Scope and Opportunities in Humanitarian logistics

Humanitarian Logistics is a specialized area of logistics which gives emphasis particularly on arranging the delivery and warehousing of supplies during natural calamities or sudden emergencies to the affected areas, communities and people who actually need the help. But to the contrary, whenever we talk about logistics, people always have this thought in their mind that logistics is for the commercial purposes, how it can help the mankind. And seriously this thinking here has to be broken because of course logistics can be proved to be one of the most vital tools in relief and disaster management.

Whenever we hear the news the news of any natural calamities, whether its earthquake, landslide, flood or tsunami. We sigh, thinking how people were coping with this. The truth is we can’t avoid the natural calamities, or can control the mother nature, but we can keep the tools of logistics prepared well enough to cope up or help people across the globe.

Humanitarian logistics or relief operation management involves very different people, who may have a diverse background in terms of culture, purposes, interests, mandates, capacity, and logistics expertise. In this sector key players can be categorized as follow: governments, the military, aid agencies, donors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and private-sector companies.

Nowadays the need for humanitarian logistics is increasing rapidly also because of the climate change, natural disasters, population growth, conflicts etc. To cope up with this many humanitarian organizations are coming up with the idea of expanding their work and collaborating with the private sector. It will give a new dimension to this logistics sector.

With the advent of globalization, the growth of global supply chains, international customer and employee bases and greater significance on the negative global externalities of business activities. Many big organizations are also realizing the substantial benefits of engaging in humanitarian work. As the humanitarian crisis has become more frequent, more intense and more visible than before. Media highlights the significance of humanitarian activities, which includes risk management, civil protection and providing the people with relief operations, which in turn not only promotes corporate social responsibility (CSR) but also can be a worthwhile investment for the company.

As every company has to take some responsibility of the society to, and address social and environmental issues not only busy in making profits. In India, according to The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) has notified Section 135 and Schedule VII of the Companies Act, 2013, which is related to corporate social responsibility (CSR) that will be effective from April 1, as part of the new Companies Act. The norms will apply to companies with at least Rs 5 crore net profit or Rs 1,000 crore turnover or Rs 500 crore net worth. From now on these companies will have to spend 2 percent of their three-year average annual net profit on CSR activities in each financial year.

This will, in turn, increase the company’s focus on new emerging Humanitarian Logistics, as it requires high levels of professionalism and skills in the whole humanitarian logistics employment and career development. Meanwhile, the managers of different logistic companies are interested in recruiting logistics professionals with skills that translate into high employee performance and logistics excellence. Future employees often appear to be unaware of the requirements of their job which helps to explain why warehouse managers include basic activities such as order picking in their recruitment approaches, from job advertisements to the testing of candidates, need to reflect functional and contextual job requirements.

Different types of soft skills of management with functional logistics skills are required in humanitarian logistics. Within these two major skills, four groups of skills can be distinguished: general management skills, problem-solving skills, interpersonal (people management) skills and functional logistics skills.

General Management skills include Finance and Accounting, Information Technology, Change Management, Marketing Project Management, Strategic Management, Customer Relationship Management, Supplier Relationship Management and Risk Management. Problem Solving Skills include Problem Identification, Information Gathering, Problem Analysis, Information Sharing and Problem Solving. Interpersonal Skills include Listening, Oral Communication, Written Communication, People Management, Meeting Facilitation, Negotiation, Stress Management, Human Resource Management, and Leadership. Functional Logistics Skills include Legal, Customs, Import and Export, Transportation Management, Inventory Management, Warehousing, Purchasing and Procurement, Forecasting, Reverse Logistics, Port/Airport Management and Logistics Information Systems. A candidate should have BTS (2 years higher education course) in procurement/logistics/transport, good knowledge of telecommunications, information technology, electricity, and mechanics in order to fulfill the criteria for a job in humanitarian logistics.

A Logistician is responsible for equipping the base and the programs. Together with the logistics team who are hired locally, he/she is in charge of purchasing, warehousing, transport, management of vehicles, computer systems, and telecommunications, as well as security. Logistician has a large team to manage including drivers, security guards, assistants, a warehouse manager and even a radio-operator. Previous experience of team management is preferable.

With the emerging competition for funding among major relief organizations, the heads of logistics tend to each fight their own battles with little collaboration. In order to overcome this situation, e-logisticians are required for getting the job done under the most adverse and extreme circumstances. Common training and the use of tools like e-learning would open up the possibility of creating a cadre of logisticians in the field, and so promote standardized logistics practices and in-country logistics capacity.

We can see a great opportunity for advancement of the field and of the humanitarian mission if the institutional knowledge is disseminated in an organized way. So, the time has come to strengthen the infrastructures of humanitarian logistics and expertise in technology and resources with the help of corporate and academic communities as this sector requires extreme requirements in terms of timeliness, affordability, and oversight.

The author is Co-founder of GoBOLT, one of the tech-logistics companies based out of New Delhi. He can be reached at sumit.sharma@gobolt.co.in

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