We recently published a report in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, called Mobilising the supply chain community to solve global challenges. The report highlights numerous ways that companies can support global development challenges associated with access to healthcare, food and environmental sustainability. Companies are at different stages of readiness when it comes to supporting these efforts through different mechanisms.
One of the more interesting mechanisms we touch on in the report is the use of secondment assignments, or the loan of key talent from private sector organisations to either the public sector or development partners. Between 2014 and 2016, the UPS Foundation loaned one of its key personnel, Kevin Etter, to Gavi (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization) – in the process, an extremely innovative leadership programme for strengthening the health system supply chain was born.
Exploring the right focus for partnership
When Gavi first approached the UPS Foundation, it was at the beginning of its 2015-20 planning cycle. Gavi had made the strategic decision to dedicate as much as 15% of the funds it raised to strengthening the health system. So, rather than focusing solely on assisting in the purchase of vaccines and medical products, it would focus on strengthening the vaccine supply chains and training professionals in supply chain management.
The last-mile supply chain in many low- and middle-income countries is typically not the responsibility of a formally trained supply chain professional. Usually, it falls on the shoulders of pharmacists, clinicians or midwives. Gavi felt that by professionalising the supply chain, healthcare professionals would have more time and resources to care for patients.
UPS initially wasn’t able to make the financial contribution that Gavi was looking for; however, they continued discussions and, based on Gavi’s strategy around the professionalisation of supply chain management in Gavi-supported countries, they worked out an approach where UPS would loan Gavi an executive to advise and consult on supply chain personnel development.
Technical skills or leadership skills?
There’s an important rebalancing happening within skill sets that are considered essential for supply chain professionals. Data from our 2016 Future of Supply Chain survey highlights that both foundational, technical skills and softer, leadership competencies are essential to the profession, yet soft skills such as communication and influence are valued more highly by a small percentage of respondents to the survey.UPS originally assumed that Gavi would be interested in training in the hard, technical skills that UPS excelled at. UPS knows how to order, transport and store product. To them, it made sense that the partnership should focus on technical skills training.
However, Gavi saw the need differently. It saw that, at least initially, the need for supply chain leadership development was paramount. As a 105-year-old company, UPS knew how to develop supply chain leaders, and Gavi wanted a UPS resource to help develop a supply chain leadership development programme. From this, STEP – the Strategic Training Executive Programme – was born.
What is STEP?
Kevin Etter built STEP on behalf of Gavi. Kevin has been with UPS for more than 30 years in roles stretching from operations to strategy. He’s walked the talk, which was important for Gavi in bringing in an executive from outside on loan.
Interestingly enough, Kevin modelled STEP on his experience with adult leadership training programmes for the Boy Scouts of America. “We refer to it as a 1-5-3 program,” says Etter. The 1 stands for one month of pre-course, self-paced distance learning that includes research, questions, videos and the participants’ responses to the course materials.
“This prepares participants for the coming 5,” says Etter. The 5 refers to a five-day face-to-face workshop where they bring all participants together, divide into teams and facilitate a fairly immersive programme. “It’s a learning experience since most of the learnings come from the participants themselves.”
Lastly, the 3 refers to a three-month practical application. During this phase, the participants continue with self-paced distance learning, work on projects developed during the workshop, and work with private sector mentors who both coach and hold the participants accountable for project delivery.
“We are very proud of this programme,” says Etter, “and are looking forward to the next deployment.” Gavi administered the programme to 50 professional-level folks in 2016 and plans on expanding this to 150-200 professionals in 2017.