April 23-25, 2006
Ramada Park Hotel, Geneva, Switzerland

“Humanitarian Logistics - The New Age”

The Humanitarian Logistics Conference has become a venue for logisticians from humanitarian organizations around the world to discuss the challenges facing their profession, and the ways to address these challenges collaboratively. The 2006 Humanitarian Logistics Conference included representatives from 32 organizations. The conference evaluations indicate that this year’s gathering appreciated the candid discussions and dialogue among the participants. 

At the first Humanitarian Logistics Conference in 2003, the key challenges to humanitarian logistics were identified as: (a) the lack of recognition of the strategic role of logistics by top managers and donors; (b) the shortage of skilled and experienced logistics professionals in the sector; (c) the limited amount of collaboration between organizations relative to the logistics function; (d) the inability to build a strong business case for logistics through metrics; and (e) the insufficient leveraging of technology to assist logisticians in the execution of a complex array of tasks they are charged with in an operation. Since 2003, Fritz Institute has worked with logisticians and heads of emergency management in the sector to address these issues, which form the key themes for each annual conference.

This year, the conference once again began by providing each of the participants the opportunity to introduce themselves and identify how the major disasters of 2005 -- namely the Southeast Asian tsunami, Darfur, Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistan earthquake -- had impacted the logistics function in their organization. Common themes that reinforced the previously identified core issues surfaced from the participants even though they represented organizations that differed in size and mandates:

Need to Increase Logistics Capacity
In 2005, with the number and complexity of disasters, logistics capacity was stretched. Although there was broader acknowledgement of the pivotal role of logistics for the successful delivery of services to beneficiaries, the conference participants reiterated the need for:
  • Recruitment of more professional humanitarian logisticians
  • Involvement in planning and preparedness of an operation from the very beginning
  • Ability to scale operations through collaboration within and between organizations

Need to Demonstrate the Impact of Logistics: Tangible Results
Logisticians have an opportunity to take advantage of the increased recognition of their role by showing how the organization and programs benefit from the increased investment in logistics. However, in order to sustain the level of visibility within the organization, the logistics function needs to demonstrate its value to the achievement of organizational goals through measurements.

Need to Define the Role of Humanitarian Logistics
The number and type of players entering into the humanitarian community are increasing. Humanitarian logisticians’ core competency is responding and delivering aid in unstable environments. It is important for humanitarian organizations to define how they will interact with these new entrants in a more strategic way including outlining roles, responsibilities and the adherence to humanitarian principles.

Industry Initiatives
The Humanitarian Logistics Conference has also emerged as a forum where sector-wide initiatives can be discussed and logistics practitioners heading these initiatives can disseminate valuable information to a community of their peers. This year, progress on three such on-going initiatives, Fleet Forum, the Logistics Cluster and the Humanitarian Response Network, were presented.

In addition, Oxfam-GB took advantage of the gathering of logistics professionals to share how they were able to develop a training program to educate the entire organization on the impact and importance of logistics. They emphasized the need to have non-logisticians as trainers, the importance of spreading the message to other departments and especially gaining support from the executive levels of the organizations.

Addressing the Core Challenges with Action

Challenge: The Need for Enhanced Professionalism of Humanitarian Logistics

Action: Certification in Humanitarian Logistics (CHL)
In response to the shortage of skilled logisticians in the sector, Fritz Institute assembled an advisory committee of sector representatives and logistics experts to develop the parameters for a program to certify humanitarian logisticians on core functions. This year members of the Advisory Committee presented an update on the program.

CHL is a flexible distance-learning course based on a competence model, linking on-the-job experience with learning. Candidates are not assessed through examinations, but by completing tasks for each unit that show their competency. Candidates are required to demonstrate 1) the ability to achieve the required outcomes of effective performance in a humanitarian supply chain environment, and 2) the underpinning knowledge and understanding of the humanitarian context. This unique model combines the three key elements of the learning materials, interactive coaches and a real-life scenario case study to create a comprehensive learning environment. This ensures that when a candidate completes the course they have demonstrated their understanding and ability.

The qualification will begin with Certification Level I at the operational level. After successful implementation of Level I, development will begin on Certification Level II for senior managers, focusing on tactical skills including integral control and planning. CHL has gone from concept to reality and is currently being piloted by 26 pilot candidates from eight different organizations. The participants at the conference were all supportive of CHL and agreed to be champions within their organizations. The information needed to promote CHL within their organizations was outlined and a tool kit to address those needs is being created.

Action: A Community of Practice - Humanitarian Logistics Association (HLA)
A highlight of the 2005 HLC was the signing of the Marco Polo Declaration, which represented the resolve of logisticians in the sector to create a professional association. Subsequently, Fritz Institute led the creation of the Association Steering Committee that was tasked with developing the association as a representative body of logisticians in the humanitarian community. The steering committee includes representatives from: Action Contre La Faim, American Red Cross, British Red Cross, CARE International, International Medical Corps, World Vision International, Oxfam-GB, Merlin, MSF-Holland, UNICEF, and the World Food Programme. Fritz Institute was nominated as the secretariat.

The Steering Committee presented their proposal outlining the goals, mandate and structure of the professional association. HLA is an association for individuals involved in humanitarian logistics who share the vision of enhancing the strategic role of logistics as an enabler of programs to improve the lives and dignity of beneficiaries. The mission of the association is to increase professionalism and effectiveness, build a community of practice, act as an interface with other sectors, and provide recognition and visibility to the critical role of logistics. The participants approved the proposal for tiered levels of membership based on the experience, knowledge and education of the individual. The goal is to open the association to a broad range of members at the entry level and encourage them to utilize the resources of the association to enhance their skills and knowledge. Six program categories were also discussed and prioritized. The nominated sub-committees and Secretariat will continue to develop and implement the agreed upon HLA structure and programs. The participants of the 2006 HLC requested to become immediate members of the association and were recognized as the official founding members of HLA.

Challenge: Leveraging Technology to Improve Humanitarian Logistics

Action: Bringing Information and Visibility to the Field - HELIOS
Technology continues to be a major theme at the Humanitarian Logistics Conference and this year, as in previous years, new initiatives were shared with the group. The features of HELIOS, the supply chain software developed by Fritz Institute with extensive input from humanitarian logistics professionals, was reviewed.

HELIOS is designed to provide complete visibility across the humanitarian supply chain, from mobilization of goods to the warehouse. By automating logistics processes at both the headquarters and field levels, logistics decision makers have access to updated information and can act quickly, saving time. HELIOS will be offered as an ASP or a “rentable” service to lower cost and improve accessibility. A HELIOS user group has been formed to help direct the evolution of HELIOS in accordance with real-world needs, identifying and prioritizing future enhancements. HELIOS is scheduled to begin a pilot program in Kenya in August with three organizations: Kenya Red Cross, Merlin and World Vision International. Individuals and organizations are encouraged to join on-going beta testing which is designed to enable logisticians to familiarize themselves with HELIOS and provide feedback regarding features, functionality and ease of use.

Challenge: Demonstrating the Impact of Logistics

Action: Creating a Business Case and Metrics to Demonstrate the Value of Logistics
Humanitarian organizations are under increased pressure to quantify the impact and measure the performance of their operations. Crossroads is a Fritz Institute-sponsored forum that provides humanitarian organizations the opportunity to present a specific supply chain issue to experts from the business and academic sectors. At Crossroads 2005, two project teams that included Fritz Institute and MIT were created to develop relevant tools that could be used to address these challenges across the humanitarian community.

The objective of the first project was to create a business case template for organizations to use in justifying investment in technology to support logistics. Working with Oxfam, Merlin, Save The Children-UK and BearingPoint from the private sector, the project identified and validated value propositions for key stakeholders of humanitarian organizations. The focus of the second project was for IFRC to develop key performance indicators (KPIs), measuring the effectiveness of their logistics process to support organizational outcomes. In the initial phase these projects focused on a few organizations, but the vision is to work toward sector-wide terminology and performance indicators that would be useful to the humanitarian logistics community and its stakeholders.

Participants are encouraged to provide specific supply chain issues for Crossroads 2006 that can be addressed by supply chain professionals at this forum.

Challenge: Creating a Humanitarian Logistics Knowledge Base

Action: A Forum to Stimulate and Accumulate Academic Research
A critical component to establish the value of humanitarian logistics to the broader humanitarian community is the availability of validated research which is currently lacking. However, with the spate of large disasters in 2005, the academic community around the world is looking at logistics in the humanitarian context. For example, the Productions and Operations Management Society, a professional association of academics with interests in operations management and logistics, featured a track on logistics in an unstable environment, at their recent conference.

Similarly, participants at the conference noted that many other academic institutions are interested in conducting research with humanitarian organizations. The Humanitarian Logistics Academic Council, created by Fritz Institute, is an initiative to help actively advocate for research that is most relevant to humanitarian logistics. It is also intended to link academic research to practical application such as projects and case studies. Participating institutions include INSEAD, MIT, Erasmus and Dartmouth. It was also suggested that HLA can act as the forum where humanitarian organizations work together to define research priorities and act as a repository of relevant literature and provide access to pertinent research that has already been published. The proceedings from the Production and Operations Management Society can be found at

As evidenced by both formal and informal feedback from the participants, HLC 2006 proved to be a valuable forum for humanitarian logisticians to explore common problems and seek sector-wide solutions. As in previous years, the core themes identified will shape the agenda for the coming year, and Fritz Institute will continue to partner with the humanitarian community to develop systematic solutions for the challenges.

More Information
For more information about the Humanitarian Logistics Conference 2006, please email
Jane MacDonald at

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