Well, its been one of the many posts I've been meaning to write for a few months now, but I'm finally getting around to it - a layman's description of the type of work I'm doing here in Africa.
I remember I was with a friend, near the ocean, once upon a time, and we saw a freighter steaming on a southern heading. I told her that it was coming from Oakland, was about 50% full of cars, was headed to LA and then back to Japan. I could tell that much from looking at it a couple of miles off. She told me that she had no idea what it is that I do for a living. I told her that its hard to explain. So, with that in mind, here's what I'm doing in Africa.
Last year around this time I interviewed internally with a group called ACN* Developing Partnerships (ADP, for short) - the very small and very cool not-for-profit practice that my company operates to provide 1st world consulting services to organizations (mostly charitable NGOs) that are doing work in 3rd world environments. That's the external selling point, the internal one is that the executive in question gets to go travel, see the world, do fulfilling work like helping bring medical training to countries that need it, etc., and all at the cost of 50% of their salary. You keep benefits, they pay for travel and put you up while you're there. Its a pretty cool gig if you can swing it.
Anyway, I made the cut, which places one in the pool of potential applicants to join a project, should one be sold that requires someone of your skill-set / experience. I dabbled with a few potential projects with organizations that I was mildly interested in (UNICEF, etc.), before my dream project just kind of fell in my lap.
I've been a fan of World Vision - a private, Christian relief and development organization, financed mainly through child sponsorship - for quite a while. For my last 7 years out of college, I've been volunteering with the youth group at my church, and I've made it to the 30-hour-famine that WV runs with youth groups around the globe for every one of those years (including the one that I only showed up to play guitar for, when I was on my deathbed with the flu). So through that, as well as a number of other volunteering opportunities (packing boxes at their warehouses, etc.), I've had some great exposure to their organization. I respect what they do and when the opportunity came along to work with their Global Supply Chain Director in South Africa, doing Strategy Development, I'm pretty sure I peed myself just a little, out of sheer glee.
I don't make top-10 or top-5 lists or what have you, but South Africa has been one of my TOP desired planetary destinations, ever since a couple of Au Pair friends of mine told me all about it, as a teenager. And World Vision is like my dream organization to work with. And strategy development is the one arm of Management Consulting I've really been wanting to break into. Dream organization in dream location, doing dream work for them. Tres awesome, as the French say.
Essentially, ADP's work with WV is to help them operate more like a top-performer in the commercial world. They are surprisingly not far off from being able to accomplish that - thanks, I think, in large part to both the quality of people they have in their organization, as well as their massive size - they're the largest NGO doing emergency relief and development work (only WFP, UNICEF, and WHO - all govt. orgs, have bigger annual spends). But there are a number of specific areas in which Supply Chain, in particular, needs to be maximized within their organization, and that's what I'm here doing with my team - another manager, and a consultant.
Specifically, my work involves the creation of process manuals that help WV guide their Supply Chain operations - which we've grouped under what's called a Process Model, which has 4 parts: Plan, Source, Deliver, and Return. An initial pass at the Source (how they find and procure goods for delivery to beneficiaries) manual was created in the previous phase of work (although we're now revamping it), and I've been focused mainly on creating the Plan (how they plan the SC structure and functions) and Deliver/Return (how they move goods from point A to point B, and return them when necessary) manuals. We're also doing a couple other work streams - one helping them to define and develop their SC Organizational Structure, and another to assess the IT systems that they need to implement to facilitate both the Org Structure and the procedural guidance laid out in the manuals I'm creating.
So that's kind of a high level of the work. It involves working with various stakeholders throughout the organization, based in different functional groups, across the planet - Europe, all over Africa and Asia, Australia, the States, Latin America, you name it. They specialize in everything from emergency operations to donations management to in-field infrastructure development, and much more. And its incredibly high exposure - I'll be back in their global headquarters again in March for more presentations to the Advisory Committee on our work.
The project has taken me to Denver, LA, London, Nairobi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and of course here in Joburg / Pretoria, where I'm based. Further plans will add Mozambique and perhaps Malawi, Uganda, and/or Ghana to that list. Basically, I've only been able to look at the work I've been doing, shake my head in disbelief that its actually me here getting to do this, and then wish I could be doing an even better job for them, somehow. Because at the end of the day, my (and their) work won't help drive up a share price, it will put food in a hungry kid's tummy.
And here's a treat: recently, the ADP program got a shout out on CNN. Bon appetite.
*(ACN is our NYSE abbreviation - I think most of you know the name by now anyway, but now you know how to find out on your own if you don't)
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"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."