There are many places in the developing world where it is difficult to deliver consumer goods, medicines, food, and other necessities of daily life. They may be remote, rural areas with inadequate transportation infrastructure, or they may be urban centers that are so congested that traditional delivery methods are ineffective. To overcome such logistical barriers, it takes a combination of supply chain expertise, creativity, and a deep understanding of local conditions and culture.
One example of what can happen when supply chain managers apply those capabilities to delivery challenges in emerging markets can be found in "Winning supply chain strategies for Africa markets," the last in a three-part series by McKinsey & Company on emerging markets, which appeared in the Q1/2015 issue of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly. In the article, the authors, who have extensive experience working in Africa, describe how Coca-Cola has developed a network of more than 3,000 "micro distribution centers" (MDCs) that serve as local distribution nodes. MDC owners have handcarts that allow their staff to deliver product down the narrowest roads to village shops in remote regions. The MDCs provide employment for some 13,500 people in East Africa. Another example is the U.K.-based nonprofit ColaLife, which piggybacks on Coke's distribution system to deliver life-saving medicines to remote villages.
It's gratifying to see that supply chain challenges in emerging markets are on the minds of the next generation of supply chain professionals. In January I had the opportunity to attend an annual Research Expo sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Global SCALE (Supply Chain and Logistics Excellence) Network. At the event, graduate students from the network, which includes programs in the United States, Spain, Malaysia, and Colombia, showcase their thesis projects using electronic "posters" displayed on large, flat screen monitors. Many of the projects are sponsored by leading companies around the world; most therefore address business problems, but a number of them focus on quality of life issues in developing economies. Examples included developing a distribution channel for artisans who might not otherwise have a means of bringing their work to markets beyond their home villages; bimodal transportation opportunities in Peru's Andean region; and improving delivery of consumer goods to small, family-owned shops in urban areas. At last year's Expo, a student explained how he'd found a way for farmers in rural India to not just deliver fresh produce to market more quickly and cheaply, but to also get a better price for their crops. His ultimate objective, he told me, was to help small farmers increase their income, and thereby improve the quality of life for their families and indeed, their entire village.
These are all good reminders that when we use our knowledge and talents to tackle supply chain challenges in developing economies, we can change lives for the better.