Home Trade UPS: From a bicycle messenger firm to a global logistics provider

UPS: From a bicycle messenger firm to a global logistics provider

by Tullah Stephen

Company promotes private-public sector partnerships, moving over 18.3 million packages a day

By Tullah Stephen

Sub-Saharan Africa has recently seen an increase in funding and donor support for global health issues. This means, supply chain managers in the region are today responsible for larger volumes of products.

On the flipside, a landscape analysis undertaken in 2015 revealed gaps in both technical and general competencies among health supply chain managers in the public sector.

The analysis revealed that while adequate technical competency training was available, there was a shortage of general leadership competence training. This made managing, storing, tracking and distribution of these products a problem and as a result, access to health products remains a dream for a large section of the population. With squeezed budgets and on-the-ground challenges outside of their expertise, governments have also found it hard to equip their staff with such skills.

However, stakeholders have proposed that private sector input could be key in transforming supply chains by providing solutions and applying know-how to problems of any size.

Multinational corporations account for 80 per cent of all transfer of goods and services across the continent, either within their own affiliate transactions or networks with independent providers. Such companies have vast experience spanning decades working in difficult situations, experiences which can benefit the region. But, success can only come if public-private partnerships (PPPs) are implemented.

“The private sector is a valuable source for leadership development,” said Jean-Francois Condamine, president of the Indian Subcontinent, Middle East and Africa (ISMEA) for UPS.

“UPS is always exploring innovative ways to share its expertise and capabilities to help grow the communities it functions in, and we are proud to partner with organisations as we take a step in that direction,” he says.

“Poor supply chain is known to delay introduction of new vaccines as well as waste expensive ones. The inabilities to deliver medicines and other health products to people who need them causes millions of deaths. As a logistics company with global expertise, we want to correct this,” says Condamine.

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Jean-Francois Condamine, president of the Indian Subcontinent, Middle East and Africa (ISMEA) for UPS

UPS is one of multinational logistic companies leading forays into sub-Sahara Africa. The 100-year-old company started out as a bicycle messenger firm. Today, it moves over 18.3 million packages a day.

In Africa and Middle East the company has been partnering with governments and NGOs to not only facilitate trade through logistic services but assist them meet their humanitarian needs.

Condamine says partnerships formed with aims of empowering governments to better lives can bring health products to the sick in the remotest areas, saving millions of lives.

Africa, Condamine explains, offers unique challenges for supply chains. Companies with extensive track records in the region are being forced to find new and creative ways to maintain growth and extend their reach into new countries and markets.

Pharmaceutical supply chains supporting health services offered by the state are often controlled by the governments themselves. The multi-faceted chains are often led by staff whose core professions are not in the field of supply chain management, and will have little practical exposure managing and delivering high performing supply chains. “They lack the core knowledge of fundamental supply chain practices and methods required to deliver lasting change or bring about high performance.”

According to Condamine, there are numerous interventions available to provide an efficient health supply chain but PPPs are  the lifeline.

“By partnering with private sector organisations that have already encountered and overcome many of the same challenges, key supply chain managers can grow their experience and open up channels for future collaboration and innovation,” he says.

In 2014, UPS entered into an innovative public-private relationship with GAVI Alliance whose mission is to save people’s lives and health by increasing access to immunisation in developing countries. The partnership saw the development of a leadership training programme: The Strategic Training for Executives Programme (STEP). “Two years ago, when GAVI developed their Supply Chain Strengthening Strategy, they asked for our logistics expertise, an offer we gladly accepted.”

The adult learning course helps transfer knowledge from the private to the public sector and has sustainability at its core. In addition to a traditional workshop, course participants are paired with mentors from the private sector to put their new skills into practice and build a network of contacts to share knowledge.

STEP targets decision makers in the Ministry of Health or the Expanded Programme for Immunisations who set policy and oversee supply chain networks. It provides instruction in People Management, Problem Solving, Communication, Project Management and Professional Development competencies.

The programme was offered to 11 participants from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Zanzibar. UPS loaned out one of its executive to mentor participants.

“If all goes to plan, the countries will soon witness higher volumes of vaccines reaching more children than ever before. Health staff will have a range of skills to manage people, projects and partnerships as well as the ability to better use data for decision making,” Condamine says.

Another innovative approach to solving challenges experienced in Africa by UPS is the partnership with drone startup Zipline, GAVI and the government of Rwanda to deliver blood for transfusion by drones announced in May 2016. By the end of the year, the drones will make 150 deliveries per day to 21 transfusing facilities located in the western half of the country. Through its charity foundation, UPS awarded $800 million as a grant for the launch of the programme.

Condamine says global recognition of the role of supply chains as one of the key bottlenecks in health systems strengthening has been growing. Greater interest from global health initiatives and bilateral agencies, pharmaceutical companies are also putting additional focus on developing their supply chains in low- and middle-income countries.

Other major companies such as Coca Cola, Proctor and Gamble and Glaxo SmithKline have also undertaken supply chain transformation projects that have seen them at the top of their chosen markets.

UPS’s experience working in sub-Saharan African countries, Condamine explains, has shown that public health supply chains in Africa are not short of complexities. Africa represents a growing market for companies that will need all the logistics support they can get as Africa grows. “Businesses are aware that success tracks those who make a positive impact on the lives of future customers. Thus, multinational firms are favouring initiatives that make a measurable and long-term impact on individual lives and entire economies,” he says.

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