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Using Supply Chain Skills for Global Good

  • Jennifer Storelli
November/December 2017

“On our first day at Bayalpata Hospital in Nepal, the hospital director looked at the three of us and said, ‘What are three senior pharmaceutical people doing here?’” recounts Bryan Baylis, former associate director of supply chain management at Merck. “We were thinking the same thing.”

In summer 2014, Baylis and fellow Merck employees Nardi Odijk and Philip Kuhl spent three months in a remote area of Nepal helping Bayalpata Hospital improve its external and internal supply chains. The mission was part of Merck’s Richard T. Clark Fellowship for World Health — now known as the MSD (Merck Sharp & Dohme) Fellowship for Global Health — which grants interested and qualifying employees the opportunity to spend three months working for a nonprofit and then bring their lessons learned back to the corporate office.

Even before the team arrived in Nepal, they began researching the hospital and conferencing with hospital leaders, who explained that they wanted to optimize how they purchased medicine and surgical supplies, ensure that those supplies are of good quality and not counterfeit, and better track inventory within the hospital to avoid stockouts.

“The hospital was not quite sure where their medicines were coming from,” Baylis explains. “The hospital is run by great doctors — by people who are very compassionate — but we realized that, from a business standpoint, the doctors are trained to treat patients; they’re not trained to run a business. … There were definitely some areas where we could insert ourselves and help make an improvement.”

The team started by visiting the drug manufacturers that supply medicine for the hospital and evaluating their raw materials qualities. Then they visited the distributors to understand how they handle stock and communicate with their customers and suppliers.

Merck employee volunteering at Bayalpata Hospital

In the beginning, an easy solution seemed to arise. “The three of us said to each other, ‘Hey, if we can get rid of these distributors and purchase medications directly from the Nepali drug manufacturers, we’ll save a ton of money,’” Baylis recounts. “[We thought this was] going to be a slam dunk, a home run.”

However, he adds that part of the success of such an assignment really depends on opening your eyes and listening as much as possible. Through meetings with distributors, Baylis and his team learned that distributors essentially act as the marketing and sales agents for the drug companies, which makes it difficult to remove them from the supply chain. Based on this, the Merck team had to shift its strategy to price negotiations.

These supplier visits also opened up opportunities to help the different members of Bayalpata’s supply chain. “We would spend a day at a manufacturer and do a quality audit of their entire operations and then have a debrief session at the end of the day explaining what they were doing that was on par with a top global pharmaceutical company and what things they needed to work on.”

Back at the hospital, Baylis and his partners used their expertise to help implement an information technology solution to track inventory. Many of the hospital workers are not college educated, so the team had to ensure that the system was extremely user friendly. In addition, it needed to be able to cope with frequent electricity outages in the area.

The team identified a system, implemented it and trained hospital staff to use it. Odijk had experience implementing an entire SAP process for Merck, so he set out to find a basic inventory-tracking tool. Kuhl worked on organizing the inventory and entering it into the system. Baylis used his previous experience training employees at Merck to help hospital staff learn how to use the tool.

With a system in place that alerts staff when stock is low and when to reorder, the number of monthly hospital pharmacy stockouts dropped from 95 to five — and the numbers continue to show that the Merck team’s supply chain experience truly helped to improve the hospital. “The coolest thing was that, at the end of our experience, the hospital director said, ‘You know, the work that you guys accomplished would have taken me years to do.’ It was a testament to the program.”

Corporate sidekicks

Each year, Merck sponsors approximately 30 employees to participate in a three-month fellowship immersion experience, says Theresa McCoy, associate director of corporate responsibility. The specific projects, which have helped more than 30 nonprofit organizations around the world, aim to strengthen the capacity and reach of these organizations through a donation of technical and human capital support. (See sidebar.)

For companies interested in investing in corporate social responsibility, fellowships and other volunteer programs can be fantastic opportunities to use supply chain skills to support the greater good. “Supply chain activities account for up to 80 percent of humanitarian spending, so they truly permeate every humanitarian response,” says Kathy Fulton, executive director of the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN). ALAN works to help nonprofit and government organizations understand the resources commercial supply chains can provide and help businesses see how their expertise can positively influence humanitarian responses. Fulton notes that the core skills of supply chain professionals — including demand management, capacity planning, quality control, continuous improvement and more — make these people uniquely qualified to assist with a variety of humanitarian projects.

The UPS Foundation recognizes this and loans out dedicated staff members to nonprofits around the globe to share their skills and help organizations solve some of the world’s most complex problems. Joe Ruiz, director of the foundation’s Humanitarian Relief and Resilience Program, says that the six managers loaned out in 2016 contributed 8,000 hours of service around the world, assisting with more than 20 major world disasters, including Hurricane Matthew; the Ecuador earthquake; flooding in Louisiana, Texas and the U.S. Southeast; the global refugee crisis; and the Flint, Michigan, water crisis.

But not all of the foundation’s efforts are reactive. Earlier this year, Dale Herzog, director of humanitarian logistics at The UPS Foundation, used his logistics and process-improvement skills to help communities in Haiti prepare for natural disasters. The initiative was part of a larger Global Logistics Cluster (GLC) Preparedness project by the World Food Programme (WFP) to help six different pilot countries with the logistics of disaster response. Herzog partnered with GLC Logistics Officer Kim Claveau to implement the Logistics Cluster Preparedness Platform — a dynamic mapping system — and enable government agencies, commercial businesses and nongovernmental organizations to work together to prepare for and respond to local crises big and small.

UPS Foundation volunteer in Haiti

The GLC usually activates during times of major devastation, but the Logistics Cluster Preparedness Platform aims to help communities respond to smaller challenges, such as torrential rains, on their own. “If you have the proper mapping in place … if you have the relationships in place, you can easily make things, from a humanitarian perspective, a lot more tolerable,” Herzog says.

Herzog and Claveau met with private-sector companies — including a cellular service provider, a private hospital and a grain producer — to determine what resources and services they could contribute in times of crisis. These groups offered staff teams that can help report damage, a helicopter pad, a distribution network for food and medical supplies, and a port facility. These resources then could be entered into the Logistics Cluster Preparedness Platform so that they can be called upon when needed. In addition, volunteers can use the system’s app to enter information about damage, including blocked roads, broken bridges and other affected infrastructure components.

After the six-week assignment, Herzog and Claveau were able to prove the concept of the Logistics Cluster Preparedness Platform and show that spending time making relationships between the public and private sectors is an endeavor worth funding.

Your friendly neighborhood supply chain manager

Even if a company lacks the ability to engage in larger projects or long-term service work, professionals can give back by focusing on local causes or community projects, Baylis advises. At BJC HealthCare, for example, the supply chain team dedicates itself to a variety of local service projects. The St. Louis-based company grants its employees four hours of paid time during work hours to volunteer each year. Employees have extended support to local groups such as the St. Louis Area Foodbank; Friends of Kids with Cancer; and Covenant House Missouri, an independently funded youth organization. Supply chain team members have assembled and sorted food boxes, assisted with landscaping, painted a school, assembled military care packages and more.

Zeke Meyer, process improvement and project manager, painted the interior of a local school but found that the project meant much more than a minor infrastructure improvement. “This was an opportunity to go from an office-based supply chain role to a frontline, visible role interacting and building relationships with our local community and BJC customers,” he says.

Though seemingly simple, each project the team picks also ties in to core supply chain skills, according to Marcia Howes, BJC vice president and chief supply chain officer. “We plan the activities, source the supplies and talent needed, make the commitment, produce care packages, and deliver,” she says.

UPS also encourages employees to volunteer in their communities. In fact, the company made it a corporate goal back in 2014, aiming to donate 20 million hours of global volunteerism and community service by 2020. This initiative will provide nonprofits with volunteer services valued at more than $460 million, the company says.

In working toward this goal, 260 UPS employees in Hong Kong together contributed more than 1,300 hours of volunteer service in the month of October 2016 alone, in honor of the company’s Global Volunteer Month, pushing UPS past the halfway point to its goal. Employees participated in community projects to help garner donations to support Plan International Hong Kong’s Because I am a Girl — Donate a Pencil Campaign, planned a barbecue lunch for individuals with mild intellectual and physical disabilities, harvested fresh organic crops and delivered them to the elderly, and collaborated with Senior Citizen Home Safety Association to visit people living alone.

Professional power-up

Although volunteer projects benefit the organizations and communities they serve, the corporations reap benefits too. Even the employees who stay behind to manage office tasks gain opportunities to learn and grow.

Merck leaders often will extend professional development opportunities to other employees while their team members are away on fellowship experiences. For example, when a director participated in a three-month project in South Africa, her direct reports were given the opportunity to fulfill some of her responsibilities while she was away, Baylis recounts. “It was an opportunity for them to step out of their comfort zones, if you will, and take on responsibilities at a director level,” he says.

And, of course, the volunteers learn and grow too. Fulton notes that these projects give supply chain professionals opportunities to experience challenges they may not normally face in their day-to-day work, which helps them build new skills or improve the ones they already have.

Susan Stelter, chief people officer at West Monroe Partners, says that employees who participate in the business and technology consulting firm’s fellowship program become more versatile when communicating with clients and better understand multicultural work styles and norms. 

Similarly, McCoy reports that the Merck fellowship program helps develop leaders who are aware of and appreciate the challenges and opportunities of delivering medicines to patients around the world, which is the company’s overall mission; are better equipped to lead and deliver in ambiguous, resource-poor situations; understand country and local markets, including knowing how to identify key stakeholders and potential partners; and demonstrate a commitment to saving and improving lives.

Lastly, these new skills and experiences also can inspire volunteers to take on new challenges back in the office. About three months after his fellowship ended, Baylis started exploring opportunities where he could make a bigger impact and work closer to patients. This led him to a sales role, and he now serves as an executive virology representative. Working in Nepal gave him renewed confidence to take on challenges and learn a new part of the business. “What I personally got out of the experience was the self-confidence to be able to completely change my career and do something that I’m more passionate about,” Baylis says. “I wouldn’t be here right now in a successful sales division if I didn’t have that experience in Nepal.”  

Jennifer Storelli is associate editor for APICS magazine. She may be contacted at

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Want more? Read Jennifer Storelli's "Eight Tips for Building a Fellowship Program."



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