Pamela Steele

Pamela Steele

It's women who bear the brunt of weak supply chains

When the Indian Ocean tsunami struck in December 2004, it claimed 230,000 lives, made 1.7M people homeless, and left 6M people in dire need of food and water. The world responded with an outpouring of aid and assistance, but what followed was chaos, Pamela Steele remembers. Working in Oxfam Great Britain at the time, Pamela saw aid being held up on congested airstrips and at ports of entry; there was a widespread lack of coordination in moving supplies to the points of need. Pamela learned, first-hand, the impact of weak supply chains and the shortage of capable health and humanitarian supply chain managers. “The more competent the supply chain managers were, the more efficiently the supplies reached their end point,” she says.

That realization eventually led Pamela to start up her consulting, research and training company dedicated to improving supply chain management (SCM) in health and humanitarian sectors. Pamela Steele Associates (PSA) has its headquarters in the UK, with staff in Denmark, Nigeria, Kenya and India. “There’s so much money in procurement but so little thought put into how supplies will get to service distribution points,” Pamela says. “The best supply chains are not donor-driven but patient-driven.”

Pamela, who grew up in Kenya but is settled in the UK, gives the example of her 84-year-old mother who still lives in a village in Kenya. “If she managed to walk a long distance in the hot sun or rain to the clinic only to find it stocked out of her medicines, she would give up. I would not be able to convince her to try again. She would say, ‘It’s no use, leave me here to die’” 

Supply Chain Management is often a lonely, unappreciated profession

PSA’s training modules, unlike many SCM courses, are conducted face-to-face: “Online courses don’t provide empathy; you have to look students in the eye, you have to understand their pain. SCM is often a lonely, unappreciated profession,” Pamela says. Over five days, the small class lives, breathes and dreams supply chains; they build personalized theories of change, receive mentoring and career counselling, and go home with solutions. Pamela especially appreciates the support her students receive from the RHSC-hosted online course-finder LAPTOP; many of them find their courses using this database, she says, and praises the Coalition for its “clear vision and commitment to supplies”. 

When she is not running PSA or bringing African industry leaders together, Pamela manages Teach a Child Africa, a charity she founded in Kenya which works in high-HIV/AIDS-prevalence areas to help orphaned and other vulnerable children to attend secondary school. And to seal her commitment to education, she is currently completing doctoral research in public health supply chains in developing countries. Always, she is dogged by the need to help the helpless, and women in particular, she says, because, “However you look at it, it is women who bear the brunt of supply chain failure”. 

The availability of safe, affordable supplies that meet men’s and women’s RH needs. Supply availability is possible only when products feed into the supply chain and make their way to the point-of-distribution, where women and men can access them.

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Who’s Holding up Our Pillars?

This story is part of “Who’s Holding up Our Pillars?”, a Coalition effort to invite our heroes working in supply chains to tell their stories. Read their stories and see who they contribute to our vital, everyday work.

Who’s Holding up Our Pillars?

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