How Three Random Words are Helping with Global Mail Delivery

Elizabeth Borneman


Getting a letter back with the ‘return to sender’ label stuck on it is always frustrating; that is, when you even get your mail back at all. The postal system in the United States and Europe is fairly well organized, and there is a system in place for getting mail where you need it to go in a relatively short amount of time.

But what about sending mail to other parts of the world? 75% of countries don’t have a sufficient address system in place, let alone the infrastructure to move thousands of pieces of mail from place to place efficiently. One company is seeking to change this statistic and bring mail to more countries in the world than currently have access to it.

What3Words is a company that started with the intention of revolutionising the way in which we send mail. Their premise is that packages and other pieces of mail get lost or aren’t deliverable because our way of addressing things is flawed. What3Words has come up with a way of addressing mail that is more accurate than our current street addresses and house number strategy is, and made it more memorable than remembering a specific GPS location.

What3Words utilizes a global grid system, comprised of three meter by three meter squares. Each square is given a unique three word address, making it accurate up to that specific three meter location. This allows the mail carrier and the sender to communicate directly with the recipient and coordinate a more consistent level of mail delivery than has been available previously.

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Places like Mongolia are benefitting from what3Word’s new methods of global mail delivery. Mongolia is nearly the size of the European Union, and a lot of this space is incredibly rural. Residents of Mongolia can collect their mail from post offices sparsely located around the country, but they are often located kilometers away from peoples’ houses and don’t provide a reliable method of sending or receiving mail.

In 2016, Mongolia became the first country to adopt What3Words to help with mail delivery.
In 2016, Mongolia became the first country to adopt What3Words to help with mail delivery.

As with other countries in the world, mail is sometimes delivered to specific houses using the landmarks found nearby. It wouldn’t be unheard of to write ‘up the hill, past the first green house on the right’ as direction to the person in charge of delivering your mail. As you can imagine, this isn’t an effective or consistent way to get your mail. The Mongolian postal service has partnered with What3Words to change how mail is delivered in the country.

Aside from just influencing how a person gets their mail, having a reliable way to send and receive mail can allow individuals to register to vote, obtain a passport, open a bank account, and shop online. For people who live in rural areas, all of these factors can dramatically change their lives.

What3Words has also been integrated into the postal systems of Côte d’Ivoire, where it is helping farmers in rural areas obtain the goods and materials they need to take care of their farms throughout the year. With a reliable way of sending and receiving mail, people who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods are seeing an increase in profits and, ultimately, are making the economy of Côte d’Ivoire stronger. What3Words is expanding to other countries in Africa.

Using What3Words to identify a mailing address in Côte d’Ivoire.
Using what3Words to identify a mailing address in Côte d’Ivoire.

The what3Words app is available in different languages and can be used offline, so anyone with a phone can access its services wherever they live. People with access to what3Words can use the app for far more than just getting mail- with the ability to precisely pinpoint their location, users can report crimes, call for emergency services, document infrastructure problems, and much more.

what3Words is utilizing technology to improve the lives of people in countries around the world. Not only is it improving the infrastructure of how we send and receive mail, but is connecting people to the rest of the world in ways that truly change how they go about their lives.


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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.