874. It is the second-oldest intergovernmental organization after the International Telecommunication Union (founded in 1865). Its official language is French. English is a working language, and UPU documents and meetings are translated into Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian. I am required to be fluent in both English and French, and I also speak some German.

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Programme manager, Standards and Certification

(August 2006 – present)
UPU Technical Standards

What are standards? And why are they important?

Let us suppose that every country in the world had a different household voltage. You had 220 volts in Switzerland, 110 volts in the US, 150 volts in Germany, 175 volts in India ...

The result? An electric shaver designed for Switzerland would work only in Switzerland. A cell phone designed for India could not be charged anywhere else. Briefly, we would not have the connectivity that we take for granted today. This lack of connectivity would inconvenience us greatly.

Luckily, however, we have only two standard household voltages—110 volts in North America, and 220 volts in the rest of the world. This standard has simplified our lives enormously.

Standards surround us. Common global standards allow us to use an ATM card or a cell phone anywhere in the world. You can read this text because Web browsers use common HTML standards. We have standard railway track widths. Your computer's USB port, to take another example, is based on a standard. It is because of standards that PCs network, phone calls go through, and the power stays on. The metric system is a standard.

Standards seek to achieve uniformity worldwide. By doing so, they keep costs down. They guarantee quality and provide order and convenience.

The postal sector, too, works across borders. Standards enable the posts to operate effectively and ensure that the global postal network can connect seamlessly. What would happen if every country used a different part of an envelope to write the address? It would be difficult to distinguish the sender's address from the addressee's, and there would be confusion. How should a sorting office be given a unique identity that can be used to direct mail to it? This requires a global standard. And many postal items carry bar codes to record their passage across the postal chain—possibly through several countries. What information should these bar codes contain? What codes should be used to represent different types of mail? The more postal operators there are, the more essential it becomes to standardize mail processing, tracking and transmission. Technical standards covering these and many other aspects enable the safe, orderly and expeditious transport of mail from one country to another.

UPU Messaging Standards

Messaging standards enable the posts to exchange data electronically between themselves and with their partners. Airlines and customs are partners of the posts—airlines transport mail, and all international mail can be examined by customs. Airlines and posts must exchange operational information such as weights of mail transported, flights used, origin and destination airports, and so on. Customs authorities need details about item content and value to assess duties. And in a security-conscious world, they also want to know who is sending an item—and to whom it is addressed. Standard Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) messages carry these data flows seamlessly across the world.

What does the job of the Standards and Certification programme manager involve?

The Programme manager must:

  • Support development of international postal standards;

  • Support development of electronic messaging standards for Post-Post, Post-Customs and Post-Airline communications;

  • Steer the UPU Secretariat towards ISO 9001:2000 certification;

  • Identify operational and business processes suitable for certification;

  • Collaborate with bodies like ISO and CEN (Comité Européen de Normalisation, the European Committee for Standardization) to develop postal standards; and

  • Establish a Certification Business Unit.

Standards and certification are strategic development areas for the UPU.

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Programme manager, Mails

(April 2001 – July 2006)

The Mail Programme manager looks after international operations in general and airmail, customs and security matters in particular. He must:

  • Work with IATA, ICAO and IFALPA (International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations) to ensure that airmail is safe to carry;

  • Negotiate rates and operational procedures for the transport of airmail;

  • Work with the World Customs Organization to develop customs clearance procedures for international mail;

  • Work with INTERPOL, IAEA, WHO, ICAO and UNODC to detect and remove drugs, bombs and other dangerous substances from the mail;

  • Combat the use of the post for terrorism and fraud;

  • Work with the World Health Organization on biological substance issues;

  • Look after general operational matters—ensuring, for example, that essential operational information is sent to member countries and operational publications are up to date; and

  • Handle operations-related inquiries and complaints from member countries, institutions and individuals.

These functions support the fundamental mission of the UPU—the safe, orderly and speedy movement of mail.

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Page created on 30th August 2004 and last reviewed on 23rd December 2012


Akhilesh Mathur, Berne, Switzerland

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