Introducing Athalie Mayo
A few days after Athalie took on her new role as Global Logistics Cluster Coordinator, we sat down with her to talk about her background, new role and how she sees the job.
Athalie’s career certainly didn’t start in logistics, but she firmly believes that she has finally found her natural environment with the Logistics Cluster. A place that is never too worried about the complexity of a problem, but rather how quickly, creatively and efficiently you can overcome it, humanitarian logistics landed Athalie right at home.
“Having previously worked across information analytics, complex operational settings, as well as Field Security roles for UN agencies, what I immediately liked about logistics was how solution-driven it all was,” she tells me when I ask her about why she had first decided to transition to the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Supply Chain Division.
“Logistics allows you to think outside the box. You have a problem to solve, you think it through, find a solution and you immediately see the impact.”
The Global Logistics Cluster Coordinator, is a position that supports logistics operations across some of the world’s most complex humanitarian crises. So, what exactly does the role entail? To answer this, we first need to take a closer look at the humanitarian system overall.
In 2005 the humanitarian community adopted what’s known as the cluster approach, a collaborative effort aimed at addressing common gaps and weaknesses to strengthen overall response capacity when crisis strikes. Clusters run in line with core humanitarian sectors like health, food security, shelter, and…logistics (just to name a few). WFP, with its expertise and decades-long experience in humanitarian supply chain, was chosen as lead agency of the Logistics Cluster by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee.
Above all, the cluster approach is about teamwork. Working across large-scale and often complex humanitarian operations, the Logistics Cluster team coordinates, shares information, and facilitates access to common logistics services for the wider humanitarian community – like transport, or warehouse space. In other words, by sharing resources, information and tools, the Logistics Cluster helps bind the humanitarian logistics community together and makes sure lifesaving relief items can get to affected populations as quickly as possible.
At its helm is the Global Logistics Cluster Coordinator, and Athalie Mayo is the fourth person to take on the role.
When we chat, she’d been in the job no more than 72 hours.
Flexibility is key
To interview a logistician, you need to think like one; know what you want to ask and get there quickly. This was never more pertinent than when chatting with Athalie, whose daily schedule is currently back-to-back with briefings and meetings to get her up to speed on the cluster’s operations.
The Logistics Cluster is currently active across eight emergency operations, combined with a global training programme, and a robust preparedness initiative which currently spans four continents.
Activities vary depending on the country and context, and operational diversity is an understatement. This is something Athalie places emphasis on as we talk through the cluster’s current activities.
Consider just this handful of examples: in South Sudan, the team is taking the lead on pandemic preparedness initiatives while in the midst of an ongoing large-scale emergency operation, with the current Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo placing neighbouring countries on high alert.
In Syria, the operation spans countries, with cross-border operations being a crucial component of the response; in CAR ongoing insecurity, paired with heavy rains, means the cluster has a pivotal role to play in facilitating access to air ops; in Cox’s Bazar, our team is currently testing the latest in logistics innovation, with a near-real time, digital access constraints application rolling out in line with the current monsoon season; and in Malawi and Mozambique, staff on the ground are working with the governments and local partners on strengthening supply chain resilience following the devastating impact of Cyclone Idai earlier this year.
It’s a busy job, and one where flexibility is key.
“As a cluster, we need to make sure we are keeping pace with operational needs. We need to look into how we can evolve and change to meet the needs of our partners – whether it be at local, regional or global level. Being agile is at the core of what we do.”
“The cluster is the essence of humanitarian collaboration”
Across its 2018 operations, the Logistics Cluster community was made up of more than 600 partner organisations, over half of which were national actors. When you add in preparedness and training initiatives the number of partners only grows. And, it is this element of partnership, which first sparked Athalie’s interest in the role.
“Humanitarian collaboration is something I’ve always been inspired by. My first long-term field mission with the WFP was in North Darfur as a Field Security Officer, and it was here where I experienced not just the enormity of the challenges that can face a humanitarian operation with a significant logistics component, but also what the humanitarian community was capable of with regards to overcoming access and logistics challenges when the different actors come together. You saw agencies pushing the boundaries on what could be achieved with the dedication of their teams and some inventive ways of thinking.”
“The cluster is the essence of humanitarian collaboration, of doing it all together. The opportunity to work across diverse groups with the same goal and the same purpose is something that really captured me. You can feel the unity, a shared sense of purpose.”
A few days after we speak to Athalie she’d have the first chance to experience exactly this, travelling to Dublin for the Logistics Cluster’s biannual Global Meeting held in collaboration with its wide network of partners. As soon as possible she intends to head out to visit colleagues in the field.
“For me that field connection is one of the most important elements of the job. I don’t think I’ll be able to fully grasp all the cogs and screws that make up the Logistics Cluster before meeting our teams on the ground. They’re the ones at the forefront of the operations. What I want to find out from them is not only what’s working, but also what are the greatest challenges. How can we support them better? How can we, as a community, be more efficient when it comes to logistics on the ground?”
First stop? Athalie is hoping to visit CAR in November.