CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
October 22, 2018

Logistics without borders?

The "Supply Chain Saves the World" track at CSCMP's 2012 Annual Global Conference highlighted how harnessing supply chain expertise for humanitarian causes worldwide could have an enormous impact.

When the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) held its annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia, in October, it offered its usual stellar lineup of presentations on a wide variety of topics of interest to logistics and supply chain professionals.

I'd like to focus on one track that I found particularly intriguing because it shed light on how professional management of supply chains is not only good for business, but can also be a source for social good. The track, titled "Supply Chain Saves the World," offered insights into what I think can fairly be divided into two principal areas: risk management and supply chain resiliency for businesses and, second, how supply chain and logistics skills can contribute to relief efforts in response to dire conditions, whether singular or endemic.

The two are closely related. The knowledge and skills needed to prepare for and respond to business crises are much the same as those needed to respond to broader disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, or war.

The first session in the track focused on the role of supply chain management in helping to improve access to medicines in developing countries. It is a critical need not easily addressed. Even the best-qualified clinicians can be hamstrung by failures of their medical supply chains.

In another session, Jock Menzies of the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) joined several others on a panel that explored how companies and agencies might respond to a catastrophe. ALAN, in the few years since its founding, has proved to be an exemplary model of how logistics expertise can be brought to bear when things go very badly. ALAN makes no pretense that it can do a better job on the ground than the first responders, nongovernmental organizations, or other specialists. Instead, it provides a clearinghouse for businesses that want to offer transportation or material handling resources to those organizations to help speed disaster response, and it has worked.

ALAN is focused on North America. But it is a model that could be extended farther abroad. I had a chance to discuss that idea with Ravi Anupindi, a professor at the University of Michigan and one of the chairs for the Supply Chain Saves the World track. He speaks with some passion about the idea of harnessing supply chain expertise for such humanitarian causes as delivering medicines to developing countries. Think of something like a global version of ALAN, or a logistics version of Doctors Without Borders. It is an ambitious idea and a daunting challenge that would require broad international cooperation. It would be worth the effort.

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