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  November 12th, 2018 | Written by

How Modern Networks are Supporting Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Recovery

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  • Whether working domestically or internationally, networks give humanitarian organizations transformational abilities.
  • Participants have the ability to create bi-directional supply chains versus the traditional push model.
  • Locking lock down the global supply chain and achieving transparency has never been more critical.

Ensuring how lifesaving medicines and supplies are distributed is challenging, especially when it involves moving supplies in a hurry. Whether overseeing how disaster relief services are distributed in a time of crisis or to secure the medical supply chain to help eliminate counterfeit drugs, locking lock down the global supply chain and achieving transparency has never been more critical.

Traditionally, many U.S. based nonprofits have been penalized by potential donors for having high administrative costs. Thanks, in part, to this increased spending scrutiny, investments in technologies that could be transformational in the fight against poverty and disease have been shelved to keep spending at bay and to avoid doling out the high price tag the technology could cost. Dan Pallotta’s Ted Talk called out the double standard that drives our broken relationship to charities when he urged companies to start rewarding charities for their big goals and big accomplishments even if that comes with big expense. Having worked with hundreds of nonprofit organizations, I have witnessed their Herculean efforts to get the right aid, to the right people, at the right time despite the fact they were saddled with antiquated technology.  Nonprofit organizations, especially those delivering lifesaving aid, need world-class tools as much, if not more, than for-profit organizations.

Coping with Supply Chain Management Challenges

The sheer number of constituents involved in the aid ecosystem – nonprofits, first responders, governments, funders, suppliers, logistics providers, warehouses, food banks, clinics, etc. – each rely on different systems, applications, and formats that make custom integrations necessary for them to collaborate.

For instance, many non-government organizations (NGOs) are working to end AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in Africa. However, they all face a number of logistical challenges as they deal with naturally occurring data silos that are scattered across various geographic locations. Also, the scale of these programs is massive. In Ethiopia alone there are more than 435,000 square miles with more than 30M people living in poverty.

In the humanitarian arena, challenges are also amplified by poor infrastructure. When it comes to internet speed, most of Africa ranks at the bottom of the list with Ethiopia coming in at 139 out of 196 countries worldwide. And as one could imagine, the internet access declines the further one  travels into more rural areas.

While distributing international aid is challenging, managing a supply chain moving pharmaceuticals is especially difficult. First, there’s a lot of product to deal with and pharmaceuticals require a hyper focus on expiration dates, medical oversight and, for some products including vaccines, a temperature-controlled supply chain.

Then, there is the growing epidemic of fraudulent and counterfeit products that are entering the supply chain. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, substandard and counterfeit drugs cause improper dosing, compromise the effectiveness of medicines and can even lead to overdose and death. The WHO says that one in ten medicines are counterfeit, and 100,000 people in Africa die every year due to counterfeit medicines.

As if the above challenges aren’t bad enough, a disaster can make them exponentially more difficult. Communication problems are magnified, internet access can be lost in affected communities, and new players are introduced. Consequently, needs are changing even more rapidly and time is of the essence.

Humanitarian Aid Reaches a Tipping Point

Nonprofits and the partners they rely on are realizing that the flawed architecture of single enterprise-centric solutions cannot support the highly dynamic and interconnected business environment that is required to deliver aid. Just as cloud-based social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook have created new approaches to how we manage our personal and business relationships, new network platforms and the resulting communities are changing how business is conducted between the end consumer and all the companies on the network.

Similar to when you change your status or job, your entire network has access to this information in real time, and supply chain networks work the same way. With you and all of your partners on the same page at the same time brings unprecedented value to the humanitarian aid ecosystem.

In a network model, costs are reduced for all parties as the network grows, because they are shared by the members. In addition, these networks operate using a monthly subscription fee versus the traditional large up-front costs. This lowers the barrier to entry, provides a predictable ongoing run rate, and enables all parties to leverage the same platform and infrastructure.

In the network model, the technology is by the community for the community. The community defines best practices and as new features are added, they are shared across the network. The technology is evergreen versus stagnant; constituents stay on the leading edge, rather than having to invest in expensive upgrades.

How Networks are Supporting Universal Visibility and Transparency

Sophisticated permissions technology is also enabling new found visibility, as advanced networks can partition data and provide the right information to the right person. Now, logistic providers know the exact location of their trucks, program managers can see who received aid, and funders will see their impact quantified.

Networks also provide a single version of truth to all the constituents so the entire humanitarian ecosystem can be on the same page and focus on the recipients changing needs. This is especially important in a disaster, when every moment counts.

The network can also be used to fight the counterfeit problem as the technology can store a library of authentic products by dosage form all the way down to the molecule. At any point in the supply chain products can be validated to ensure they are legitimate using sophisticated scanners. If a counterfeit product is detected, networks provide the ability to track and trace through serialization which greatly helps in the event of recalls and the removal of counterfeit products.

As more organizations join the network, the value of being a participant increases. New companies will find that many of their business partners are already on the network, which reduces time for on-boarding. This enables the humanitarian response to be agile and expand as required, which is especially important in disaster response because you never know when or where the next disaster will strike. Even with no internet access, some sophisticated network providers offer the ability to work offline and then synch up when an internet connection becomes available. In a disaster response scenario or working in developing countries, this is a game changer. Today, nonprofits have the opportunity to leap frog some traditional challenges and investments. For example, they can skip ERP and go straight to a network platform.

Whether working domestically or internationally, networks give humanitarian organizations transformational abilities that can magnify bottom of pyramid impact. By allowing the supply chain to bypass ERP solutions, participants have the ability to create bi-directional supply chains versus the traditional push model. This enables them to better understand what is needed and ultimately help relieve the suffering for those inflicted.

About the Author:

Melis Jones, Global Marketing Director at One Network Enterprises., a provider of the blockchain-and AI-enabled network platform, The Real Time Value Network.  To learn more, visit or follow them at@onenetwork