Supply Chain Lessons From My Days as a Volunteer

Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from Santosh Reddy of GEP.

During my days in school and college, I had the opportunity to be included in (by choice or as part of educational curriculum) various social initiatives like awareness programs, community services, teaching the underprivileged, donating blood and assisting at the time of calamities.

Apart from the awe mother-nature could leave us in and the shock of the loss of life and property they leave behind them, the aftermath of calamity is even more terrible to deal with. Survivors, particularly children, face the risk of disease, lack of food, shelter and clothing – each of which has associated dangers. While most people support through donation of material or money, these are never near where the calamity occurs and might not be what is immediately needed. I had an opportunity to perform (a minuscule amount of) voluntary work helping sort clothes donated for the over half a million displaced people in India alone when the tsunami struck the Indian Ocean in December 2004.

While the time spent volunteering was just few hours, it piqued my interest in disaster relief supply chain management that non-profit/non-government organizations adopt and the constraints they face, which helped me with some valuable lessons.

Ownership and Accountability:

Unlike a typical supply chain, here the donors (read “suppliers”) are the ones pouring in funds and material into the company. However, only a small percentage of the donors stay committed to the cause and keep donating. NGOs with such donors manage to create better impact to their cause. Similarly, suppliers who showcase the capability and willingness to own an initiative for their clients will result in success of the initiative. Such suppliers also tend to deliver material and services of better quality and their people and processes are more responsive than those who aim to just fulfill a purchase order OTIF.

People over Product:

Donors and volunteers are driven by a personal interest, motivation or an emotional wave following a calamity to donate. People are one of the key drivers of any supply chain, and having the right people can lead to a vastly different impact than having a position filled. When creating an internal team or selecting a supplier, evaluate their people and not just the process.

Planning and preparing for the worst

No amount of technology can accurately predict when and where the next calamity might occur and with what intensity. However, efficient planning and preparation can lead to significantly faster response time when a calamity occurs. While companies should focus on their regular operation, they should also devote time to ensuring business sustainability beyond financial and supply chain sustainability. A good FMEA analysis supported by a clear objective of what support to provide, visibility into stock and support available on hand or that which can be mobilized in under 6 hours, other NGOs/NPOs/volunteers that can assist – all of it supported by a well-documented process can help. These are the ingredients of a good business continuity plan for all supply chains.


While many companies collaborated or supported the efforts I was part of under their CSR initiatives, the degree of involvement and impact was directly proportional to the level of management involvement in the initiative. Similarly, any program undertaken as part of work, particularly those that require cross functional involvement or collaboration between multiple business entities, has a lot more impact if the project receives time from management to steer it and ensure the objectives of the initiatives are tied to the common goals of the parties involved.

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