Books for Brains

Humanitarian Logistics

The 7R Future Leadership Institute* encourages readers to discover management books through the “Books for Brains” chapter. (*Between 2007 and 2011 the Institute carried temporarily the name ‘The Wall Street Journal Future Leadership Institute’)

FLI Humanitarian LogisticsHumanitarian Logistics by Rolando Tomasini and Luk Van Wassenhove

From the authors

About seven years ago, we made a commitment to this topic, having very limited knowledge of the humanitarian world. Driven by the conviction that a lot could be learned from these exceptional types of operations, our group began to write case studies on humanitarian logistics with the UN agencies (Joint Logistics Centre, and World Food Program), the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and FUNDESUMA. Increasingly, we realized that the professionalization of logistics in the humanitarian sector was a pressing need towards which we could contribute.

Motivated by the request of our humanitarian partners to partake in their trainings and activities, we continued to build our team at INSEAD, developing articles, case studies, and course packages. As our knowledge of the area increased, so did the demand for more information, though this time from the private sector. This was when corporate social responsibility and public-private partnerships began to appear high on both sectors’ agendas, raising questions about how and why should both sectors work together. We expanded our interests to include private-humanitarian relations, specifically how value could be created for both sectors through the exchange of best practices.

Overall, the process of getting to know the humanitarian sector has been a journey of discovering the different organizations (their structures, funding mechanisms, ideologies), the challenges they face responding to different types of unpredictable events around the world, and the complex environment in which donors, organizations, communities and beneficiaries have to make decisions. Today we have a dedicated team of researchers, doctoral students and faculty who have produced 30 cases studies, 15 articles, several reports, an MBA elective, and an executive education program for humanitarian agencies. We are pleased that our work has received international recognition, in particular several awards. This book is heavily inspired by those publications.

We would also like to recognize INSEAD for all its support, and our colleagues in academia for their advice and intellectual drive. We would especially like to thank Ramina Samii for her contribution to several of the case studies cited in this book and her dedication to our group. Similarly, we would like to thank our students for their feedback, dedication and interest.

Finally, we would like to express our appreciation to our families and close friends for their support, encouragement and understanding throughout this period of professional and personal dedication.

Rolando and Luk

About the authors

Rolando Tomasini (Venezuela)

Rolando TOMASINI is Research Group Leader at the INSEAD Social Innovation Center’s Humanitarian Research Group. He joined INSEAD in 2002 to do work on humanitarian logistics and humanitarian private partnership (Corporate Social Responsibility and Public Private Partnerships). Through his secondments, research and consulting projects with different humanitarian organisations in the field and head offices, he has produced several case studies, articles, reports and lectures on the subject. His material is widely used for teaching at business schools all over the world.

Luk Van Wassenhove (Belgium)

Professor Luk Van WASSENHOVE holds the Henry Ford chair in Manufacturing at INSEAD while serving as the academic director of INSEAD’s Social Innovation Center. His recent research focus is on closed-loop supply chains and disaster management producing several award-winning case studies and articles on both subjects. He is a senior editor for Manufacturing and Service Operations Management and associate editor for Production and Operations Management, Technology and Operations Review and International Journal of Production Economics. He publishes extensively in Management Science, Operations Research, The International Journal of Production Research, The European Journal of Operations Research and in many other journals. He also regularly consults for major international corporations.


Chapters 1 and 2 define the link between logistics and humanitarianism, two areas that we connect through our research and work with the agencies and companies. Chapter 1 presents key concepts from supply chain management that we found most useful to understand and create parallels with the humanitarian world. Chapter 2 introduces key concepts from the humanitarian sector that define the parameters in which an emergency operation takes place.

Chapters 3 and 4 focus on the importance of working between (preparedness) and during (coordination) disasters to respond to the needs of the beneficiaries. Chapter 3 serves to explain the aspects of preparedness that need to be addressed to establish supply chain management as a core function in humanitarian organizations. Chapter 4 discusses the challenge of coordinating a response through the different stages of a disaster without command and control or a profit incentive.

Chapters 5 and 6 address two of the most crucial issues we encountered in our research: information and knowledge management. Chapter 5 discusses how to prioritize the flow of information to attain transparency and accountability, two very important factors to reduce politicization and manipulation of aid and improve planning. Chapter 6 explains how information can be turned into knowledge and integrated into organizations to improve their performance, an important element in light of high staff turnover and limited resources.

Chapter 7 returns to the departure point to analyze the areas in which supply chain management in the humanitarian sector can be improved. This time around we examine cross-learning opportunities between the humanitarian and the private sector through public-private partnerships and corporate social responsibility initiatives. The chapter explains how these partnerships are designed keeping in mind the cultural differences between the two sectors and the need to make partnerships sustainable.

This book presents an overview of this enriching experience, for which we are most grateful to a large number of people and organizations. First, we would like to extend our gratitude to the humanitarian organizations with whom we have been involved: for the time and trust which they have invested in us; for sharing their experience with us through the numerous interviews, training sessions, field visits and secondments; for their continuous support and engagement in our research. Most of them you will see portrayed in our cases, interviews, and examples.

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