Programming for Change

Logistics Cluster Global Meeting looks at logistics through a programmatic lens
08 October 2019

Logistics Cluster Global Meetings happen twice a year, gathering senior logistics and supply chain professionals from the humanitarian sector together to network and discuss important issues affecting the humanitarian logistics community.

Previous meetings have focused on issues like reverse logistics and environmental impacts, humanitarian access and technology. The focus of the most recent meeting held in Dublin, Ireland in late September? Logistics as a programmatic function. But what does this mean, and what would it look like?

Given the share that logistics and supply chain expenditure make up in a relief operation (recent studies show supply chain accounts for an average of 73% of humanitarian response costs), investment in supply chain optimisation, reduction of environmental footprint, logistics resilience and preparedness can have a substantial impact.

There are therefore situations that warrant treating logistics as a programmatic activity either in separate and focused initiatives or within broader operational proposals and budgets. Examples of this may range from organisational logistics surge capacity or supply chain optimisation, the development, adaptation or implementation of alternative technologies, capacity building within our own organisations as well as with national actors such as National Disaster Management authorities, or other national partners, infrastructural or procedural investments, or initiatives to improve the environmental footprint of logistics operations.

Simply? Rather than viewing logistics as a back office support function to other programmatic activities during a humanitarian response, it should be considered as something that brings its own programmatic value.

A speech from co-host GOAL’s CEO, Siobhan Walsh, kicked off discussions around this topic on the first day. She encouraged meeting participants to work harder to communicate their teams’ successes and value to highlight the importance of logistics within their own organisations, to facilitate logistics becoming part of discussions from the beginning of programmatic design.

GOAL CEO, Siobhan Walsh, addresses the recent Logistics Cluster Global Meeting in Dublin

Siobhan Walsh, CEO of GOAL addresses the Logistics Cluster Global Meeting in Dublin, Ireland


‘The key to successful outcomes is influence, not authority.’ – Siobhan Walsh, CEO, GOAL


South Sudan Logistics Cluster Coordinator, Fiona Lithgow, offered practical, field-based examples of how treating logistics as a programmatic activity can work, highlighting the efforts her team is making to build national logistics capacity, efforts that will continue to have positive impacts long after the operation winds down. She also touched on the work done with partners to think ahead and preposition relief items in order to better deal with access issues humanitarians face during the rainy season, and the impact of this on operational costs and planning.

The theme was explored further via a panel discussion. Featuring panelists from USAID, Danish Refugee Council, Atlas Logistique and Fleet Forum, the discussion looked at the advantages and disadvantages of pushing for this approach, and examples where treating logistics as a programmatic activity has already worked. Participants agreed that they saw the value in raising the profile of logistics and the capabilities of what can be achieved when programming involves logistics, and vice versa. 

Panellists from Fleet Forum and Danish Refugee Council discuss the idea of logistics as a programmatic activity

Panellists from Fleet Forum and Danish Refugee Council discuss logistics as a programmatic activity


‘We need to ask ourselves to ask where we should be, how can we get there and build the rules and system to facilitate this.’ – Bruno Vandemeulebroecke, Deputy Global Logistics Cluster Coordinator


Finally, the last day of the meeting saw the presentation of a discussion paper entitled “Strength in Numbers – Towards a More Efficient Humanitarian Response” by representatives from Réseau Logistique Humanitaire (Humanitarian Logistics Network – RLH). The session focused on ways to drive supply chain cost efficiencies by pooling logistics resources, and echoed calls for separate, focused investment in logistics and supply chain to fully realise the potential for change this can have in humanitarian responses.

Learn more about the Global Logistics Meeting in the Note for the Record.