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February 23, 2018

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In harm's way

Supply chain management doesn't just happen behind a desk. Sometimes it requires brave people to venture into risky situations.

At this time of year, it's customary to recognize and thank all those who have made a difference in our lives over the past 12 months. Typically, we think of doctors and nurses, police and other emergency responders, teachers and caregivers. We rarely think of logistics and supply chain professionals as deserving of special thanks. After all, what's so selfless or risky about purchasing raw materials, maintaining inventories, filling orders, or shipping finished goods?

Viewed from the comfort and safety of our climate-controlled offices, that may seem like a reasonable assessment. But supply chain management doesn't just happen behind a desk. Sometimes it requires brave people to venture into risky situations.

This became very clear to me while working with the authors of "Bringing a supply chain back to life in Afghanistan," an article that will appear later this month in our print and online publication, CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly. In it, Steve Geary, Gerry Brown, and Rob Leahy recount their involvement in the launch of an initiative that will help that war-torn country's traditional rug industry rebuild the supply chain that provides raw materials like wool and dyes and delivers finished carpets to domestic and export markets.

Traveling around the country to meet with producers, suppliers, and government officials required heavy security, including armed bodyguards and armored vehicles, and there were many areas that were simply too dangerous for the authors and their colleagues to visit. Most chilling: Just two days after the authors and Najlla Habibyar, the head of the supply chain initiative, met in a well-guarded restaurant in Kabul that was frequented by foreign aid workers and journalists, Taliban gunmen stormed that very room, killing nine and wounding many others. Habibyar, who had returned there to celebrate the New Year with some of her friends, had left the restaurant just minutes earlier.

That's a startling example of the kinds of risks some supply chain professionals encounter in the field. But it's far from the only one. Think of those in Africa who are risking their lives to ensure that medicines, equipment, and other supplies are delivered to Ebola treatment centers, or the logistics and supply chain experts who put themselves in harm's way to deliver life-saving food, water, and emergency supplies to refugees from wars and natural disasters. Logisticians and supply chain specialists in mining, fishing, forest products, energy production, and hazardous waste management routinely work in remote locations and dangerous, even life-threatening, conditions.

Yes, some of those people are well paid to do so, but many others are poorly paid or are volunteers. Regardless, the lives of people around the world would be very different indeed if not for the logistics and supply chain professionals who are willing to take those risks. They deserve our admiration and our thanks.

Toby Gooley is Editor of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.

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