An overview of the complexity, constraints, and evolution of MSF global supply chain operations – A personal decade-based opinion


By Diego Flores

MSF Head of Mission and International HUMLOG Institute practitioner fellow.

Bangui Central Warehouse OCA, Diego Flores

 I started working for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) almost accidentally in May 2011, at the Head Quarters of the Barcelona Operational Center (one of the six OCs nowadays active). Back then, I was still a young Industrial Engineer with less than six years of experience in the North American automotive sector. My main goal was to return to Mexico after finishing my master’s in Logistics at UAB and continue escalating the hierarchical leader in a TIR 1 or OEM company.

My first role for MSF was to analyze the OCBA (Operational Center Barcelona) operations in East Africa to identify optimization opportunities. Back then, it hit my so excited “white savior ego” to acknowledge that I was missing a lot of non-so easy-to-spot constraints of the field realities without field exposure.

So then, I was sent to my first mission in the recently independent new country South Sudan as the Supply Chain Manager for the task. While the operations remained smooth and without significant problems, if I look backward and assess according to my personal quality standards, my first mission was a mess from a holistic point of view.  I wish back then I had a more interdepartmental approach when making decisions. Still, more importantly, I wish I had a more geopolitical and cultural understanding of why things were the way they were in Juba and the other places where MSF had operations.

After all this time in MSF, I have passed through different roles and positions at field and headquarters levels, back and front office, supporting emergencies and special projects worldwide in different continents and contexts.  After more than ten years working for MSF, the more I have seen and experienced, the more I feel there is a long way to fully understand and harness all the dynamics interacting in the extensive complex system of MSF in general humanitarian operations.

With an operational presence in one-third of the world countries and a high taxonomy of Medical Operations loke HIV, sleeping disease treatment centers, Emergency rooms, OPD, and IPDs, to specialized treatment centers like NOMA disease in Nigeria and different Clinical trials, the nature of demand patterns “behave” depending on this, combined with demographic and geopolitical aspects.

A high assortment of Medical and Logistical items in the standard catalog, which goes up to 16,000 items, with different attributes like Cold Chain requirements or narcotic classification, contributes to increasing the complexity of the supply chain, depending still nowadays mainly from the three procurement and consolidation centers in Europe (Amsterdam, Bordeaux, and Brussels).  Considering already such complex sources, it is not hard to imagine the extra effort and stamina required to keep this big medical-relief machine running.  Different medium and extensive impact programs and projects are running to improve MSF three V’s (increase visibility, velocity, and reduce variability). Still, these must be designed and implemented while the big machine is working and increasing its speed, making it even more challenging. 

Shipment of field hospital to Kunduz, Afghanistan.

Nowadays, in Kampala, as the General Manager and Head of Mission for MSF Switzerland of the Regional Support Unit (long job title I know). Even if I acknowledge that I have acquired a robust and solid experience over the past ten years, I am still learning to guide and manage my teams in a more holistic and adapted to a global reality way.

The concepts of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Planetary Health are now part of my general plan. Together with the specialists and experts supporting us, my team and I are designing realistic strategies later in Uganda and East Africa.

One of my motivators of being here at the HUMLOG Institute is to collaborate with researchers and experts, which will help me think out of my status quo bubble and give me a glimpse of what is going on on other fronts Humanitarian Logistics and Operations world.

I hope to contribute to building a stronger bridge between practitioners and academia and getting the best of both for a real positive impact wherever my organization and I work to relieve suffering.

For more details about Diego’s background, check this link.


Evaluating the Promotion of Innovation in NGOs


By Charlotte Girardin

The HUMLOG Institute’s Board Award Master’s Theses winner 2021

I’m Charlotte Girardin, a recent M.Sc. graduate from ETH Zurich with a background in mechanical engineering and a specialization in supply chain management and operations research. During my studies I learned a lot about improvement and innovation techniques, such as the Lean methodology, in a commercial industrial context. But I wondered if and how these techniques are best applied to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of operations in a humanitarian context. I was particularly keen to understand this in the context of NGOs and their supply chains, as data show that humanitarian organizations spend a consistent amount of their budgets for logistics and supply chain-related activities. Therefore, improving and innovating humanitarian operations have a crucial role in reducing the global aid gap caused by the dramatically increasing need for more aid (partly driven by climate change) and tightened funding from donors as they have conflicting priorities, and the aftermath of COVID-19 will not make that better. In other words, NGOs must make ends meet with fewer resources. For that reason, I evaluated the promotion of innovation in NGOs. I present some of the key takeaways from my thesis below.

My master thesis, which is conducted in close collaboration with Medair – a humanitarian organization inspired by Christian faith to relieve human suffering in some of the world’s most remote and devastated places-, focuses on reducing the resource gap by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of how aid is delivered by NGOs through increased innovation. We used surveys and interviews of participating NGOs to gather insights into the current situation and on what is required to be successful. This research investigates quantitatively and qualitatively how aid organizations are promoting innovation. Using a statistical analysis of the empirical data, this study established causal models for the promotion of innovation. Based on these causal models, this study makes recommendations for how NGOs can promote innovation sustainably and effectively.

The study distinguishes between two types of innovation: Incremental Innovation or Continuous Improvement (“CI”), and Radical Innovation (“RI”). CI is about continuously looking for better ways to perform an existing task or process. For example, Lean and Six Sigma are widely used methods for continuous improvement. RI is about finding significantly new ways to do things or discovering new things to do. For example, applying a new technology that can lead to fundamental changes. The results indicate that currently the CI and RI initiatives of the surveyed NGOs have a limited impact on the performance of their organization.

A CI example in the context of NGOs is shown in the figure left, where tire pressure for each vehicle is printed on each wheel arch. This way, the drivers and mechanics easily know the correct pressure to be applied, which saves time and ensures it works properly. A RI example is illustrated in the figure right, an innovation pilot of Medair-EPFL to make sustainable tarpaulins for emergency shelters from biomass waste. Due to this disruptive innovation, tarpaulins can be sourced with local biomass, saving a lot of time and money by limiting the need for (international) transportation.

The causal models show there are many opportunities for NGOs to promote CI and RI more effectively and to achieve more with fewer resources. However, innovation is not a natural thing to do for NGOs. The structure of NGOs who tend to be very decentralized around specific programs and the focus of donors to tie their funding to very specific projects make it difficult to structurally innovate. Therefore, it is essential to approach innovation differently. There are three key areas for significant improvement.

1. Formalized knowledge sharing. Both for CI and RI, the survey and interview study show that currently a vast amount of experience gathered across the world is not shared explicitly. There is too much reinventing the wheel for each new project, and the situation is exacerbated by the fact that there is high people turnover. There is a clear need for more formalized processes to share knowledge and to train people on existing and new techniques and work methods. Many people involved in humanitarian and development aid are very motivated and highly skilled in their particular field. However, they have not been trained in driving and applying innovation. A well-structured knowledge sharing approach will help NGO employees to benefit from the innovation others have done and will support and facilitate effective CI and RI developments. The survey findings in particular highlight the benefit of embedding CI and IR in NGO’s strategy as well as systematically generating, evaluating and benchmarking ideas to improve their supply chains by collaborating more closely within the organization.

2. Innovation Champions. Without a clear force to lead and support innovation, the chances of progress are slim. Appointing a formal champion for a CI and RI initiative is one of the key influencing factors for NGOs to stimulate innovation across the organization. It was observed that CI and RI initiatives with a dedicated leader to put in place activities and tools to support employees to innovate and improve had a much bigger likelihood of success than those which did not. For example, training employees on Lean methods and tools and providing them with practical support when using the Lean tools made a big difference to the effective deployment of CI. These champions bring experience, techniques and focus to the people on the front line to innovate and become more productive.

3. Innovation culture. The correlation analysis shows that promoting CI and RI only works if it is part of the organization-wide culture and mindset. The NGO leadership has to fully endorse and support the application of CI and RI and lead by example. Innovation in an NGO should not only be judged by the intensity of its efforts, but also by how well it uses and drives innovation. Working harder is not enough; one must also work smarter. Recognition of the right behavior creates visibility and has proven to be essential to embed CI and RI in the NGO’s culture.

In conclusion, the structure of NGOs and the tendency of donors to tie their funding to specific projects is not conducive to innovation. To innovate (both incremental and radical) and thereby achieve improvements in their supply chain, a structural approach to innovation and a supportive culture are necessary. This research provides concrete actions that will allow NGOs to reduce the humanitarian funding gap through innovation.

I am very honored that this thesis is selected by the Hanken School of Economics as the best master thesis in Humanitarian Logistics of the year by receiving the “HUMLOG Board Award Winner 2021”. This was an extremely pleasant surprise and couldn’t have been possible without the great support from my supervisors: Prof. Dr. Stephan Wagner, Dr. Bublu Thakur-Weigold Sarbani and Dr. Andrew Parris as well as the wider support from Medair and the HumOSCM lab.


Why does the People Factor matter in humanitarian operations?


By Dr. Motjaba Salem

The HUMLOG Institute’s Board Award Doctoral Honorary mention 2021.

During 2020-2021, multiple waves of the infectious Coronavirus stormed across Europe, Asia, Latin American, and Africa as the government authorities and aid workers scrambled to contain the outbreak. In parallel, conflicts across the world have forcibly displaced millions from their homes. The displacement statistics are soaring: by end of 2020, 20.7 million were refugees, 4.1 million were asylum-seekers, and 48 million were internally displaced people according to the UNHCR. As these ongoing examples illustrate, humanitarian organizations simultaneously face complex challenges, and this trend strains resources to a breaking point.

This leads many of us to wonder: What should be done to make aid delivery more effective and efficient? The answer lies in a large pool of anecdotes and personal experiences of those closely involved in delivering aid. This pool provides us academics with a new and less explored context wherein problems can be addressed with tools and models, which scholars are familiar with and deem to have a higher potential for publications in top tier journals.

However, aid workers often tend to dismiss research findings because they usually offer little practical use for their problems. I believe the onus is on the academia to make a strong case for the use of research-based solutions in the humanitarian sector. This will happen when our proposed solutions are contextualized, generalizable, and address the problems that really matter in the sector. To make an impact, we should venture beyond our intellectual ivory towers and seriously take time to consider and understand the real-life experiences of aid workers in all their complexity and richness. Going forward, this means we should abandon the habit of solving abstract problems without collecting actual data. In my doctoral dissertation, I have used empirical survey methods to make the research problems and findings more relevant to the practice. This required establishing close interactions with aid workers, receiving their feedback (e.g., I presented research in practitioner conferences and workshops in Kenya and Germany), and spending time on the ground with them (e.g., I visited field coordinators in Serbia and Hungary during the refugee crisis). Researchers should build partnerships with humanitarian organizations to help them evaluate their operations in exchange for getting access to their available datasets and staff, so that they can conduct interviews, surveys, or experiments.

For example, I surveyed hundreds of field-level aid workers in countries like Afghanistan and similar crisis-stricken contexts. The evidence I found point to interesting behavioral dynamics inside humanitarian aid field offices. Despite belonging to one field office, aid workers usually have distinct social identities, different perceptions of their group relations, and unequal levels of motivations. It is common for field office leadership to come from abroad, mainly from Global North countries, with little knowledge about the local geography, culture, and people. Ironically, they have much more decision-making authority than their local colleagues, who are the preferred choice for any assistant positions—often without a promising career path into the leadership jobs. Expatriates usually earn more than locals and receive a range of benefits (e.g., paid leave, accommodation, health insurance, etc.) that the locals with similar job titles would never be eligible for. Above all, local and expatriate aid workers have culturally distinct backgrounds, leading them to hang out separately and cluster in independent silos inside their field offices.

Taken together, these differences hinder collaboration as inequality becomes the most visible and embodied feature of relations among local and expatriate colleagues in field offices. This is a challenge with serious operational implications. Whenever a disaster strikes, aid workers in various jobs (e.g., expatriate field office managers, logisticians, local staff) are required to collaborate to use scarce resources at hand for the purpose of helping the people in need. Much of learning and creativity happen on the job through collaboration of local and expatriate aid workers. Similarly, improvements in operational performance critically depend on cooperative intergroup relations inside field offices.

The findings of my doctoral dissertation point to the proactive role of field office leadership as a key instrument to address this challenge. If leaders recognize the silos in their field office and go the extra mile to bridge the invisible social distance, collaboration can be created despite the animosity that might exist between local and expatriate subgroups. For example, leaders should interact in an equal manner with expatriates and locals and offer them equitable opportunities for asking questions, giving feedback, and discussing errors. The key here is to involve locals and recognize their contributions. It seems common in meetings for expatriates to speak freely, whereas local aid workers rarely say a word unless directly asked. Leaders should proactively ask for the opinions of locals to create sufficient psychological safety for them to freely voice their ideas in operational meetings. Another effective behavior for leaders is to coordinate specific peer‐to‐peer interactions at work. This is especially relevant in case of position handover to newcomers, or when an expatriate has a learning need that can be fulfilled by a local aid worker and vice versa. However, field office leaders should avoid playing the role of a strong-man leader who always tells people what to do and how to behave. Field office leadership traditionally adopts an authoritarian style to facilitate aid workers’ adaptability and help them delver a better job performance in humanitarian operations. But I find that there is mixed feedback on the efficacy of authoritarian style during humanitarian operations.

Surprisingly, it appears that the mainstream research on humanitarian operations still pays little attention to the impact of organizational behaviors on the quality of operational processes. It is surprising because people are involved in humanitarian operations and thus studying their behaviors is logically relevant. The good news is that a small yet growing number of scholars have over the recent years started to provide novel insights on the role of softer behavioral issues such as information diffusion and inter-organizational collaboration. Such studies have given the research on behavioral humanitarian operations a promising momentum. In this light, my doctoral dissertation (see here and here) drew on organizational behavior theorizing to identify and test the processes and conditions under which field offices leadership is associated with improved outcomes in humanitarian operations. Therefore, my research has positioned leadership theorizing as one of the key avenues for meaningfully expanding humanitarian operations’ theoretical scope, thus helping this relatively young domain to address relevant and pressing behavioral problems.

In this endeavor, collecting actual data will open up the door to study problems that have been so far neglected and unexplored. This also entails the extant research on humanitarian operations to move beyond the immediate focus on traditional logistics and take a multidisciplinary focus. Indeed, if researchers aspire to address aid workers’ need, their theorization should be able to reflect the complexities of humanitarian operations settings. For example, leadership has been at the top of agendas for aid workers, and donors have over the last decade increased their funding to improve leadership capacity in the sector. However, the research largely neglected this trend, and thus the challenge of leadership received minimal investigation prior to my doctoral dissertation.

Similarly, donors promote the localization of humanitarian operations through local capacity building initiatives. This trend reflects the reality that the size of the field personnel has increased from 450,000 in 2013 to over 570,000 people in 2017, with local aid workers always being the numerical majority. Yet relatively few data-driven research studies took the much-needed look at the behaviors and actions that make local capacity building successful. Trends such as leadership and local capacity building highlight the essential role of the people, but the ‘people factor’ receives little attention in the humanitarian operations research largely because it involves the tedious process of combining different streams of research and collecting messy data from practitioners. However, if this challenge is taken up, I believe the behavioral angle offers numerous opportunities to improve current knowledge, thus helping the humanitarian operations literature mature—to the benefit of those who work in it and those whose lives are assisted by it.

Dr. Mojtaba Salem is as a postdoctoral researcher at the Chair of Research and Science Management in Technical University of Munich. He is also head of projects at Research Institute for Leadership and Operations in Humanitarian Aid (RILOHA).


The success of Humanitarian supply chains


By Dr. Hella Abidi

The HUMLOG Insitute’s Board Award Doctoral Theses winner 2021

Which logistics, storage and transport processes have an impact on the supply chains of humanitarian organization? This question is the focus of the research visit at ‘Médecins Sans Frontières in Zimbabwe by Dr. Hella Abidi. Because understanding the processes and organizational levels and their responsibilities, identifying objectives and success factors and knowing the actors of the supply chain are crucial.

Zimbabwe is one of the countries in the world most affected by HIV and AIDS. This is one of the reasons why ‘Médecins Sans Frontières’ focuses on two areas: education and providing the population with medicines that make it possible to live with an HIV infection for as long as possible. The infrastructure of the country places high demands on material flow systems, warehouse organization, information flow, premises and business processes as well as audit systems.

For example, when the patients need to pick up their medicines, they have to travel long distances, especially in rural areas.  For the humanitarian organization, this means that it must not only ensure that its central warehouse is always well stocked, but also that the medicines reach the hands of the recipients in good condition and with a minimum expiry date of three months.

Looking at this supply chain of Médecins Sans Frontières, Dr. Abidi identified some factors that are already contributing to the success of the supply chain processes:

  • Integrate the goal of the aid project into the supply chain: Logistics processes in the humanitarian supply chains are not about cost efficiency, but about reaching as many affected people as possible through campaigns to quickly improve their situation.
  • Quality: providing medical care in time, offering good treatment to beneficiaries, and fulfilling the requirement of medical and social dimension
  • Supply chain management: The key processes in the humanitarian supply chain are procurement, warehouse and distribution.
  • Employees: The employees of ‘Médecins Sans Frontières’ are flexible and react proactively. They manage stock and inventory accurately so that medicines do not have to be transferred to other projects shortly before their expiry date.
  • Budget money for infrastructure: Without their own technical equipment such as vehicles or computers, both medicines and information hardly reach those in need.
  • Team performance: Projects are successful when the staff teams function well. And that is especially the case when there are both clear structures and sufficient resources.
  • Cooperation and networking with other humanitarian organizations

The results of the study show that a successful supply chain is built on two essential pillars:  material flow (providing high qualitative relief items) and information flow (sharing information along a supply chain). Besides these, human resources and ensuring the continuous education of employees are the most essential aspect in a supply chain, given that without motivated and educated employees, no relief operation worldwide can be made working. Furthermore that employees are those who have a high impact on the success of the supply chain as well as on the satisfied and helped beneficiaries. Last but not least the key performance drivers that define success and support humanitarian organizations in their performance are delivering a good service to customers, reliability, lead time, quality of goods and cost management of the supply chain.

Dr Hella Abidi completed her training as a forwarding clerk (Speditionskauffrau IHK) at Dachser SE in Cologne. During a stay at Dachser SE in Switzerland, she studied a part-time advanced vocational training as “Verkehrsfachwirtin (IHK)” at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Hella Abidi adopted various activities in the department of international transport planning, sales and customer service at Dachser SE in Mannheim and Cologne.  In 2007, she started at the FOM University of Applied Sciences a part-time study program in business science, with the main subjects logistics and supply management. 2010, Hella Abidi finished her Master degree with success. For her thesis she was awarded with the BVL Thesis Award 2010.  2011 – 2015, she worked as a research associate in the BMBF project WiWeLo in line with the excellence cluster LogistikRuhr at the Institute of Logistics & Management Services (ild) of FOM University of Applied Sciences in Essen and as lecturer for logistics at the FOM University of Applied Sciences in Germany. September 2013, she started her PhD at the VU University Amsterdam. 2015 – 2016 Hella Abidi worked as a lecturer at Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham (UK). Spring 2016, Hella Abidi restarted as a consultant research & development at Dachser SE in Kempten and as a senior lecturer at FOM University of Applied Sciences in Essen.

Read Dr. Hella Abidis thesis here.


COVID-19 vaccine patents: to waive or not to waive?


Nari Lee and Gyöngyi Kovács

Intellectual property law has never been far from the international politics. With pandemic raging still in 2021 and the rise of vaccine nationalism, political economy forces us to re-assess system of exclusive rights in international trade agreements. Already contested balancing the incentive for research through exclusive rights and the access, current crisis has pushed intellectual property into hot water of international political economy again.

Since the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic, there have been already several calls for suspension or overriding of patents over COVID-19 drugs and vaccines both from civil society actors and a call from WTO member states (namely India and  South Africa) for a waiver from WTO-TRIPs Agreement based obligation, which certainly restricts the global production and distribution during pandemic, since October 2020. A host of wealthy countries including US, EU, Canada and Japan have been opposing this call initially.

Even academics normally critical to the system of intellectually property have been cautious about the call for waiver because as intellectual property, particularly patent waiver alone would not increase the production or improve logistics of distribution whereas it would be set a dangerous precedent for limiting a constitutionally guaranteed private property right1. Moreover, not only ironing out the exemptions in WTO takes time, the final result may be quite limited in scope.

[1] Reto Hilty Director at the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition is quoted to be saying, “Interfering with patent protection means playing with fire.” Interview by Michaela Hutterer, 15 March 2021, Available online: https://www.mpg.de/16579491/patent-protection-vaccines-covid-10-reto-hilty, retrieved on 7 May

We have already seen this with the HIV epidemic in Africa in 1999, which lead to a WTO-ministerial declaration in Doha in 2001, which finally ended as amendment to TRIPs Article 31bis in 2005. Yet it took effect only in 2017 and there are even some countries that have yet to accept that amendment in Article 31bis. Also as result of this, TRIPs has instituted procedure to allow a light ‘patent waiver’ allowing exporting of compulsorily licensed patented pharmaceuticals from countries with manufacturing capacity such as India and South Africa to those countries without such capacity at all. Many industrialized countries chose not to use this waiver.

As it was then, so now the problems are manufacturing capacity, other proprietary information than patents, scope of waiver and logistical efficiency.  Even when general manufacturing capacity exist, as is the case of India, there are concerns on specific capacity to produce safe and reliable vaccines and drugs for treatment. Also, as the formal procedure for allowing manufacturing will take time and by the time when the measures are formally adopted, the demand for vaccines may look different, whereas the demand for medicine to treat would increase. There are trade secrets and confidential data as well as no codified knowledge related to the production which research pharmaceutical companies may choose not to reveal, for fear of losing confidentiality not against the governmental authorities but against potential competitors and generic manufacturers. If the scope of this waiver is limited to COVID-19 vaccines, which we fear would be the case, then after the demand for vaccine subsides, problem of access to treatment would still remain. Finally, logistical inefficiency in distribution may even make the newly increase supply go waste. From a supply chain perspective, the earlier a patent is made free, the earlier any company can even think of setting up production. Pharmaceutical production takes years to set up from scratch, much more viable is production changeover of existing pharmaceutical production lines, and within that, at sites that have worked with specific types of vaccines before. Globally, only a few selected sites have worked with mRNA vaccines before. Even for those, production changeover will take about 3-6 months, assuming expedited quality control and paperwork. What is more, it is not only vaccines but many of their ingredients that are in short supply, i.e. there are some current bottlenecks upstream the supply chain. More production sites would be needed for those as well.

Knowing all these, US and EU announced that they will consider intellectual property waiver, potentially upsetting research pharmaceutical companies. So why these largely symbolic gestures? It means that these politicians aim to take the role of international leaders working toward public health. Maybe to give message to pharmaceutical company – a message to collaborate and negotiate better prices for the vaccines. We are also optimistic. We sincerely hope that this means after all these years of academic inks spilled on trying to persuade the governments of the rich countries to think about intellectual property protection in a more balanced manner, and to take fairness seriously. Those efforts are perhaps showing some impact finally and we would see some roll back in expansionist policies in protecting knowledge and information, globally.

IO-Images / Pixabay

Nari Lee is professor of Intellectual property law at Hanken School of Economics. For research on fairness and intellectual property law, contact Prof. Nari Lee and FAME-IP Project (https://harisportal.hanken.fi/sv/projects/fairness-morality-and-equality-in-international-and-european-inte/)

Gyöngyi Kovács is Erkko Professor in Humanitarian Logistics, Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Research Institute, Supply Chain Management & Social Responsibility, 

For research on medical supply chain in the COVID-19 pandemic, contact Prof. Gyöngyi Kovács and the HERoS project (www.heros-project.eu)

Blog entry also on IPRinfo: https://iprinfo.fi/


Field experience as a GIS specialist for Doctors Without Borders in Sudan – Tigray refugee crisis


Andries Heyns is a postdoctoral project researcher at the Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Research Institute.  In this blog post he shares his ten-week experience as a Geographic Information System specialist for Doctors Without Borders in the Tigray refugee camps in Sudan

All images by Andries Heyns

Early in November 2020, conflict broke out in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region and refugees started fleeing in their masses to neighbouring Sudan.  The journey requires crossing up to 350 km of mountainous terrain over days and weeks, in dry conditions with temperatures regularly exceeding 35 degrees Celsius.  Lacking basic resources like food and water, carrying only what they can, carrying their children and those too weak to walk, they arrive in Sudan dehydrated and exhausted.  As if this isn’t challenging enough, they also carry the trauma of seeing their families killed, their livelihoods destroyed, and having their futures cut short.  With no short-term solution to the situation in sight, these refugees are settling in challenging, resource-scarce environments, with no idea of what the future holds for them.

At the end of November 2020 I was asked by Doctors Without Borders to provide field support as a Geographic Information System (GIS) specialist in the refugee camps in Sudan.  This followed my previous field work for MSF, as a logistics manager in the conflict-torn Central African Republic in 2016, once more as a logistics manager for a cholera response in Mozambique in April 2017, and then as a GIS specialist in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh at the end of 2017 (a video summary of GIS field work can be found here).  I arrived in Sudan early in December 2020 and stayed for a total of ten weeks, returning mid-February 2021.  I was based in Gedaref, from where I visited refugee camps in Hamdayet, Al-Hashaba, Umm Rakouba and Al-Tanideba (see Figure 1).  Hamdayet and Al Hashaba are, in theory, – transit camps – refugees arrive here first, register and stay temporarily after which they are relocated to the permanent camps, namely Umm Rakouba and Al-Tanideba. However, in reality, people were forced to stay much longer.  

Figure 1 From the base in Gedaref, I travelled to Hamdayet, Al Hashaba, Um Rakuba and Tenedba to collect data.

As a GIS specialist my main responsibility was to collect spatial data of importance to refugee camp monitoring and management.  When we know where the populations are within the boundaries of their settlements (i.e. how they are dispersed), and when we know where their immediate needs are most urgent, we can plan our intervention more effectively to address shortcomings.  From an operational perspective we also need to keep planners and decision makers who are not actively on the ground informed about the evolution of the situation.  One manner of providing them with a concise summary of this big picture is with detailed and up-to-date maps.  A map can tell a visual story and provide context and scale within a single picture frame, and comparing maps over different time frames provides insight into the progress of humanitarian aid activities and the growth of the camps.  However, with refugees arriving on a daily basis, the picture is constantly changing and needs regular updating so that a current picture is available at all times. This required me to spend a lot of time crossing refugee camps on foot, with a bag full of water on my back, two smartphones for data collection (one spare just in case), sunscreen, and some snacks. 

Figure 2(a) At the end of a day mapping services and boundaries in Al Hashaba.  On this day I took over 200 GPS points of latrines, showers, waterpoints, camp boundary extents, etc.

Figure 2(b) I stopped for some Ethiopian coffee from a little shop started by refugees.

During my visits I collected GPS coordinates of points of interest, sometimes drawing mini-maps and taking photos for verification later, and I then transferred and processed this data at the end of the day to put on maps.  The points I took were primarily the location and condition of water and sanitation facilities, the locations of other actors (UNHCR, WFP, Red Cross, etc.), and the rapidly changing extents of the camp boundaries.  In camps like Um Rakuba and Tenedba I had to go back more regularly, since these camps were receiving refugees from Hamdayet and Al Hashaba and were evolving at an astonishing pace – thus requiring constant additions and updates to the datapoints.  This burden was often eased with the aid of MSF’s GIS support community, e.g. when they obtained satellite data and dwelling density analyses for me, helping team members on the ground to estimate the refugee population size and their distribution.  This, in turn, helps to determine gathering points for activities such as vaccinations.  I also regularly received GPS coordinates from other team members from the various camps, which I then turned into maps and sent back to them. 

Performing this work was physically exhausting. I generally traversed at least 8 km on foot each time I went to the camps, with temperatures normally above 35 degrees, and no shade. In total I covered 94.5 km on foot in all my visits.

Maps and data of all my activities were presented in various formats, depending on user requirements.  Most maps were standard pdf documents, while some datasets were exported to Google Earth for more interactive viewing purposes, and other datasets were loaded to the team members’ smartphones for navigation purposes around the camps.

Figure 3(a) I covered 94.5 km on foot in four refugee camps – refugees cover well over twice this distance without rest, food and water, and fearing for their lives. This map shows my tracks in Tenedba – the satellite image only shows some of the tents put up at the end of December (top left corner), while my tracks show up to where the tents had expanded when I left a few weeks later.
Figure 3(b) My tracks in Um Rakuba.
Figure 4(a) Conditions in the camps are harsh.  Tenedba, shown here, is flat and dry, with no shade.
Figure 4(b) Refugees queuing for water in Um Rakuba after there was no supply for two days.
Figure 4(c) Um Rakuba is remote and isolated, with an atmosphere of desperation.  Sometimes you don’t see many refugees because they are lying in their tents for shade, or too weak to walk around.

Back at the base in Gedaref, power cuts came and went unexpectedly, generally lasting two or three hours, but sometimes lasting well over four hours.  Internet access was very weak to non-existent most of the time, which was very challenging to deal with because I need internet to do my job.  However, having been in the field before, this wasn’t unexpected and it did not bother me too much – I was always able to get the job done, just with some delays here and there.  To get to the camps required long journeys, but with unique scenery like hundreds of camels being herded by small boys or crossing a river by ferry to get to Al-Hashaba.  When you arrive at the ferry, there is no certainty if you will get on the next one or if you will have to wait longer, but nobody seems to care too much.  That’s just the way it is, the pace of life is different and you just go with whatever happens.

Figure 5(a) Getting to the camps was challenging, but eventful and with some unique experiences.  Camel traffic jams are a regular occurrence in Sudan.

Figure 5(b) A ferry ride was required to get to Al Hashaba.
Figure 6(a) I camped on the roof throughout my stay.  Not only was it nice and cool in the evenings (cool in Sudan is similar to a warm summer’s day in Helsinki), it also helped me to disconnect from the world for a while.
Figure 6(b) I stayed in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, for about a week before going remote.  Here, I made friends with a family of “street rats” who followed me everywhere.

My time back in the field made me realise that I want to do more hands-on humanitarian work and be more directly involved in response planning and coordination.  I will therefore be joining MSF’s UK office in London at the end of May to work as a GIS coordinator, providing support to the Manson Unit – which focuses specifically on health policy and practice.  I will nevertheless remain affiliated with Hanken, and will continue working with HUMLOG on smaller projects. 


Experiences with Lutheran World Federation in Cameroon – Matthew Kern


Matthew Kern is a Masters student in the Humanitarian Logistics track and in this blog entry he shares his experience as a Logistics and Procurement Intern with LWF

News that Europe was suffering from a second wave of the COVID pandemic came in mid-November, yet it could not have been less relevant to the lives of those in the rural town of Meiganga, Cameroon, near the border with the Central African Republic (CAR). Between daily electricity cuts, occasionally for multiple days at a time; over 40% of the population getting malaria every year; and children routinely going to the hospital for food or waterborne illnesses, there were plenty of more imminent health concerns. Despite this, the area was blessed by relative stability in comparison to the region. Boko Haram attacks, that made international news, were 400-500 km to the west and armed rebel groups, kidnapping and stirring violence in CAR’s civil war, were 300-400 km to the east. Both conflicts are completely separate from Cameroon’s own slow-moving civil war in between the English and the French-speaking regions, in the southwest part of the country. 

Meiganga’s stability was fostered by the presence of a Rapid Intervention Battalion (Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide) based 3 km outside of town. The international NGOs took advantage of the situation for their regional bases. If a Toyota Landcruiser was seen on the road, it could have been the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), World Food Programme (WFP), International Red Cross, Solidarity International, Plan International, Norwegian Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council, the UN Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) or the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), who I had the pleasure to work for.  

I had the opportunity to get connected with LWF through Hanken’s Humanitarian Logistics Department and attended a four-month field internship at the Meiganga headquarters in the fall of 2020. LWF is a global group of churches that has a World Service branch “dedicated to challenging and addressing the causes and effects of human suffering and poverty, linking local responses to national and international advocacy” (LWF, 2021). Their global operations focus on long-term development in three categories: Livelihood, Quality Services, and Protection/Social cohesion. The various offices implement these programs on an as-needed and as-funded basis. 

Figure 1: LWF Offices in Cameroon

LWF has been active in Cameroon since 2015 when large numbers of refugees began crossing borders in the Extreme North, North, Adamawa, and East region. Currently, LWF is a partner of different State and UN actors for various projects throughout the country including the UNHCR, US government (PRM), Government of Germany (BMZ), WFP, and UNICEF. The Meiganga headquarters focuses on peace and livelihood activities. Livelihood programs are mainly centered around agriculture, providing tools, seeds, and animals for production, while the peace programs run in tandem to open dialogue between local villagers and refugees who have settled in the community. 

As a Logistics and Procurement Intern, my role in aiding this situation was relatively minor.  However, I was fortunate to work on numerous projects benefiting refugees and I experienced the challenges of working in the field firsthand. The highlight of the internship was working on an end-of-the-year procurement project funded by the UNHCR. 

In mid-November, the UNHCR discovered unused budget funds for 2020. This led to the commission of LWF with the procurement and distribution of hardwood student desks, packets of underwear for young girls, and bars of laundry soap to 8 school districts in a 5-week time. Three years prior, LWF had completed a similar project that took 3 months. The request of the UNHCR to take the project was not seen as optional as the organization’s budget solely depended on their partner status with the UN. The term “pas facile” or “not easy” was said with extended breath often in those days. 

The procurement process involved publishing bid requests in the newspapers of two major cities, Yaoundé and Douala, and a day trip to search for suppliers in the regional capital, Ngaoundéré. Once the extensive technical bids, some hundreds of pages long, were received the procurement committee gathered for over 20 hours over 2 days to complete a Competitive Bid Analysis (CBA). The request for bids stated a timeframe of 3 weeks for production and delivery, the CBA was completed the last week of November with the UNHCR expecting the 1,500 hardwood desks, 3,742 pairs of 6-pack underwear, and 4,000 bars of laundry soap, to be procured and delivered by January 1st. Other than being short on time, the challenges to this process were: 

  • Few of the current staff were present for the previous student desk project years before however, so there was little experience in this type and volume of procurement.
  • The sheer number and specifications required of hardwood desks in which:
    • No single supplier had the capacity to make more than 300 hardwood desks;
    • Each desk had to be made with a specific type of wood to ensure a long life, however, that wood was not grown in the region.
  • The closest school was over an hour off the paved road by truck, with most schools 2-3 hours away, taking a freight truck 4-6 hours to travel the same distance.
  • All desks were to be assembled on sight, meaning if there were errors in the production, they would be impossible to fix without another delivery.

The purchase requests were broken into manageable lots and a dozen suppliers were chosen based on having proper documentation, price, quality, capacity, and location. My role was administrative, mainly ensuring that the voluminous amounts of paper were organized and optimized so those on the committee could focus on the decision-making process. The procurement process in LWF is still paper-based, with physical signatures required on dozen documents from every decision-maker in each purchase. Due to the size, the procurement had to be authorized by the Country Representative. That meant that thousands of pages had to be signed or initialed, scanned, digitally organized with previous documents, and sent to the Country Representative before approval. During this process normal work matters were ongoing, meaning that I had to work through the night to prepare the documents for signature and sending before numerous staff members left at 6 AM the next morning for field visits with the UNHCR. All the documents were completed and before I departed from Meiganga, we received and counted the 3, 742 underwear packets and made a site inspection of the first desk delivery to 3 school districts. 

As we went through the classrooms teeming with children, it was a moment after months of Excel spreadsheets and managing paper that I could see my actions had, in the smallest way, facilitated thousands of students having a better learning environment.

Figure 2: Inspection of student desks in Ngaoui

However, for the organization, the mad dash did not help them in the end. Supplier deliveries ran in mid-January and, with the backdrop of COVID, the UNHCR Cameroon reassessed the budget of LWF, reducing it by 45%. This caused many layoffs with the expectation that LWF would service the same number of beneficiaries as the year prior, demonstrating the fickleness of working within the UN umbrella. 


LWF (2021) LWF World Service is the humanitarian and development arm of the LWF. [online] Available at: <https://www.lutheranworld.org/content/about-dws> Accessed: 2 April 2021.


Why or why not cash….! Learning from the past and looking to the future


Written by: Amin Maghsoudi – Postdoctoral Researcher at the HUMLOG Institute for Cash and/or Carry Project supported by Academy of Finland

Humanitarian assistance comes normally in forms of delivery of goods, services and cash/vouchers. For decades, the latter has been transferred to the vulnerable communities in responding to meeting basic needs and building resilience to stresses and shocks. This normally integrated with the social protection system, e.g., social safety net program in the country, but not in large portion in comparison with delivery of goods and services. However, since last 15 years, there is a tremendous increase in the use of cash assistance around the world, that could be probably pushed most likely by donors as their preference over in-kind. That start would be right after the successful cash for work (CFW) program in Banda Aceh during the post-disaster Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Right after, the establishment of Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) in 2005, which is a consortium of aid agencies expert on cash, was another pinpoint to the history of cash assistance. Since then, after 2010, cash assistance has gained acceptance among stakeholders including humanitarian organizations and donors. Today, a lot of reports, guidelines, toolkits, standard operating procedures (SOPs), training and assessment tools for the use of cash assistance have been implemented and published by aid agencies globally. All these tools are available and accessible to the public (e.g., CaLP, UNHCR, IFRC, Oxfam, and ECHO guidelines). Looking to the guidelines, they are more or less similar together, though going through them deeply one could realize complementary notes across them.

The second hike for the use of the cash assistance could be largely since 2016 after the extraordinary emphasize for the use of cash coordination discussed in Grand Bargain working group during the World Humanitarian Forum (WHF). According to the State of the World’s Cash (2020), cash and voucher assistance (CVA) program reached to over USD2.8 billion in 2016 (10% of international humanitarian assistance), and surprisingly its peaked to USD5.6 billion in 2019 contributing to 18% of total humanitarian assistance. One of those successful programs was the emergency social safety net cash transfers for 1.7 million refugees in Turkey during the Syrian conflict started in 2011. Anyway, that 8% increase just within three years was phenomenal in the history of humanitarian assistance using CVA modalities.

Today, several aid agencies have joined as a member to one or more of the networks related to CVA, including Collaborative Cash Delivery Network (CCD), UN Common Cash Statement,  Cash Working Group (CWG), or Cash Bargain Local Partnership, at the country and/or regional level. Joining to such networks, gives them this opportunity to get access to related data, share information and knowledge at the local level, and get to know the challenges/risks experienced by implementing partners. But the question is there is no voice/evidence of local actors on how they view cash over in-kind assistance.

Looking to the statistics, CVA is still not dominating the aid, while the large portion of humanitarian assistance and development remains in form of service and goods delivery to affected population at least in the response phase, and thus Logistics will be still in the first place just in the centre. After reading several materials and research papers/reports on this topic, my personal reflection on the use of CVA are listed as below:

  1. CVA implementation is highly context dependent. Cash is often suitable, but not always so for instance in conflict situations where the infrastructure is destroyed or not developed, or where the people don’t have enough education on how to receive and for what purpose to use cash.
  2. Risk assessment and analysis needs to be in place prior to the use of CVA. There are several risks, such as security, fraud and money laundering risks, we could just imagine if CVA is not used appropriately. 
  3. Cash is not the dominant option, but in form of multi-purpose cash assistance, it could complement in-kind and service delivery. People still need for example a psychological support due to a disaster, and thus the service needs to be covered as priority.
  4. Probably, there wont be a dramatic shift for logistics role from in-kind to CVA. Logisticians most likely need to improve their skills still on tasks such as supply chain mapping, market and supply chain assessment, tendering, contracting and procurement of financial service providers. It could be also challenging for them to find local hawala brokers, for instance, in Syria to connect and communicate with. Thus, they need professional training customized for the local needs. Many aid agencies have already provided CVA training for their logistics team.

Last points: 

– Market-based approach could be one important intervention, that in the future, aid agencies need to take more seriously into account considering the market failure and economy downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic.

– CVA has shown tremendously can help to boost local market and economy, with or without creating inflation on prices. It can motivate local and small business to stand up once again.

– COVID-19 has taught humanitarians to consider diversification of modalities and this highly depends on the market conditions if a single modality could cause overcrowding in distributions sites, for instance.

– Technology and digitalization of cash transfers via blockchain (e.g., in Pakistan, and Jordan), and mobile money (e.g., in Kenya) has both facilitated the CVA delivery to affected populations in timely manner as well as reduced the social gathering and long queues at the counter for the receipt of cash during the COVID-19 response.

– COVID-19 has taught humanitarians to work remotely without the need of humanitarian workers, this could be more challenging in the conflict areas as local markets are not functioning. Thus locating suppliers could be daunting tasks, while 50% of health infrastructure are also collapsed (for the case of Syria).

– CVA always consider minimum expenditure basket (MEB) for the targeted beneficiaries. But, due to the current economic conditions mostly affected by COVID-19, humanitarian agencies need to reconsider their supply chain strategies based on forecasting and using Time to Survival (TTS) instead of Time to Recovery (TTR) as offered by Simchi-Levi. Thus, estimating the needs based on Survival Expenditure Basket (SEB) could make more sensing.

– Application of CVA requires to have access to large amount of data from the field. Thus, now more than ever, data responsibility and data analytics matter for the sake of appropriate humanitarian assistance programming – Refer to the data published in Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX).

– One interesting topic could also be looking at the environmental impact of CVA delivery. One could argue the measurement of such impact is challenging, yet the estimation of the CO2 emission created due to traveling to get access to the ATM or local bank is on humanitarian agencies responsibility. I will leave this as the future research.

– The key performance indicators for the use of CVA need to be evaluated and standardized. As we all know, CVA is not all about the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of its program, but it would rather include other aspects, such as equity, accountability to donors, visibility and flexibility, environmental impact, beneficiary satisfaction, and scalability of the program…..

This piece of writing is part of the Cash and/or Carry project (titled Cash and/or carry: The challenges and modalities of delivering aid in conflict zones) which is supported by Academy of Finland (with the grant number : 322188). The project focuses on the delivery of humanitarian aid in conflict zones and complex emergencies. The overall aim of the project is to develop a conceptual framework for selecting effective delivery modalities for humanitarian aid in conflict zones. For further inform please visit the website.

Recent publications related to this project can be found here.


Your face mask impacts the global supply chains


Dr. Ioanna Falagara Sigala, Project Researcher at HUMLOG Institute

The Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) pandemic has created a worldwide health crisis with an impact not only on peoples’ lives but also on the global medical supply chain network. In our increasingly interconnected world, the protection of citizens and the delivery of the medical suppliers is a huge challenge. There is high connectivity between individual behaviour, political decisions and the delivery of the medical supplies needed to fight the pandemic. On one side, we have the behaviour of individuals that plays an important role in the spread of the pandemic. On the other side, we have political leaders who need to take measures (e.g., impose movement restrictions, export bans) to limit the spread of the virus. Connecting the two, there is the supply chain network that aims to ensure the availability of medical supplies to the hospitals and the public in general.  

Thus, there is a complex and interconnected web of institutions and organisations that links regulations and funds with production, imports, exports, wholesale and retail to ensure that medical supplies are available to the end-patient. No country can meet the increased demand for much needed items, such as face masks alone, each and every one of us has a role to play in this pandemic and consequently a responsibility. This impacts the supply chain.  

The willingness and readiness of people to wear face masks not only has an impact on the spread of the virus, but on the global supply chain of these items as well. If all people wear face masks, the demand for face masks grows. If it grows exorbitantly and suddenly, it cannot be met by the existing production capacity. If people do not wear a face mask, the virus spreads even more leading to even higher demand for face masks.  

During the first wave of Covid-19, the demand shocks of medical supplies, especially of personal protective equipment (like face masks) caused extreme bullwhip effects. The unpredictable and unstable manufacturing environment, where suppliers struggle to predict demand as a result of panic-driven consumer behavior, caused price fluctuations and shortages. This led many EU (and other) countries to forget the fundamental principle of free movements of goods and to impose export bans for essential medical supplies, such as face masks, ventilators, hand sanitizers and gloves. In addition, the lockdown that many countries imposed had an impact on the free movement of people. As a result, workforce participating in the production of essential medical supplies could no longer cross the borders. Airlines reduced or stopped passenger fights leading to fewer transportation options for medical supplies and to increased transportation costs. On top of all that, the import of sub-standard face masks from China led US and European authorities to more quality control checks resulting in longer lead times when importing items.  

The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated the need to increase the medical supply chain responsiveness. To better prepare for future pandemics, it is necessary to reshape medical supply chains and to develop chains that are more flexible, responsive and agile. In addition to standard supply chain responses, such as pre-positioning of medical supplies and multi sourcing strategies, there is a need for more coordination and cooperation between public authorities and private companies. In other words, there is a need to design policies and regulations that facilitate the production and distribution of medical supplies during emergencies. The private-public sector cooperation ought to ensure that the private sector can be ready to switch production lines in short notice, thus ensuring the availability of essential items. 

For a better understanding of how individual behavior, governance, supply chains and social media are inter-connected and impact the response to Covid-19, follow the results of the EU-H2020 funded (grant ID: 101003606) Health Emergency Response in Interconnected Systems (HERoS) research project.  

Hanken School of Economics leads a consortium of four universities (Hanken School of Economics, Free University of Amsterdam, Delft University of Technology, The Open University-UK) and seven other organizations (Nordic Healthcare Group, Space Research Centre of Polish Academy of Sciences, Squadron, Polish Center for International Aid, Italian Red Cross, Project Hope, ARTTIC). The overall objective of HERoS is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the response to the Covid-19 outbreak. HERoS creates and provides policies and guidelines for improved crisis governance, focusing on responders to public health emergencies, and their needs to make informed decisions. By integrating governance, supply chain management, information, and epidemiological modelling from the bottom-up, we provide new insights into the behavioral and social dynamics of the Covid-19 epidemic. The project results will be translated into actionable recommendations for responders at the local, national and international level.  


The HUMLOG Challenge solutions presented – 5/5


Today it’s time for our fifth and last blog post in the blog series including 5 articles presenting the results of the science competition organised by the Global Business School Network and the HUMLOG Institute at Hanken School of Economics: The HUMLOG Challenge. Below you find the blog text written by the team representing Universidad de los Andes, Colombia. Team Los Andes was the winning team of the entire competition.

Team Los Andes

Johary Azizi Perez Duran, Maria de los Angeles Olave Solano, Diana Carolina Amaya Giraldo


It happens to be evident that there is no life without water. As Da Vinci said ‘Water is the driving force of all nature’, and the access to clean water is the driving force that assures development for the communities. For the HUMLOG CHALLENGE, we felt motivated by the idea of taking into consideration one of the most vulnerable indigenous communities in Colombia: Wayuus, and the ongoing struggle of their water supply chain. They live in the department of La Guajira in Colombia which it is one of the most desert areas of the country, despite of being next to the Caribbean Sea. This place has been profoundly affected by armed conflict, poverty and most recently, Venezuelan migration.

More than 380,000 indigenous of the Wayuu community live in the scattered rural areas of hard reach. They live in settlements called rancheria, a system of units of families defined by a collective yard, gardens, a cemetery and small farm to keep the animals. Their main economic activity is the selling of handcrafts accessories and tourism. Regarding the water procurement in the rancheria, Wayuus count with windmills and jagueys.

In search of a better understanding and in order to observe the root causes of their highly fragile water supply chain, we decided to travel to the field and interview members of different sides of the story, such as state associates and the community. Many alternatives have been suggested to mitigate the effects of the disruption, however the impact has not reached to the whole community and there are still many lacking of access to the liquid. The most vulnerable are the children and the nursing mothers.

The water supply chain in La Guajira consists in four factors, first factor is the distribution by tank trucks that transport drinking water with a capacity of 5000 liters and a value of around USD 39, which Wayuus must bear. It lasts a week and it covers five families of a rancheria. However, because of the inadequate road infrastructure and the dispersion of rancherias, it cannot reach to the whole community. The second factor are the wells of salty water that is obtained by windmill pumping, but this water is not fit to drink and it’s barely good for the household activities due to the salt. Plus, it depends on the wind. The Jagueys are the third factor which are artificial wells made of stuck and unsanitary water from the rain that comes only one or two months of the year. This water is used by animals and humans and the last one and mining companies that only provide water to their areas of influences, means to some areas where the community located over the surroundings of their railways.

This is a highly fragile and vulnerable supply chain, which does not reach to every consumer and where the water demand has increased due to Covid-19 and Venezuelan migration. According to United Nations, the sustainable development goals are a collection of 17 interlinked goals designed to a be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. One of them is clean water and sanitation. Water is important not only to health, but also to reduce poverty, food security, peace and human rights, ecosystems and education. However, countries face growing challenges related to water pollution, water scarcity and degraded water-related ecosystems, and Colombia is not the exception. In addition, funding gaps and weak government systems hold many countries back from making needed advances.

This is why helping the Wayuu community mitigate the effects of lack of water, might improve their lives for a better future and might help prevent the spread of Covid-19. According to the U.N., before Covid-19, 2.2 billion people lack safely managed drinking water worldwide and also two in five health care facilities did not have water and alcoholbased soap. It’s important to mention that in La Guajira, only 4% of the rural population has access to drinking water and only 26% of its population has access to water which is fit for human consumption.

Currently, during the pandemic Covid-19, it’s estimated that 3 billion people worldwide lack basic handwashing facilities at home, being handwashing is one of the cheapest, easiest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of the virus. Colombia has 12.516 cases of Covid-19 and in la Guajira only were detected 54 cases, they are rising day by day, reason why it’s very important to ensure to follow the biosafety protocols like hand-washing.

Therefore, our proposal consists in the implementation a fog catcher which are made of a fine mesh known as Raschel net, set up on foggy slopes to catch suspended drops of water, which gather and merge, running through small gutters to collection tanks. For the installation of the fog catcher, it was necessary to revise the meteorological stations available in the database of IDEAM where data was collected from 2007 to 2020, in some municipalities of La Guajira. A fog catcher is considered a sustainable solution and it has many advantages such as it is a simple device and does not imply changes in their culture of the indigenous as they prefer more traditional ways, It is economical and technically feasible because the materials would exist in the region, making the process of procurement manageable and finally it is ecofriendly, because it does not generate pollution and the materials of the structure, such as galvanized steel and the net can be reused. Also, its useful life is 10 years. Although fog traps are not a definitive solution, they could be helpful in places where there is little or no drinking water, and it would be an additional aid to the
water supply chain and the continuing challenge of water shipping. Accordingly, the commitment guides us to keep on looking for sustainable logistics solutions in order to deliver the primary needs which these communities lack and which generally are taken for granted.


The HUMLOG Challenge solutions presented – 4/5


We continue with our blog series including 5 articles presenting the results of the science competition organised by the Global Business School Network and the HUMLOG Institute at Hanken School of Economics: The HUMLOG Challenge. Below you find the text written by Team WU from Austria. Their team performed in the second place of the contest.

Team WU

Rucha Deshpande, Vanessa Klackl, Markus Domevscek, Michael Pesendorfer, Tobias Damberger

Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria

Reminder: The problem addressed in our report and the proposed solution were relevant in the middle of October, when the competition was conducted. Here is a brief summary of that report. 

Context and introduction 

In the fall of 2020, rising cases of COVID-19 combined with the on-going flu-season presented an added challenge to the city of Vienna: testing more symptomatic patients with a limited fleet of 30 mobile testing units (note: asymptomatic people were tested at stationary testing locations with a much larger capacity). We addressed this challenge by focusing on three factors: 1) optimize routing for the current fleet of mobile testing vehicles and explore complementary testing methods 2) increase the role of IT in improved testing management 3) reduce pressure on existing testing resources through better public awareness. 

To prevent both the healthcare system and the overall economy from collapsing due to COVID-19 effects, the Austrian government has been investing heavily in testing and contact tracing. They developed a hotline that people call based on predefined guidelines and paramedics are sent home to conduct tests on suspected patients. While this approach was successful in March / April, there were limitations and additional challenges to this testing strategy, especially during flu season. 

  • First, both manpower as well as equipment and infrastructure were limited. At the time, there were only 30 paramedic cars available for mobile testing, in addition to 80 bikes from a delivery company, and there was criticism over slow and inefficient testing. 
  • Second, there were problems with efficient testing management. For example, after reporting symptoms of illness, people often waited on average 2-3 days to get tested by paramedics. This increased both risk of spread and anxiety/confusion in symptomatic patients. 

The combination of rising COVID-19 cases plus increasing symptomatic patients during flu season, made it clear that mobile testing units would remain integral for Vienna’s management of the pandemic. Therefore, testing symptomatic patients at home required better efficiency, especially with a limited fleet of mobile testing vehicles. 


By using the Vehicle Routing Problem (VRP) geoprocessing tool in ArcGIS, we analyzed optimal routings for the 30 mobile testing vehicles in Vienna. When setting up our Vehicle Routing Problem in ArcGIS, the main question was how to maximize the efficiency of the current fleet of mobile testing vehicles. For this purpose, a VRP with multiple vehicles and location data was used to find out how efficiently the current fleet is managed. We could then address whether additional vehicles were needed to meet certain goals or if the current fleet could be managed in a more efficient way. 

As always, there are certain limitations to the findings. Since some of the data needed for this analysis had not yet been published (or likely never will be, such as location data for tested patients), assumptions needed to be made. This is why we created a random set of patient locations by generating random coordinates within the Vienna borders. 

According to the VRP, the 30 cars were sufficient to hit the target of 1000 tests per day in several realistic scenarios, which meant that even more tests were possible with the current fleet. Therefore, as our routing optimization results showed that vehicle capacities were sufficient for given targets, we focused on supplemental solutions to improve efficiency and reduce pressure. 

  • First, additional time for personal protective equipment (PPE) changes after each test could be reduced by either switching to or adding “gargle tests” (which can be carried out without PPE) along with the current nasal swab method.  
  • Second, we suggested the introduction of a website/app, using best practices from other countries, that allows users to find the optimal testing option and booking appointments through a convenient single web portal. 
  • Third, we explored how to reduce pressure on testing resources during flu season by increasing public awareness and support in staying home. 

Impacts and implications 

New website + App for ease of access 

Taking California’s COVID-19.ca.gov website and UK’s NHS COVID-19 app as best practices, we recommended building a website and app for Vienna that fulfills the following functions: 

  1. Find a testing option and book appointments: Users can select testing options based on several criteria (symptomatic or asymptomatic, met a COVID-19 positive patient, been to a high-risk area, etc.). Once they select their best option, they can book the appointment online, through a single website, for all the different public testing options available. 
  2. Web Triage: If you have symptoms and call the hotline 1450, the operators perform a triage on the caller by asking a set of basic questions to determine next steps. We suggested offering the first basic triage through the website, where symptomatic patients enter their symptoms through a series of basic questions currently used by the 1450 phone operators. This would significantly reduce the burden on 1450 calls. If a doctor needs to talk to the patient, they receive a call back. Furthermore, if mobile testing needs to be conducted, patients book the appointment themselves. During this process it can also be determined and stated whether the patient qualifies for the “gargle test”. 
  3. Ease of access: In addition to the website, a mobile version of this through an app (preferably an extension of the current “Stop Corona” app, which is a voluntary initiative from the Austrian government for contact tracing) could be provided, that is capable of the same functions. 

Interestingly, after our project ended, the city of Vienna did introduce a website to check your symptoms in addition to the hotline, and while it does not include all our suggested functions, it is certainly a step in the right direction. 

Build more grassroots support 

For a community project to be successful, we need not only top-down solutions described above but also bottom-up solutions to make the efforts sustainable. Looking at the rising COVID-19 positive cases, especially in age group 25-34, we recommended reinforcing the message of StayAtHome using social media. 

We thought of a social media campaign using a similar slogan to Breast Cancer Runs, where participants indicate a person for whom they are running; in this case they would say whom they are “staying home for” i.e., #IStayHomeFor. This reinforces both meaning and bond for the efforts. This would reinforce the message that even if SARS-Cov2 can be less dangerous for younger people, it is a community responsibility to care for others who are vulnerable and be careful to prevent the spread. 
A few weeks after our project, Austria actually had to go into a 2nd lockdown; this demonstrated that reducing the pressure on testing and medical resources was paramount in containing the spread and managing the pandemic more effectively. 


The HUMLOG Challenge solutions presented – 3/5


We continue with our blog series including 5 articles presenting the results of the science competition organised by the Global Business School Network and the HUMLOG Institute at Hanken School of Economics: The HUMLOG Challenge. Each of the posts will be published in Friday afternoon weekly and today is time for the third post. Below you find the text by the team representing University of Houston, Texas USA. Their team performed in the third place of the contest.

Team Houston

Thuy Le, Huyen Vi Le, Crystal Gamboa, Derick Del Rio, Kareen Nguyen

University of Houston

The Coronavirus 2019 disease created a health crisis within the U.S. Hospitals nationwide are facing supply shortages, overcapacity in patients, and overworked personnel. A massive problem seen within the supply chain is medical staff not being provided sufficient amounts of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Our team focused on providing a solution for the PPE shortage seen in the Harris County area. Harris County is the area with the largest amount of reported COVID-19 cases in Texas. We found it critical to provide a supply chain solution.

            Harris County hospitals suffer from a shortage of PPE equipment. Items such as hospital gowns, face masks, hand sanitizers, and nasal swabs are lacking for medical personnel. Reasons for this shortage include: delivery disruptions, lack of visibility, and limited supplier diversity. To combat these, we based our team’s solution on insights gathered from information on how hospitals such as Texas Children’s provided solutions to solve the PPE shortage. Our solution, InvoSource, a mobile application, addresses the three issues seen with the shortage. Instantaneous PPE inventory updates, easily accessible databases, and forecasting technology would not just solve the issues for the shortage, but those seen within the entire PPE supply chain.

            The three biggest problems within the Harris County PPE supply chain are procurement and delivery disruptions, the lack of visibility, and the limited supplier diversity. With the increase of the cases, hospitals within Harris County were struggling to locate suppliers, handle backlogs, and forecast PPE. Hospitals were finding it difficult to procure equipment due to the outbreaks in Asia, specifically in China, which impacted the movement and delivery of finished goods to America. This made depending on suppliers difficult because factories were forced to shut down, impacting the productivity and employment size.

            The lack of visibility within the supply chain of PPE also became apparent when the entire nation was scavenging for them. Hospitals could not trace the components and products from the manufacturers to their hospitals. The PPE supply chain had weak risk management and could not detect when a risk was going to occur in the industry. With no backup plans, the hospitals in Harris County found themselves struggling to forecast their reorder quantity, safety stock, and future demand.

Another issue that hospitals faced was the limitations of suppliers. Instead of having a handful of options to choose from, hospitals tend to stick to max of three suppliers and usually outsource suppliers. With the demand for PPE increasing in even our top supplier country, the U.S. struggled to procure and secure PPE. Hospitals could not turn to their suppliers for assistance because their suppliers were also turning to other suppliers for help. Despite mentioning the three problem areas, which are procurement & delivery disruptions, visibility, and limited suppliers, many other bottlenecks also fit into this problematic supply chain puzzle. We also experienced problems with raw materials, machines, transportations, and many more. Our suppliers were also depending on their providers. With the uncertainty of the supply chain of PPE, hospitals in Harris County were and are still struggling to meet the surging demand for PPE.

            To tackle these three problems within the supply chain of PPE, we researched solutions that hospitals carried out when the pandemic hit. Many of the hospitals performed actions such as creating a make versus buy strategy or had a just-in-time (JIT) methodology that they utilized. A unique solution that we stumbled upon was when we were informed that the Texas Children’s Hospital had a “vetting process” where they gathered suppliers’ credibility to make PPE orders. After brainstorming, our team came up with a mobile app called InvoSource, which focuses on accomplishing three goals: improving traceability, visibility, and increasing the number of suppliers. 

            The application will present to the user the estimated time of arrival (ETA) and alert users of any disruption through messages such as low staffing, transportation bans, and factory closures due to COVID-19. The traceability factor ties in with enhancing the visibility of the PPE supply chain. By using the app, hospitals can digitally store data of current inventory levels and the safety stock amount with ease. Instead of having to write down stock levels, users can note down any changes in stocks and update the data in real-time. Therefore, hospitals will have an idea of how much inventory to expect, what inventories are backlogged, and for how many days. Overall, this app provides visibility to the supply chain of the PPE inventory.  Last, but not least, the app fulfills its one purpose of providing hospitals a supplier market to choose from. With a diverse set of suppliers, hospitals will compare which suppliers have the PPE they need. Ultimately, the app will aid in streamlining the purchasing process. Although our creative solution will require time and money, the creation of the application will aid in the emergence of a digital form of the “vetting process” utilized by the Texas Children’s Hospital. 

            Throughout our project, we were in contact with Eric Swaim, the Manager of Strategic Sourcing and Vendor Management at Texas Children’s Hospital. A specific podcast featured Michael Brown, the Director of Supply Chain Management at Texas Children’s Hospital, and Eric Swaim in a discussion about how they are sourcing their products during COVID-19. After listening, we discussed additional questions with Mr. Swaim concerning dilemmas they were continuing to face at Texas Children’s. He mentioned that an essential factor in maximizing their supply chain was to communicate daily with their stakeholders. We also discovered the H-Force initiative that Houston universities and public organizations created to help address PPE shortages for local area medical professionals and first responders in the fight against COVID-19. One of the strategies they enacted was 3D Printing Face Shields for healthcare workers. This research inspired our solutions that will assist with the PPE supply chain.

Although the original aim of this application is to fix problems that arose during the pandemic, its usefulness extends past this period. Increased traceability, visibility, and the ability to diversify the supplier base are useful traits year-round. To carry out the traceability mission, suppliers must know of this application and must be willing to be transparent with their processes. To properly utilize the application to increase visibility, hospitals must transition their PPE inventory data to the app’s database. After that step, as hospitals purchase PPE, the data specific to the hospital will change in real-time. As hospital staff use PPE, the information will change as well.  As for giving hospitals a diverse supplier market, hospitals will need to contribute. Just like how Amazon customers can review products, hospitals can vet and rate suppliers. This will let others know who can be trusted and who to avoid. The feature that allows hospitals to digitally store inventory levels and update them upon usage can be used to track trends. The application can use hospital-specific data to record the correlation between PPE availability and usage during certain situations, time of year, etc. Within the application, a community section can be created where hospitals within certain regions can interact with one another. Unexpected situations do tend to happen, sometimes PPE cannot be ordered in time, so hospitals can help each other out. Make a post on the app to let others know of the situation and what is needed to help; other hospitals around will come to aid.


The HUMLOG Challenge solutions presented – 2/5


We continue with our blog series including 5 articles presenting the results of the science competition organised by the Global Business School Network and the HUMLOG Institute at Hanken School of Economics: The HUMLOG Challenge. Each of the posts will be published in Friday afternoon weekly and today is time for the second post. Below you find the text by the team representing Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Their team performed within the top 5 presentations in the contest.

E-waste recycling as a part of the solution for education in developing countries 

By Jeisson Valderrama, Javier Ramirez, Sehal Dhongde, Kuenzang Choden, Queensland University of Technology, Australia.

2020 has been one of the most challenging years in the recent history of humankind, but also this crisis has also been the engine of the development of new technologies in different fields. Education was one of the more affected sectors by Covid19 with its major impacts on people living in remote rural areas, especially in developing countries with low access to internet and electronic devices to take virtual classes. So, because of the pandemic the whole system was moved to Online from Offline overnight. Even though the urban educational setups did not face many problems but for most of the rural schools and universities, this was a very new concept.

In Latin America for example, more than 160 million of childrens were affected during the lockdown,  where most of them did not have the telephones to contact and devices (like laptops, mobile or tablets) to study remotely. Also, their families were not prepared to teach these students due their work responsibility or lack of education which led to domestic violence in many homes. They had to walk for hours to go to their relatives or friends to study, and some would collect books and materials from house to house.

Dahiana Calderon, is a Colombian student who lives in a small town 3 hours away from Bogota the capital of Colombia. she was one of the over four million students affected by the crisis of COVID-19 in that country. When the classes became virtual, she had to resort to using her mother’s mobile phone to receive the study guides by WhatsApp, even Dahiana had to alternate the use of the device with her brother Juan David. They are only an example to what extent the emergencies affect the most vulnerable social groups.

Dahiana Calderon and her Brother Juan David during the pandemic. “We should use the phone of my mother to take the classes during the lockdown, Juan David used it one hour and me one hour” Dahiana Calderon, Espinal Tol, Colombia.

A Big problem as part of the solution

On the other hand,  the E-Waste (Electronic) has increased dramatically in the last decade and  millions of electronic devices are ending in the landfill every year. Likewise, economies never stop growing, such as the production of electronic devices keeps increasing. Therefore,  many entities and governments are working towards the creation of systems and programs where “Reverse Logistics” can be applied and they are adding a new stage in the circular vision for electronics. As PACE (Platform for accelerating the circular economy) argues, the Life Extension of electronics is crucial in the product life cycle where products might have a second or even a third life. 

Although it is hard to believe in the Life extension of electronics, this is totally logical from the perspective of giving the chance to cope with many problems simultaneously. It not only helps with the carbon emission mitigation by reducing them but also reusing the E-waste to help vulnerable people to provide access to education and relevant information during emergencies.

How Universities may help

Taking advantage of the large amount electronic devices that are not being recycled correctly, universities can play a very vital role in giving a second life to thousands of devices such as computers, tablets and phones. This can be done by using the infrastructure, equipment, resources and human capital available in these universities. In this way, they can contribute in combating the shortage of the devices in the educational setups as well as lack of knowledge about online platforms as method of teaching and usage of the devices among the teaching staff.

Small campaigns can be started in the universities to create awareness in the communities and societies to donate their old or unused phones. These phones can be collected in the university itself and then with the help of reverse logistics these devices can be recycled and reused.

The integration of universities in the supply chain of technology industry and schools.

For this recycling and fixing method, the university students (majoring in IT and Electronics engineering) and faculties can come together and work on it. This could be given to students as a project which will not be a waste of time for them and also benefit them by practicing their theoretical learning, once these devices are collected and repaired by the university students as they have enough resources and knowledge, these devices can be then packed and distributed among the rural students.

Definitely 2020 was a tough year for everyone and several industries, communities and organisations have been affected. However, this crisis is also the opportunity to adapt and evolve as a humankind and as university students we play a very important role to help to build a better world.


The HUMLOG Challenge solutions presented


Today starts a blog series including 5 articles presenting the results of the science competition organised by the Global Business School Network and the HUMLOG Institute at Hanken School of Economics: The HUMLOG Challenge. Each of the posts will be published in Friday afternoon weekly. Below you find the first post from a team representing The Goa Institute of Management in India. They performed within the top 5 presentations in the contest.

Cut to crush delay in sugarcane supply chain in India

By Mohamed Irfan M, Navya Khurana, Nipun Allurwar, Sartyaki Manna, Seemakshi Agarwal, PGDM – Big Data Analytics 2020-2022, Goa Institute of Management, India

Farmers of India face lot of issues starting from cultivating the crop till receiving proper monetary returns for their cultivated crops. The existing agricultural economy with various flaws and unexpected climatic changes pose major threat to farmers from receiving proper return on investment. This has made many farmers to leave farming and move to other employment opportunities. Here we have discussed one of the issues faced by Sugarcane farmers and have proposed a supply chain solution to it.

Sugarcane is a perishable crop and once it is harvested, the sugar content of crop starts reducing, leading to overall reduction in the weight of the crop. Hence it is necessary to crush the crop and extract the juice from it immediately in the nearby Sugar mill. The time taken between cutting the crop in farmland and crushing it in sugar mill is called ‘Cut to Crush’ delay. The ideal acceptable Cut to Crush delay is 24 hours and further delay reduces the crop’s sugar content at faster rate and thereby reducing the quantity of sugar produced in the sugar mill.  Based on our analysis the cut to crush delay was more than 48 hours. Sugarcane farmers receive payments from sugar mills on basis of weight of the sugarcane delivered. The reduction in weight of sugarcane reduces the amount of money that is paid to farmers. Additionally, mills keep the payments to farmers in due for more than 2 years as they enjoy monopoly in this economy. The overall monetary value lost because of cut to crush delay is huge. Generally, in India, 115 kgs of sugar is extracted from one tonne of sugarcane and researchers have estimated that there is loss of 5-10 kgs of sugar per tonne of sugarcane because of cut to crush delay and loss is higher during summer. India being the second largest producer of Sugar, the issue of cut to crush delay is widely present and our team was focused to find a feasible supply chain solution to reduce the cut to crush delay so that sugarcanes are delivered to sugar mill within less time and crushed immediately.

We chose the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu as our primary ground of research to understand the existing supply chain functionalities. Our primary research involved telephonic interviews and surveys with farmers and field experts especially who are in social media, analysing published papers, studying articles related to industry and following the current news related to industry. From our primary research, we found that the Sugarcane crop goes through 4 important stages in the entire supply chain HARVESTING -> TRANSPORTATION -> WEIGHING -> CRUSHING. The time delay in each stage is combined to cause Cut to Crush delay and each stage has its own one or many micro components which are responsible for causing delay. Below are the issues we found during our research.

Harvesting• Poor labour management and lack of machinery results in longer harvest time
• Non-adherence to pre-booked crushing time slot
Transportation• Non-availability of timely logistic services from mill or third-party service providers
Weighing• Huge queue of vehicles outside mill to weigh the sugarcane
• Poor cane delivery scheduling and communication between farmers and mills
Crushing• Poor maintenance and operations management by mill
• Unexpected Shutdowns and delay in cane procurement
• Mills do not operate with optimum capacity

 Through our secondary research we identified that there is no scarcity of resources for better functioning of supply chain but the resources available are not properly utilized and managed. we identified that the main reason which is causing the issues in each stage is the improper collaboration and poor communication between various stakeholders like farmers, mill management and other third-party service providers involved in the supply chain and then the poor management when it comes to functioning of sugar mills.

Hence, as a part of solution to reduce cut to crush delay, we designed and proposed a development of a software application called ‘Industry Resource Planning’ (term coined by us) in short it is IRP. IRP will be an integrated digital platform and it will be an advanced level of ‘Enterprise Resource Planning’ software which is in generally practise. All the stakeholder, service providers involved in the supply chain will be made to register in the digital platform and platform will be designed in such a way that it will bring transparency in the system and increase collaboration between stakeholders by establishing proper communication between them and also provide platform to schedule activities like sugarcane delivery to mills. All necessary services that each stakeholder wants to avail will be made readily available through IRP and make them aware of the status. All movements in the supply chain will be monitored by IRP to identify where are things getting halted and who is responsible for it and necessary steps will be initiated to quickly resume the flow. IRP will also bring mills operation under radar and will monitor their operations like sugarcane procurement and their payments to farmers to stop them from taking any advantage of monopoly.  Apart from these, IRP will help to capture huge data which can be used by Government authorities to take strategic and policy decisions for the welfare of farmers and also to bring improvements in the industry.

We proposed that Government must take steps to build the IT infrastructure of this solution as the number of people involved in the industry are high. Low digital literacy among uneducated farmers can be a hurdle for proper implementation and necessary step have to be taken to address the issue. Successful implementation of this solution will have a positive impact on the farmers income and sugar and ethanol production of the country. As India is moving towards digitalization, this project will increase the digital literacy of farmers and will encourage them to adopt new and emerging technologies to their benefit.


When Staying at Home is No Longer an Option: Forced Displacement Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic


By Russell Harpring, PhD Candidate at the HUMLOG Institute

“Quédate en casa”, or “Stay at home”, is the mantra of the information campaign led by the Mexican Government to curb the COVID-19 infection rates. In Mexico, over 1.1 million COVID-19 cases have been confirmed, with an estimated 127,000 deaths as of December 2020. Masks are required in public spaces, hand and shoe sanitizer is given at the entrance to any building, signs to remind people to respect social distancing are everywhere. The Secretary of Health advocates that, “if we can isolate the virus, we can beat it”. But for families and refugees with greater threats than COVID-19, remaining at home is not always an option.

Source: UNHCR @ Ritzau Scanpix

Throughout Latin America, borders have been closed and movement restricted. Though the reality is that a large percentage of the Latin American population lives on daily wages. This creates a contradiction: leave home to earn a living wage, or “quédate en casa” to protect against the virus but forego an income to buy food, water, and other basic needs. In this light, despite the pandemic, asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, Cuba, and Venezuela have continued to arrive at the Mexican border. For many, Mexico is a transit country on the way to the United States. For others, Mexico is the destination country. For the Mexican Government, this has created a dilemma: how do you protect public health while also allowing refugees to seek asylum in the country?

The problem is not an easy one to address. Violence spikes in Latin America, fueled by drug trafficking and high rates of poverty, force thousands to flee from their homes each year. Typically, when migrants cross the border into Mexico, they must be held at a detention center until their identity and refugee status can be verified. The detention centers are often crowded with limited facilities, which created concerns when the COVID-19 pandemic started.

To tackle this project, Mexico’s refugee office, COMAR (Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados), has teamed up with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. One of the first solutions was to expand the number of registration centers and allow for remote processing of information. Now, instead of centralized locations for registration and sheltering, there are over 100 various shelters throughout Mexico. While this has helped maintain social distancing guidelines, it has also created a logistical challenge to distribute supplies throughout the country.

When COVID-19 began amplifying in Mexico, shortages of personal protection items (PPE) such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer began to occur. Like much of the global supply chain for these items, demand spiked, and supply lagged behind. Procuring these items became a challenge for UNHCR, facing shortages and long lead times from global suppliers. Then there was the problem of importing items and distributing to over 100 locations for beneficiaries throughout the country.

As the commercial sector began to restock PPE items, the supply team made a critical decision to rethink the way items with fragile supply chains are procured and delivered to beneficiaries. Instead of lengthy global supply chains, the supply team began focusing strategically on local procurement and delivery services. These partnerships provide the opportunity to be more agile and communicate directly with suppliers. Soon, the problem of delivering numerous and various supplies to over 100 locations became manageable and traceable.

In addition, UNHCR in the Americas is using cash-based interventions (CBIs) to provide another form of assistance and protection to persons of concern. CBIs involve the use of cash transfers to beneficiaries so they may decide and prioritize their needs such as food, rent, and basic commodities, then purchase what is needed accordingly. A major function of CBIs in Mexico is to provide beneficiaries the ability to rent a flat or property, rather than stay in a camp or settlement. This helps them to “quedarse en casa” and keep a safe social distance, as the government recommends. In this way, the organization offers social protection and inclusion for persons who may be without a social safety net and vulnerable to COVID-19.

The world is in the middle of another spike in COVID-19 cases. While supply chains remain vulnerable to disruptions for high demand items, humanitarian organizations are adapting to the current situation and providing flexible modes of support to those who are most vulnerable. A consortium of humanitarian organizations in Mexico, led by UNHCR, plan to expand CBI coverage throughout the country to reach even more beneficiaries. Agencies such as UNHCR are used to operating in complex and difficult situations, and while COVID-19 is a new situation, it is being dealt with in the same manner as all humanitarian emergencies – with an intent to utilize all available resources to meet the needs at hand of the people they work with.

Russell Harpring is a PhD student at the Hanken School of Economics and is currently conducting research with UNHCR in Mexico related to cash-based interventions, local procurement, and coordination for last-mile delivery.

Disclaimer: the views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.


Temperature control matters! Fact sheet to prepare for COVID-19 vaccination programmes

(by the team of the HUMLOG Institute: Ioanna Falagara Sigala, Gyöngyi Kovács, Amin Maghsoudi, Wojciech Piotrowicz, Isabell Storsjö, Diego Vega)

As various COVID-19 vaccines are in the making, there is a lot we can do to prepare for their handling including necessary cold chain and ultra-cold chain solutions. Here is a fact sheet with reminders and recommendations.

General issues with temperature control:

  • Control temperature range,
  • Control exposure: deviation from range, time period of exposure

Typical issues with vaccines:

  • Each vaccine comes with their own temperature control requirements
    • e.g. Vaccines with live components: cannot freeze (kills the live component)
    • Very special: Ultra-cold chain (minus 70-80 degrees C)ones, e.g. ebola vaccine
  • NB! Pfizer’s potential vaccine needs an ultra-cold chain, but other COVID-19 vaccines in the making need different temperature ranges.

Typical issues with temperature control supply chains:

  • Sticky points aka where temperature control usually breaks down:
    • Materials handling (offloading, cross-docking, intermodal transportation, customs clearance)
    • At the user’s end: health care centres without stable electricity, patients (if they can buy a vaccine themselves)
  • Needs dedicated handling spaces (warehouses, cross-docking spaces, special units at customs) and equipment that works with the required temperatures
  • Needs special transportation, e.g. reefer containers (the ultra-cold chain a combination of special packaging + special reefer containers). Some of containers need electric connection during transport and storage.
  • Vaccines need special medical clearance for materials handling! (i.e. staff that has the required certifications in warehouses, transportation etc.)
  • Don’t forget about the kits! (e.g. syringes, gloves, test swabs, lab equipment etc.) to go with the items. Note, they may need different temperatures than the vaccine itself!
  • Packaging sizes matter in light of how long you can open a package
    • Peri-urban/rural distribution
    • Avoiding too many people coming to a vaccination centre – disease control!

Administering vaccination programmes

  • Ideally not overloading the same health care centres
  • Segregation of patients (sick) from those to be vaccinated
  • Train (more) people to administer vaccines – separate capacity from testing stations will be needed

Industry initiatives for handling temperature control:

  • GDP – good distribution practice, esp. in pharma
  • CEIV – IATA’s pharma distribution practices for freight forwarders (not just airlines)

Current initiatives for potential COVID-19 vaccines:

  • UNICEF Covax: pre-procurement of items for the kits (e.g. syringes), stocking up
  • Logistics service providers developing more temperature control warehouses around the world
  • Pfizer developing their own cold chain packages

Recommendations, aka what different organisations and countries can do to prepare for it now:

  • Increase cold chain, and ultra-cold chain capacity in warehouses and transportation
    • Actual spaces and equipment (warehouses, refrigerated containers, vans, trucks, railway carts)
    • Cold chain training across whole supply chain (warehouse operators, drivers, medics)
    • Certifications (GDP, CEIV, medical materials handling requirements)
    • Production changeover in transportation: re-equipping existent aircrafts, containers, vehicles for the ultra-cold chain
    • Production changeover in warehousing, e.g. setting up freezer farms near airports and other hubs
    • Some solutions exist already in the food and pharmaceutical sectors
  • Be part of vaccine procurement initiatives – e.g. the EU has one for all EU countries together, and has signed agreements with several potential providers
    • Joint procurement may give better purchasing power, but this is a sole supplier situation, after all
    • Prepare tenders and advanced purchase agreements either individual or jointly with other organizations
    • Remember equity in health
  • Start off getting the rest of the kit together! Vaccine distribution will require all the rest of it, from materials to set up vaccination centres, to actual testing and vaccination kits
    • Potential reuse/adaptation from the Ebola vaccination campaign in challenging contexts
    • Benchmark/best practice from INGOS continuously involved in EVD (e.g. MSF, IFRC, ICRC, UNICEF)
    • Develop containers for smaller quantities (the current Pfizer solution may not be applicable for smaller populations)
    • Check existing inter-agency health kits for vaccination kits. Add also dry ice for further cooling.
  • Start procuring logistics services and work with logistics service providers to ensure they have the right equipment and capabilities
    • Set up tracking and tracing through the supply chain, to assure correct procedures are followed. Special cold chain tracking devices exist on the market already.
    • Design security around the chain, to control and protect the flow.
  • Develop vaccine distribution plans
    • Identify places (health care centres, schools, voting stations or other, depending on the current burden in existing health care centres) with good coverage of the population. Know your coverage!
    • Identify groups that need to be vaccinated as first (such as those who will administer vaccines later), and define criteria to select locations that will be vaccinates as first (number of cases, density of population)
    • Contact and make agreements with transportation and logistics service providers for the last mile distribution
    • Collaborate with other organizations or countries for the transportation of the vaccine
    • Identify which organisations or sectors within the country could support a vaccination programme, in case if medical system is overwhelmed with COVID19 cases, and identify their needs for training. (Possible organisations include medical humanitarian organisations, the Red Cross movement, in some cases even defence forces.)
    • Train people in advance, both in medical logistics, vaccine handling, and for managing vaccination centres
    • Set up communication channels, how people will be informed when and where vaccination will take place
    • Set up tracking system to identify who already got the vaccine, this is critical when more than single doze is needed
    • Assure that all labelling on packages, instructions and guidelines are in all required languages
    • Identify and review relevant country laws and regulations, to assure that mass vaccination programme is in line with them
    • Analyse risks and create response plans, in case of electricity supply cuts, accidents, missing resources
    • Create waste (and re-use) plans for used boxes, gloves, needles and other equipment
    • Before going life within the programme run simulation, and exercises to check if plan is realistic

There is a lot more with regards to ethical considerations, trust-building, and even the prioritisation of vaccine recipients etc. Thus, as a final note, please remember that this list focuses on cold chain, and ultra-cold chain capacities and capabilities. Let’s leave the rest to the epidemiologists.


Comes, T., Bergtora Sandvik, K. and Van de Walle, B. (2018), “Cold chains, interrupted: The use of technology and information for decisions that keep humanitarian vaccines cool”, Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Vol. 8 No. 1, pp. 49-69. https://doi.org/10.1108/JHLSCM-03-2017-0006

Jusu, M.O., Glauser, G., Seward, J.F., Bawoh, M., Tempel, J., Friend, M., Littlefield, D., Lahai, M., Jalloh, H.M., Sesay, A.B. and Caulker, A.F., 2018. Rapid Establishment of a Cold Chain Capacity of–60 C or Colder for the STRIVE Ebola Vaccine Trial During the Ebola Outbreak in Sierra Leone. The Journal of infectious diseases, 217(suppl_1), pp.S48-S55, at https://doi.org/10.1093/infdis/jix336

Kachali, H., Storsjö, I., Haavisto, I. and Kovács, G., 2018. Inter-sectoral preparedness and mitigation for networked risks and cascading effects. International journal of disaster risk reduction, 30, pp.281-291, at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2018.01.029

Vaillancourt, A., 2016. Kit management in humanitarian supply chains. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 18, pp.64-71, at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2016.06.002

Other important links

CEIV Pharma: https://www.iata.org/en/programs/cargo/pharma/ceiv-pharma/

Covid-19 WSJ: https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-19-vaccine-rollout-calls-for-supply-chain-collaboration-logistics-chief-says-11603713612

European Commission – Covid-19: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_1903

Fact sheet on the Ebola ultra-cold chain: https://www.who.int/features/2015/guinea-ebola-vaccine/en/ – the same has been used later in DRC according to WHO logistics

Finnish news on the matter of Pfizer’s vaccine: https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-11641577

ICRC Podcast on lessons from Ebola: https://intercrossblog.icrc.org/intercross-icrc-podcast-episodes/episode-1104-covid-conflict-ebola-drc#sthash.5ZUlD3d1.dpbs=

Inter-agency health kits: https://www.who.int/emergencies/emergency-health-kits

Interim Framework for COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation and Distribution in the United States: https://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/our-work/pubs_archive/pubs-pdfs/2020/200819-vaccine-allocation.pdf

MSF Ebola response: https://www.msf.org/ebola

UNICEF Ebola response: https://www.unicef.org/emergencies/ebola

Further info

HERoS project, see www.heros-project.eu

HUMLOG Institute, see www.hanken.fi/humloginstitute

Downloadable graphic of the fact sheet:

Contact us with any questions!  

  • Wojciech Piotrowicz, Director of the HUMLOG Institute, wojciech.piotrowicz@hanken.fi, +358 50 430 8715 (English)
  • Gyöngyi Kovács, Erkko Professor in Humanitarian Logistics, HERoS project leader, gyongyi.kovacs@hanken.fi, +358 40 3521 241 (English, Swedish, Finnish)

Don’t let the latest emergency make you forget about the other urgent issues


By Félicia Saïah, PhD Candidate at the HUMLOG Institute

“Supply chain,” “health emergency,” and “critical inventories” are some of the terms that have been popularized through the current pandemic. Like no other event, this pandemic spread awareness about the supply chain issues linked to responding to a healthcare emergency. The lack of Personal Protective Equipment PPE, oxygen concentrators, or beds to welcome patients in local healthcare facilities had the entire planet worried for months.

But this blog post is not about Covid-19, it is about all other health emergencies that took place at the same time but were not in the media spotlight. Not only were on-going medical humanitarian activities not stopped during the pandemic, but those activities had to be adjusted to new regulations to protect staff and patients, as well as include measures to treat Covid-19 patients in a highly complex market for medical items purchase. And while no one could have foreseen the extent of this crisis, we can learn from it the key factors that made existing humanitarian missions more responsive for future disruptions: epidemics, armed conflict, or others.

Therefore, the Humlog institute offered the international medical NGO Médecins sans Frontières / Doctors without Borders to analyze the key factors that allowed the on-going humanitarian mission to adjust to the pandemic. Indeed, all of MSF missions had to manage the continuity of care, protecting staff and patients, and in extreme cases open specific Covid-19 centers to respond to the local population needs. Thus, since August, the research team has collaborated with MSF to analyze how the 151 missions in 77 countries managed they supply chain since January. By analyzing over 500 documents, hundreds of thousands of order lines, and over 50 interviews, we aim to provide MSF with strategic and operational recommendations to strengthen their supply chain.

As all missions were conducting different programs and had very different environmental constraints, they didn’t have the same tools at their disposal to face the supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic. Moreover, the needs assessment was challenging as the medical protocol was changing and forecasts about the pandemic’s evolution were unreliable. While countries with frequent cases of Ebola or high surgical activities had a large quantity of protective equipment in their emergency preparation inventory, those quantities were insufficient in light of the needs. On the other hand, missions in countries with limited import opportunities had more significant stocks (up to a year sometimes) and/or teams dedicated to the local purchase and the local quality testing for medical items. That allowed them to source PPE locally when the international market was out of stock. 

International transport activities also increased in complexity, and missions had to adjust to longer lead-times and increased complexity to find available cargo planes. But inter-NGO collaboration to fill full charters or WFP mandated cargo planes were extra-ordinary resources that ensured the continuity of activities. Some countries even ended up fully closed, with no possibilities of import and no resources on the local market for purchase. The teams ensured continuity of care by sourcing donations from other NGOs and establishing extra-ordinary rationing measures.

Those are only some examples of the challenges and resources that the organization deployed to ensure continuity of care. In the coming months, and through the upcoming Delphi iterations, the research team aims to reach a consensus with the organization on the lessons learned, best practices, and recommendations to implement.

Even though the media spotlight may not be shining on them right now, NGOs of all sizes are currently going above and beyond to ensure the continuity of humanitarian assistance, and so should research and discussions on long-term humanitarian operations and supply chains.


Towards the Holy Grail: The Frontline Humanitarian Logistics Initiative


Diego Vega, PhD.

Deputy Director, The HUMLOG Institute

Supply and Logistics is a critical technology capability that is required for humanitarian emergency operations. Many of the 71 million forcibly displaced people depend on humanitarian response for lifesaving support in post-disaster and conflict environments. Yet, in 2019 much of the humanitarian sector is still dependent on spread sheets to manage Frontline Humanitarian Logistics. This unserved need is due to industry specific requirements of the Humanitarian sector that are quite unlike commercial logistics solutions.  Commercial solutions have proved inadequate in the last-mile, austere and rapid scale up environments that we face in humanitarian response. The sector has created many home-built solutions or cross-organization attempts such as HELIOS. While fulfilling the immediate needs at the time, these solutions have not delivered on their promise. We also see sub-verticals in our sector such as healthcare and WASH, that lead organizations to developing custom, non-interoperable solutions. These are failing to deliver capability and value to sector organizations due to inadequate investment.

With many INGO’s currently moving to ERP systems, or renewing their partnerships with existing solutions, there is a window of opportunity to deliver a sustainable technology capability for the humanitarian community, interoperable with our wider organization’s capabilities. With this idea in mind, the Frontline Humanitarian Logistics (FHL) initiative was created to reduce the time and cost involved in implementing IT solutions within humanitarian supply chains and encourage interoperability of systems across the sector, the holy grail in terms of NGO collaboration. The HUMLOG Institute was asked by the project sponsor to support the initiative with a team of experts that provide academic and methodological rigor to the process. The initiative’s goal is to convene cross-sector stakeholders to create a common understanding of frontline humanitarian logistics and specify a core data model for subsequent sector vertical development.

To ensure the relevance and the validity of the process framework, a series of webinars were designed and facilitated by the HUMLOG Institute’s team following the Delphi method, to achieve consensus on the structure and content of the FHL Process Framework and data entities. The FHL panel was built around experts from 19 humanitarian organizations that participated and shared their knowledge on a 3-rounds process. The Delphi process started with an opening webinar in which the initiative was presented to the participants and the technique explained. Using the first version of the process framework as a platform for questionnaire development in subsequent iterations, participants were asked to respond to the level of relevance and importance of both L1 and L2 processes and L1 data groups, as well as the accuracy of the terms using a 4-point Likert scale. Results were normalized using the respondent’s confidence, analyzed using the mode (i.e. the one that occurs most) and presented to participants in the first round. Based on the group discussion, the process framework was refined and submitted for evaluation and further discussion in round 2. An important level of consensus was achieved at this point at the process level, which enabled the study to focus on the data level for the third round. A third questionnaire was administered seeking validation on data levels 1 to 3 and results were discussed during the last round. A closing webinar was finally used to share the results of the study and engage with participants for the future use and development of the FHL data model.

The resulting process framework is constituted of 10 Level 1 Processes, each of them divided into Level 2 Processes, which are listed and defined following the commonly accepted flow of goods. From the 10 level one processes, four are generic logistics processes (i.e. supply and logistics planning, procurement, warehousing and transport), three are humanitarian sector specific (i.e. distribution, donation or loan; return, loan or closure; asset management), and three are enablers (i.e. operation support, reporting and donor follow-up). Level 2 processes were structured to be as specific as possible and are each linked to one specific goal or specific output. Some level 2 processes have very similar tasks (e.g. 05.5 Donations (outbound) and 05.6 Loans (outbound)) but lead to different outputs (i.e. donation certificate and Loan recording & Loan return process). This separation is clearly stated here for future users to be able to use and adapt this framework according to their own field activities, in an easy manner, without having to split level 2 processes. For better understanding of each level 2 objective or output and the main tasks implied, Level 2 Process descriptions have been produced and included in a how-to guide.

The creation of a common process and data standard across the sector will save significant time and cost for NGOs implementing FHL systems, as they will have a good starting point with common processes and naming conventions for data entities agreed. Further, it will support optimization of aid flows by enabling interoperability of information systems between organisations and lower the adoption threshold of IT for humanitarian organisations by enabling commercial product offerings that are pre-configured for the specific challenges and demands of humanitarian supply chains. Finally, the FHL common process and data standard will strengthen local control over, and integration of, local resources in aid operations by enabling consolidated management of information across all emergency response actors.

The FHL initiative is currently working on its third phase, engaging with technology partners to study the feasibility of a potential application or pilot of the FHL common process and data standard. Currently, discussions have started with some of the top vendors that either have a solution in the market or are interested in developing such solution for the sector. When achieved, the common process and data standard for the humanitarian context will help organizations, service providers and even governments to finally improve supply chain collaboration and visibility, which would result in better coordination and thus, better response to the many and different crises that humanitarian organizations need to face. The HUMLOG Institute fully supports the initiative, providing continuous advice during the third phase as a member of the advisory board.


Framework for performance evaluation in humanitarian operations from the beneficiary perspective


By Brenda de Farias Oliveira Cardoso, Honorary mentioned in The HUMLOG Institute’s Best Thesis Award 2020

Supervisor: Adriana Leiras | Co-supervisor: Tharcisio Cotta Fontainha

I am a researcher at the HANDs Lab (Humanitarian Assistance and Needs for Disasters) which is a laboratory of the Industrial Engineering Department at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) focused on research in Humanitarian Logistics and Operations Management in disasters, crises, and emergencies.

In the development of my master thesis, I saw an opportunity to combine two important research topics: performance evaluation and humanitarian logistics. Nevertheless, I decided to follow a novel perspective, and I ended up looking at how a humanitarian operation can be considered successful from the perspective of the beneficiaries. The supervision of Professor Adriana Leiras and co-supervision of Professor Tharcisio Cotta Fontainha were essential throughout the process and receiving an Honorable Mention at the HUMLOG Best Master Thesis Award 2020 contributes to enhancing the acknowledgement of the research relevance for a broader audience. I hope you find the time to read some of my thoughts on the topic.

As a contextual factor, we see that the discussion about how to respond to a disaster is gaining more and more attention due to the increasing occurrence and consequences of disasters worldwide. In 2019, for instance, natural disasters affected more than 95 million people and caused losses of 130 billion dollars. These numbers reinforce the importance of humanitarian logistics and mainly the disaster response when decisions must be designed to minimize the impacts of these events on the lives of the affected population. Consequently, academic and professional communities still demonstrate a constant interest in the development of metrics to evaluate and pursue improved response operation.

Despite the challenges encountered in disaster response operations, performance evaluation proves to be an essential tool for directing organizations according to strategic objectives. The occurrence of disasters causes donors, the media and the beneficiaries themselves to monitor the efficiency and speed with which organizations can operate in operation. With data structured from a well-established evaluation system, organizations can disseminate their results with more transparency and assertiveness.

However, the traditional performance evaluation perspective in humanitarian logistics focuses on the view of stakeholders providing aid to the population, such as humanitarian organizations, governments, and donors. Indeed, these aid providers need to understand the real situation to pursue improved operations. Nevertheless, not always do the performance evaluations include the perspective of the main clients who, in the humanitarian context, are the victims or beneficiaries (the users of the service). Generally, the organizations are evaluated by their funders which may cause some conflicts of interest, such as biased analysis without reporting the real problems that exist in an organization. This problem brought the following research question: how to assess the response to a disaster from the perspective of the beneficiary?

This discussion was the central theme of my master research. Performance evaluation in humanitarian operations is a growing research topic, not only due to the need for transparency in operations but also due to the focus has not been on the beneficiary. Therefore, from a systematic literature review of the, my master thesis proposes a framework with a step by step to measure the performance of operations considering the perspective of the beneficiary. The validity of the proposed framework is tested through two empirical research methods: survey and case study.

The proposed framework is based on other frameworks found in the literature, as well as on the analysis of papers related to performance evaluation in humanitarian operations. The five steps in the framework are (1) identification of organizational objectives, (2) processes selection, (3) categories selection, (4) data collection, and (5) assessment results. The organizational objectives include efficiency, effectiveness, delivery, flexibility, productivity, quality, cycle time, and adaptation. The second step is the selection of processes and involves the distinction between pre-disaster and post-disaster categorization, which affects the remain steps. The selection of categories step takes into consideration the pre-disaster and post-disaster with their respective six areas of analysis:

  • Health: availability of medicines, medical care and treatments, and food.
  • Housing: quality assessment of the facilities and housing security.
  • Education: educational services, such as access to schools and educational courses or lectures for children, youth and adults.
  • Assistance: satisfaction of the services received in general, such as, for example, response time, reliability of information and quality of products or services.
  • Socioeconomic factors: the relationship with the community in the pre-disaster and post-disaster, assessing, for example, access to the labor market, financial situation, engagement with the local community.
  • Disaster risk management: the existence of management activities, such as lectures, courses, programs and information dissemination.

After selecting the categories to be evaluated, we identify the instrument for data collection (interviews, documents, records and questionnaires) to determine the level of satisfaction of the beneficiary. From the collection and analysis of the results obtained, it is possible to direct the operations in search of efficiency, effectiveness, and equity.

In the survey method, the unit of analysis is the response operation after a disaster in Brazil and in this method the beneficiaries’ satisfactions and dissatisfactions are identified, as well as the strengths and weaknesses related to post-disaster action. In the case study method, the objective is to validate the results found in the RSL and investigate the results found in the survey, where the unit of analysis is the organization responsible for providing services to beneficiaries. In this method, it is possible to understand clearly, from the organization, each important aspect pointed out in the survey, and the main dissatisfactions and negative points are treated with priority in an interview with the person responsible for the case. The combined approach of the two techniques allows complementary results.

The study contributes to the academic literature with relevant results on the topic, including a performance evaluation framework from the beneficiary perspective and its initial validation through an empirical study, serving as a basis for new theories and practical applications. Besides, these deliverables may serve for considerations of professionals from organizations in the sector that aim to improve their services and processes looking at the beneficiary view.


Renewable energy sources in emergency humanitarian medical cold chain for sustainability enhancing


By Sonja Saari, Honorary mentioned in The HUMLOG Institute’s Best Thesis Award 2020

I’m Sonja Saari, a recent M.Sc. graduate from Hanken School of Economics with the major subject of Supply Chain Management and Social Responsibility. In particular, I specialized in Humanitarian Logistics. When I was pondering my master’s thesis topic, I realised that I have a great opportunity to combine the two research areas that interested me the most: sustainability and humanitarian logistics. As a result, I ended up studying how renewable energy sources could enhance the sustainability in emergency humanitarian medical cold chains. Being awarded an Honorary Mention at the HUMLOG Best Master Thesis Award 2020 was an extremely pleasant surprise. Especially, I would like to thank my supervisor Árni Halldórsson for supporting me during my writing process. Below you can read my thoughts about this topic.

Renewable energy sources feasible alternatives to fossil ones

In global supply chains, energy is crucial for any operation in any node. Yet, the majority of the used energy sources derive from fossil fuels, therefore increasing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions emitted to the atmosphere. The connection between supply chain activities and climate change is evident, and actions to combat global warming have received increased attention among commercial sector – partly due to stakeholder expectations as well as regulative actions. One feasible alternative to mitigate environmental pressure of the energy intensive supply chains is to increase the use of renewable energy sources (RES), which has already been advocated in the commercial side.

However, energy need does not stop in commercial sector, but is highly needed also in humanitarian operations. In fact, more and more humanitarian operations are needed due to the increased number of natural disasters resulting from global warming – hence, more energy is needed. Yet, the sustainable perspective towards environment has not been the focus by humanitarian organizations.

One particularly energy intensive supply chain is cold chain because of the temperature-control requirement. In humanitarian operations, cold chain is needed to deliver medical items to the field, hence a steady cold chain is needed from start to end point. Especially, in sudden onset disasters – man-made or natural – maintaining a cold chain is a huge challenge. How to ensure a reliable, steady, and sustainable power chain in cases where access to electricity is limited if not even non-existent? The solution has mainly been diesel-powered generators, but they are not environmentally sustainable, nor do they promote long-term environmental benefits to the local area. Indeed, environmental aspect of sustainability has not been prioritized by humanitarian organizations in emergency relief operations. Would you risk saving people lives’ over sustainability?

RES an entry point to long-term sustainability

This dilemma was the core of my master thesis topic. As RES has been seen to offer a feasible alternative in commercial side, I investigated the barriers and opportunities of increasing the use of RES in emergency humanitarian medical cold chain (HMCC). Interestingly, the results showed that environmental awareness in cold chain management is gradually increasing, although the cold chain should be first reliable and only then sustainable. RES in humanitarian operations has been studied and tested a little, but the focus has not been in emergency operations. Nevertheless, solar energy was seen the most applicable energy source among all RES options. Yet, for widening the use or RES in HMCC, technical knowledge among employees of humanitarian organizations should be better grasped, more resources would be needed, as well as more evidence from the field.

Despite the barriers, sustainable emergency medical cold chain can act as an entry point to longer-term and broader sustainability in the local area. For example, cold chain equipment and technology powered by RES could be better utilized by the local people for powering a wider area instead of merely local health facilities. In the rebuilding phase after a disaster, RES-powered equipment would be used, which would also strengthen the longer-term economic and social perspectives of the local area. Yet, more research and evidence on the reliability and practicality are needed to fully establish environmentally sustainable cold chains to help local communities to prosper after the sudden onset disaster, and to reduce the environmental pressure of the energy intensive HMCC.

Access to the thesis here.

To know more about the award, click here.


Building resilience in disaster management supply networks through cross-sector collaboration


By Krichelle Medel, Winner of The HUMLOG Institute’s Best Thesis Award 2020

I am Krichelle Medel, this year’s winner of HUMLOG Best Thesis Award. I am an MPhil degree holder from the Institute for Manufacturing in the University of Cambridge under the programme of Industrial Systems, Manufacture and Management. Being an international student from the disaster-prone country of the Philippines, I realised that I was in a great position to study resilience within disaster management supply networks with the guidance of subject matter experts from the University of Cambridge. I was motivated to study this topic not only with the goal of contributing something new to academic literature, but also of providing new insights that can be applied by humanitarian actors in my home country as well as in other developing countries. However nerve-wracking, it is immensely fulfilling to have finished a thesis of this quality. The process of writing this thesis involved traveling 6000 miles to the Philippines, and the participation of organisations leading Philippine disaster operations from the private, public and humanitarian sectors. Being awarded as HUMLOG’s Best Thesis for 2020 was something I honestly did not expect but was indeed a very pleasant surprise. I take pride and honour from this recognition and will use it as an inspiration to continue forwarding socially relevant initiatives and studies. I hope you find time to read my blog entry below and can take some new insights with you.

The increase in the frequency in disaster occurrence has pushed humanitarian actors and government agencies to create a more responsive disaster management system. Humanitarian actors and government agencies are the main players at the forefront of disaster management operations (DMOs). But what is the role of the private sector in disaster management operations which are equally affected by such calamities?

The local government (public sector) is usually expected to lead disaster management for regions within their jurisdiction. While this is the case, it is important to recognise that the task to rebuild the communities cannot solely rely on the government’s efforts. In many cases, especially in developing countries, the government’s capacity is not enough to address the concerns of all the lives affected by a disaster. Different humanitarian organisations aid through donation of relief goods, medical support, and assistance for community rehabilitation. Beyond these, critical support and resources such as transportation, infrastructure, electric and communication systems also play important roles in the disaster management supply network. For a developing country like the Philippines, most of these resources are owned by private corporations. Academic literature in the realm of humanitarian logistics usually recognises the role of the private sector as philanthropical in nature, where they usually provide goods and financial assistance to beneficiaries or become procurement partners of humanitarian actors. Such roles, while very much appreciated, most often only affect the short-term response to disasters. Having control on many critical resources, indeed the private sector can be better involved, or rather, ingrained in resilient disaster management supply networks.

My dissertation answered the research question: “How can resilience be built within DMSN through cross-sector collaborations?”. The dissertation analysed resilience building within disaster management supply networks (DMSNs) enabled by cross-sector collaboration, focusing on the role of the private sector. From past literature, DMSN resilience criteria were identified to be robustness, flexibility, velocity and visibility. Robustness pertains to how a supply chain can resist disruption from disasters. Flexibility is the ability of the supply chain to quickly reconfigure itself to minimise disruption. Velocity pertains to how fast the resources flow from the suppliers to beneficiaries. Lastly, visibility is how transparent critical information is available to all stakeholders. As another layer of analysis, DMSN capabilities as outcomes of collaboration activities were identified and associated with these resilience criteria. All these elements were built into the resulting DMSN Collaboration-Resilience Model which was applied to a case study of the Philippine DMSN. Existing cross-sector collaboration activities were identified within the Philippine disaster management operations. A causal analysis of each collaboration activity and its outcome is done to identify relationships between collaboration types and resilience constructs. Based on these results, patterns were identified and dependencies between collaboration and resilience are defined. Collective DMSN resilience (DMSNRES) enabled by existing cross-sector collaboration activities is evaluated against a future disaster scenario to identify resilience gaps. These gaps were used to identify new cross-sector collaboration opportunities, illustrating the continuous process of resilience building.

The dissertation ultimately found that cross-sector collaboration builds resilience in DMSNs through capacity building, sourcing redundancy, information reliability, and logistics responsiveness. From literature, private sector collaboration operates within short-term donations in the form of money, logistics (e.g. lending of transportation assets), and procurement partnerships. This research provided new insights on how private sector can be involved within a DMO through collaboration with the government and other NGOs. It augments existing literature on private sector involvement in DMOs where common perception is that the sector is only involved in short-term response and recovery activities. This study found that the private sector can be operationally involved not just in post-disaster activities, but also in mitigation and preparation phases as well. This then sets a new baseline for further research on private sector involvement within DMOs. As this study provided a novel framework to analyse collaboration activities and its impact to DMSN resilience, future work could be done by applying the model to further cases such as other countries’ DMSNs, or to more specific contexts such as inter-organisational collaborations rather than big sectors. A more detailed assessment method against a future disaster will prove relevance for the model in providing practical insights on how resilience can be built in DMSNs.

With disasters becoming more complex and frequent by the day, the need for every sector of the society to contribute to disaster risk reduction is continuously intensified. While this research was done in the context of natural disasters, I feel strongly about the immense need for stronger cross-sector collaboration now more than ever, that a pandemic is affecting the lives of almost everyone around the world. I have seen the private sector step up in a way that we probably have seldomly seen before. I’ve seen companies converting their manufacturing lines from gin to ethyl alcohol production, as well as converting manufacturing lines for hygiene products into face mask production facilities. Beyond manufacturing companies’ own supply chain flexibility to adapt to the needs of the society, other companies focusing on services provided support for the needs of the medical front-liners such as hotels and dormitories providing board and lodging for our modern-day heroes. With the suspension of public transportation, many bus companies also stepped up to provide shuttle services to healthcare workers as well as the ordinary people that are part of their companies’ skeletal workforces. Several corporations are now also coming together to launch enterprise recovery programs for small to medium enterprises (SMEs). These are just few of the many stories of the society coming together in the fight against COVID-19. Each sector of the society can take part in disaster management operations to reduce unpredictability, lives impacted, and increase speed of response and recovery. Each sector of the society can be of great contribution not only during post-disaster response and recovery, but also during – disaster mitigation and preparedness phase. As such, this research echoes the call for everyone – public, humanitarian, private and the academic sectors to be more involved in strengthening our communities.

Access to the thesis here.

To know more about the award, click here.


How Humanitarian Logistics Can Inform a New Normal for Supply Chains – Post-COVID-19

By Joseph Sarkis, PhD, Professor at Foisie School of Business, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, USA and HUMLOG International Research Fellow at Hanken School of Economics, Finland & Gyöngyi Kovács, Erkko Professor in Humanitarian Logistics, Hanken.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused devastation to people’s health, safety, and livelihoods. It has also caused our supply chains to be reevaluated. The concerns are pervasive and supply chain fragilities became conspicuous.

These concerns have caused supply chain and logistics academics and practitioners to evaluate the situation and provide insights into potential solutions.  These efforts are early at the writing of this blog and will likely continue for years; with significant uncertainties persevering. 

We felt an urgent need for sensemaking in our supply chain community. But, we could not turn to conferences and face-to-face meetings.

Thus, a small concerned group of the community sponsored an open forum on “An Action Agenda for Effective Post-COVID-19 Supply Chains” a YouTube video recording exists for this event here

With over 500 international registrants and about virtual 300 participants on Zoom and YouTube livestreaming – the discussion was lively, concerned, and compelling. 

The session – moderated by Christine Harland – began with three ‘conversation starters’ including thoughts by Lisa Ellram, Barbara Flynn, and Gyöngyi Kovács. Discussion commenced amongst the 300 international participants with a variety of perspectives voiced.

How supply chains can learn from humanitarian logistics became an important thread of discussion. We highlight some points here.

Preparedness pays off. The more prepared the supply chain – better trained, with pre-positioned stock, kits, and collaboration mechanisms – the quicker and more cost-effective it is for pandemic response.

No need to reinvent the – procurement and production – wheel. Medical supply chains are highly regulated. There are set quality expectations, technical specifications, drug lists, and standards even for COVID-19. These characteristics are publicly available on the WHO – World Health Organization –websites and also regularly updated. Having updated knowledge of these requirements will save significant energy and improve response and resilience.

Package interdependencies. Most medical items require supporting materials to be administered. Materials include syringes for vaccines, swabs for tests, and personal protective equipment. In the humanitarian world, inter-agency health kits ensure that kits follow the same standards and packing lists regardless of organisation. Knowing these interdependencies and managing them appropriately with planned kitting can save time and lives.

Logistics is an essential industry. Whether it comes to medical deliveries or groceries in the last mile, in a pandemic, the importance of last mile logistics is enhanced. Careful planning can save lives and provide for a better quality of life overall. This important aspect of logistics as become even more evident and essential given the crisis.

A global pandemic needs a unified global response. Bullwhipping, panic buying, export bans, travel bans, speculative pricing, only induce further disturbances in the supply chain, and typically backfire. Stability and flexibility in policy is needed; if not, then global supply chains require a bit more adaptability to be built into the system to attend to these shocks.

The HUMLOG Institute leads an EU project on the COVID-19 response. For more info, see project HERoS at https://www.hanken.fi/en/departments-and-centres/department-marketing/humlog/research-projects/ongoing-projects/health