Zinhle Dube on what makes the world go round
For our fourth article in the series about women in the supply chain, WhyAfrica interviewed Zinhle Dube, managing partner and CEO at Smukeliso Sourcing Solutions about the opportunities, challenges, and outlook of supply chain management in Africa.
How important is it to manage the supply chain effectively to ensure growth in Africa?
I believe that supply chains make the world go around. It is what drives the movement of goods and products from manufacturing lines to the end consumer and customer. Any inefficiencies in supply chains therefore may interrupt the seamless flow of goods and impact businesses negatively, hinder service delivery of basic needs to citizens by governments and compromises the environment and wellbeing of people. In Africa we need to build resilient supply chains that are integrated with the governmental mandates and with corporate business strategies. This will ensure that growth is accelerated, and social development impact is an inherent benefit of their existence.
How can women become more involved in the different functions of the supply chain?
There is really nothing stopping women from entering any supply chain field in today’s modern economies besides the ability to choose and stick to your passion despite the challenges. Whether logistics, procurement, warehousing, manufacturing – it is all possible. I do accept that there are fields that are historically dominated by males; logistics is one of them.
The reasons for this, amongst others, are the brutal nature of business, the long unforgiving hours and accessibility of the market. However, in the end, more and more women are coming into this space. I personally chose consulting in supply chain, because that is where I believe I can make the most impact because my day-to-day drive is solving problems.
What are the challenges for women in African countries and are these challenges being addressed?
I guess the challenges for women in general will continue to be centred around historical legacies and stereotypes such as gender inequality and patriarchy. Women still struggle with participating in unfavourable business environments, balancing responsibilities between home and work.
The reality is that men still enjoy more advantages in terms of being taken seriously in business, believe it or not. A few weeks ago, a supply chain professional from East Africa said she opted to be an independent consultant rather than start her own business because the environment is still tough for women. However, she is now ready to give it a go. A couple of years ago, I was facilitating procurement training for a client across at least 4 countries in southern Africa; most of the participants were expecting male trainers because that’s what they are used to.
How did Covid-19 impact the supply chain in Africa?
The pandemic adversely affected supply chains and businesses. However, it also brought a ray of sunlight for supply chain professionals by shining a spotlight on one of the most ignored functions of business.
For the first time ever business and governments recognised that without an effective supply chain they cannot meet their customer demands; they cannot produce required levels based on production plans, they cannot supply their customers and that their processes are too rigid and needs to be more flexible. Their logistical routes and logistics strategies were based on what worked 10 years ago and hadn’t been reviewed. Moreover, they depended too much on China, the USA and Middle East for the supply of critical raw materials and products.
In addition, there is limited local content and local production, and our ports of entries are not integrated enough to support any changes in logistical routes. Our supply chain manufacturing processes are too rigid and compliance based, making it difficult to innovate and repurpose to address the ‘needs’ for the day and the pandemic, and many more. Just to provide an example; we learnt that some local companies would produce ventilators during the first lock down (March 2020); but because medical devices have always been imported, we still depended on getting approval from certain European authorities for the specifications of these products before they can be used here. Tragic!
How can we make sure that the supply chain operates smoothly, effectively and that it is sustainable in the future?
Our supply chains are not resilient and transparent enough to know the source of each and every product; not just our suppliers but our suppliers’ suppliers, agents, resellers, competitors etc. The same goes for our service providers for service-based supply chains. We need the right supply risk management strategies. Our supply chains cannot be based on what worked 10 to 20 years ago. The supply chain needs to be a key component of our corporate strategies, business continuity strategies and government strategic plans.
Looking at some of the most successful supply chain transformation journeys that I have studied over the years; such as Henkel, Inditex (ZARA), H&M, Unilever etc. the following key characteristics are common (without limitation):
What problems do African countries still encounter in terms of supply chain management?
Several years ago, I participated in a study that looked at the reasons for the ineffective procurement in Africa and Sub Saharan Africa specifically. I will pick two that resonated with me more and explain why I believe they are still Africa’s challenges today.
Limited use of technology – I mentioned this when I cited the Henkel example. We tend to invest in ERP solutions but never really focus on addressing business challenges with the right technologies. We have huge challenges of fraud and corruption due to non-compliance to supply chain; technologies such as blockchain have been proven to help drive compliance and provide transparency across each process.
Skills shortage – This is still very true today; although we have seen good progress in introducing relevant academic programmes for supply chain in most of the academic institutions (UJ, UKZN, Mancosa, UP). However, we still focus on technical skills that do not incorporate the skills of today; such as critical and analytical thinking, complex problem solving, cognitive flexibility, technology design and programming (based on the latest Top 10 Skills by WEF ).
Several years ago, when I was working for a global consultancy, we recruited supply chain graduates (honours level) – none of them had done strategic sourcing, or analytics during their course of study. These are the skills we needed more, than just a ‘materials management process’ knowledge.
To be able to implement supply chain in a non-conventional manner, these are the type of skills we need, not to focus only on following the stages of the 7×7 sourcing process, or the standard inventory management process. It is about interrogating what we know and finding creative ways of optimising or applying them for each unique client business environment.
One area that we tend to talk about in supply chain circles but nothing much has been done about it, is that of professionalisation. I said I will only cover two but I thought I should mention that for as long as we see supply chain as the ‘dumping’ area for the non-performing folks in the business then we deserve the form of supply chains we currently have. That said, we definitely need to professionalise supply chain; Kenya has done it and it is working very well for them.
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?
What I hope for, which I am not sure will happen, but I still hope; is that Africa trade agreement can facilitate and speed up:
Industrialisation across Africa – I love what Ghana has done by taking control of industrialising their cocoa production value chain – limiting exports of raw materials.
Optimising of logistical routes and improvement of infrastructure for road, rail and ports – in order to ensure easier and cost effective flow of goods across Africa. I know some great developments are in the pipeline for rail, ports and road infrastructure. Understanding that these are long term projects, it might take another 5 to 10 years before we get there but we need both private and public sector to drive this.
The outlook for Africa, and women in Africa over the next five years or so?
One thing for sure, we have a new normal whether we like it or not. What I see for Africa and women is:
More women entrepreneurs entering the business world: people are seeking to have control of their destiny, control of their time; at least that’s what I see in my small network. Even those who are secure in their employment are seeking ‘side hustles’ to have multiple income.
Communities will hold business and governments accountable – we have already seen it with many drives to be ‘heard’ happening recently in South Africa, not in the best format but it was real. As I mentioned above businesses cannot thrive without communities having the most basic of needs at their disposal. I see ESG being one of the key drivers to drive inclusive growth across Africa.
Businesses will employ inorganic growth strategies as part of business continuity strategies. Covid-19 did open all of us to our vulnerabilities and businesses are now consistently seeking new creative ways to not only grow but stay in business. On a weekly basis, I attend some founder sessions on Clubhouse just to hear what people are doing all over the world. It is amazing that there are so many tech start-ups and mid-tier businesses across Africa with great innovations applicable across different industries.
Finally, I see intra Africa trade enabling new markets for African business owners. It has been said so many times that Africa is now open for business – I hope this narrative will now mean Africa is open for business with Africa.
What role do you play within the supply chain?
At the core of what I do, is elevating supply chain as a strategic driver of business performance, sustainability, and socio-economic transformation. In that regard, I have developed solutions that take the non-conventional route for procurement and supply chain implementation. I also mentor young supply chain graduates and professionals who are in the early stages of their careers, to choose the right opportunities, make their working journey fruitful for them and their employers, challenge status quo and to use the resources at their disposal to drive positive change. As a business owner I believe in telling supply chain stories through every project I deliver, to make it so much more than revenues but impacting lives positively.
Zinhle is an astute procurement and supply chain executive. She started her career in supply chain as a management graduate trainee over 18 years ago. She is the founder and CEO of Smukeliso, a strategy, procurement and supply chain operations consultancy.
Her illustrious career in corporate South Africa covers both technical and management consulting experience. Zinhle has delivered and supported numerous transformational projects locally, in southern, western Africa as well as in the US – with key focus on strategy, strategic sourcing, enterprise-wide cost optimisation, EPCM, business process optimisation, ERP systems implementation, as well as enterprise and supplier development.
Through her work, she advocates for the supply chain function as a strategic vehicle for improving business performance and driving sustainable socio-economic development in Africa. Zinhle sits on the advisory board for Smart Procurement World. She is a former periodic contributor for Supply Chain Today Magazine. Zinhle has a B Com, Economics from UKZN, an Advanced Certificate in Purchasing and Supply Management from UNISA. In her leisure, she enjoys reading motivational business books, writing, hiking as well as watching soccer and tennis with her son.
Leon Louw is the founder and editor of WhyAfrica. He specialises in natural resources and African affairs.
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