Judith Njumwah-Kariuki: driver of change
For our third article in the series about women in the supply chain, WhyAfrica interviewed Judith Njumwah-Kariuki, a Public Health Specialist (PHS) in Nairobi, Kenya, about the opportunities, challenges, and outlook of supply chain management in Africa.
Judith, how important is it to manage the supply chain effectively to ensure growth in Africa?
Africa is a growing continent economically across all sectors, with opportunities for investment and rich in raw materials and other natural resources; a source of significant revenue for development that is yet to be optimally tapped. This calls for the need for sustainable supply chains to enable movement of commodities and services.
With the continent’s current dependence on imports for value added supplies and very ambitious development goals, supply chains need to be effective, agile, and adaptable to the various bottlenecks with a view to meet current demands and sustainably transform the chains and align to the development agenda.
Africa is not without challenges, like resource constraints, poor infrastructure and road networks. These are unique to Africa and supply chains have to rise above these to contribute to the growth.
Simply stated, supply chain is an infrastructure of managing upstream and downstream relationships with suppliers and customers. It assists in the delivery of goods and services at affordable costs to the consumers as the end users of the supply chain as a whole.
In the Public Health context, supply chain management involves obtaining resources, managing supplies and delivering to providers and patients.
To complete the process, physical goods and information about commodities and services usually go through several independent stakeholders including manufacturers, insurance companies, hospitals, providers, group purchasing organisations and regulatory agencies. This brings in complexity in promoting efficiency, effectiveness in the Public Health supply chain that can either create substantial cost-reduction or increase opportunities for life-saving commodities to reach the last mile.
How can women become more involved in the different functions of the supply chain?
With the widespread rise of conversation on workplace equality, supply chain workplaces must own inclusivity for all. By including women, as drivers of change in the model in how other industries can attract talent at every level and have the communities needs at heart of solving issues of affordability.
The first step to building up the workforce for the future is recruiting more women. This can be done by focussing on providing opportunities for internships and entry-level at all positions. Workplaces can liaise with educational institutions/university providing supply chain programs and committing to taking in a certain proportion every financial year.
Accomplished women in supply chain to speak up/share their professional experiences and advocate for supply chain management as a career choice for young/undergraduate women.
What are the challenges for women in African countries and are these challenges being addressed?
Pay gap and disparities between men and women are glaring. Even though it is reducing, with some organisations encouraging female applicants during their recruitments processes, there is a long way to go.
Supply chain organisations must lead by example through creating enabling environments where diverse talent is valued, included and developed.
In Abe Eshkenazi’s (ASCM) words: “The need for supply chain professionals has never been greater, so now is the time to expand the aperture to include diversity of thought, influence and input – particularly for women and people of colour.”
How did Covid-19 impact the supply chain in Africa?
While Covid-19 devasted and negatively affected many industries including health-care, supply chains found itself in the limelight. The health system demonstrated its importance in keeping goods and services moving and society running.
Similarly, supply chain professionals faced unique challenges, yet found exciting and innovative ways to resolve them. We have seen the innovative use of digital technology to meet, train, and deliver medical supplies, basic commodities, and food to the populations.
Nevertheless, the biggest threat to supply chains during this pandemic is panic buying. This causes extraordinary spikes in supply and demand patterns that need to be managed to mitigate the bullwhip effect. By reducing panic buying down the chain and implementing planning based on risk management, outcomes will support business continuity. This means regular demand reviews supported by communication between teams to address rapid changes in the market.
How can we make sure that the supply chain operates smoothly, effectively and that it is sustainable in the future?
To achieve a sustainable supply chain, organisations must address the environmental, social, economic, and legal concerns across its entire supply chain.
This is important in focusing on producing minimal waste and reducing environmental footprint, while ensuring social responsibility in business practices.
It is important to invest in staff development to allow for agility and responsiveness when we are faced with supply chain disruptions. It is important to find the right mix of reliable suppliers. An atmosphere of continuous improvement cannot be overemphasised. Lastly it is important to leverage on new technologies to improve the efficiency and performance of supply chains.
What problems do African countries still encounter in terms of supply chain management?
Generally Public Health supply chains faces two challenges: the availability of complete, accurate and timely data which most often than note is in silos and a lack of skills, knowledge, and access amongst healthcare workers to use emerging health technologies to improve and transform their supply chains.
This impacts on the lack of awareness of maturity of supply chains; identification of problem areas that are pulling down these supply chains and identification of improvement projects that respond to the gaps identified including tracking progress of efforts.
How will the African Free Trade Agreement impact the supply chains in Africa and what opportunities will it open up for especially women in Africa?
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) began on New Year’s Day 2021 with the aim of bringing continent-wide free trade to 1.3 billion people in an USD3.4-trillion economic bloc.
It has potential to boost trade among African neighbours while allowing the continent to develop its own value chains. However, challenges like red tape, poor infrastructure and other implementation bottlenecks must be overcome if the bloc is to reach its full potential.
This will take a few years to be realised. Women in supply chain stand to gain as AfCFTA clearly focusses on improving the lives of women. Women account for around 70% of informal cross-border traders in Africa. Tariff reductions under the AfCFTA will enable informal women traders to do business in formal channels and reduce vulnerabilities to unfair treatment while conducting business. Furthermore, more job opportunities will be created becasue of a growing manufacturing sector.
What is the outlook for Africa, and women in Africa, over the next five years or so?
The outlook is positive despite the current unprecedented times at hand. The pandemic has significantly increased the demand for supply chain professionals and this a great opportunity for women to leverage on.
According to the 2021 ASCM Supply Chain Salary and career report, despite a stressful year, supply chain professionals continue to report high job satisfaction. On a 1-10 scale, 70% of respondents rate career satisfaction with an 8 or higher. Most of them (88%) have a positive outlook on their career and would recommend supply chain as a fulfilling professional path for others. Overall, supply chain provides great opportunities for women to improve their economic standing through avenues like integrating supply chain into the digital ecosystem.
Supply chain digital transformation is proven to drive growth, mitigate risk, and optimise costs, but requires strong alignment between business and supply chain strategy to succeed.
Judith Njumwah-Kariuki is a Public Health Specialist (PHS). Judith most recent role was Associate Director for the Global Health Supply Chain (GHSC) Initiative based in Nairobi, Kenya. She supported Association of Supply Chain Management (ASCM’s) initiative in building sustainable supply chain professional capability in Kenya.
She is an ASCM Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) instructor. Her experience spans over a period of 15 years as a PHS in Health Programming, Health System Strengthening and Capacity Development with major development agencies. She has held several roles in her career path including Promoting sustainable ownership of family planning commitments by strengthening commodity security in the Public Sector, technical support to Innovations in Maternal, New-born Health (MNH), improving efficiency and performance of Public Health Supply Chains in the Family Planning space, HIV and AIDS programming and Training & Education. She has a special interest in Health System Strengthening (HSS) through accelerating adoption of Supply Chain best practices.
Leon Louw is the founder and editor of WhyAfrica. He specialises in natural resources and African affairs.
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