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Scopes And Opportunities in Humanitarian Logistics We can't avoid natural calamities or control the nature, but we can keep the tools of logistics ready beforehand to cope with any untoward situation

By Sumit Sharma

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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, whenever we talk about logistics, people always have this thought in their minds that logistics is for the commercial purposes, how it can help the mankind. And, seriously, this thought process here has to be broken. Of course, logistics can prove out to be one of the most vital tools in relief and disaster management.

Keep Logistics Tools Prepared Beforehand

Whenever we hear the news of any natural calamity, whether its earthquake, landslide, flood or tsunami, we sigh, wondering how those affected are coping with this.

The truth is we can't avoid natural calamities or control the nature, but we can keep the tools of logistics ready beforehand to cope with any untoward situation or help people across the globe.

Sector's Key Players

Humanitarian logistics or relief operation management involves people from diverse backgrounds in terms of culture, purposes, interests, mandates, capacity, and logistics expertise. In this sector, key players can be categorized as follows: governments, the military, aid agencies, donors, NGOs, and private sector companies.

Rising Need for Humanitarian Logistics

Nowadays the need for humanitarian logistics is increasing rapidly also because of climate change, natural disasters, population growth, conflicts etc. To cope 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.

Promoting Corporate Social Responsibility

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. Media highlights the significance of humanitarian activities, which includes risk management, civil protection and conducting relief operations, which, in turn, not only promotes Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) but also can be a worthwhile investment for the company.

New CSR Act

Every company has to take some responsibility of the society, too, and address social and environmental issues, besides just working to make profits. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) has notified Section 135 and Schedule VII of the Companies Act, 2013, related to CSR that will be effective from April 1, as part of the new Companies Act. The norms will be applicable for companies with at least INR 5 crore net profit or INR 1,000 crore turnover or INR 500 crore net worth. From now on these companies will have to spend 2 per cent of their three-year average annual net profit on CSR activities in each financial year.

Companies Will Now Focus on Hiring Logistics Professionals

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 jobs and this explains why warehouse managers do basic activities such as order-picking, other than posting job advertisements, testing candidates and reflecting on functional and contextual job requirements.

Skills Required

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 resources 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.

Required Qualification

A candidate should have BTS (2-year 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.

Duties and Responsibilities

A professonal 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.

E-logistics Will Save a Lot of Problems

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.

Way Forward

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 infrastructure 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.

Sumit Sharma

Co-founder, GoBOLT

The author is Co-founder of GoBOLT, one of the tech-logistics companies based out of New Delhi.

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