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Unreliable supply chains, incomplete logistical systems and poor procurement systems have stymied African economic development for decades. Yet there are many opportunities for procurement professionals in the industrialised economies to make long-lasting and serious contributions to the continent’s long-term economic success.

At the inaugural launch of the West African Institute for Supply Chain Leadership last month in Ghana, Douglas Boateng argued that the main obstacle to African economic development was weak supply chains. Boateng, founder of the Institute, said the lack of a coherent supply chain and logistics strategy was a major impediment to the development of African countries. Comparing the relatively slow economic advancement of West African states, South Africa had implemented a well-managed supply chain, which had fuelled its emergence as a major regional power.

The advancement of South Africa can partly be attributed to a developed logistics sector. Excess capacity can be exported, providing additional supply chain services throughout the continent, as well as bringing in capital into the Republic. Boateng viewed the presence of a smart supply chain as the difference between a developed and developing country.

Developing nations often depend on NGOs and international development agencies to provide major sectors of the supply chain, especially in relation to the medical supply chain, but these can serve as a means to import expert procurement talent. One World Bank project in Zambia found that an improved drugs supply chain significantly improved local health and, if rolled out nationally, could reduce child mortality by 37%.

Procurement skills are highly prized in the development community. As we can see from the above project, the application of the right procurement skills in the right place can be the difference between life and death.

A cursory job search on ReliefWeb, the UN’s humanitarian online resource portal, finds dozens of positions globally, ranging from logistics experts in Bangladesh to procurement managers in Haiti. Procurement skills are also frequently in demand at consultancies specialising in international development projects.

The proliferation of ‘micro’ supply chains within the continent may provide temporary palliative assistance to a country’s humanitarian needs, but does not enable long-term economic success. Systems governing procurement systems may be a crucial next step for development communities, requiring similar skill-sets from professionals used to managing multi-million dollar corporate spend accounts.

The United Nations Volunteer Scheme, for instance, aims to assign skilled professionals, including experienced procurement officers, to humanitarian or development projects across the world. The skills garnered by procurement professionals in the private and public sector, in a developed supply chain, can offer a wealth of experience to economies desperately short of human capital.

Have you been involved in a procurement project in a developing country? Do you really think it can make a difference?

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