How to Transform Your Public Health Supply Chain, Part 1

Author: Ramatu Abdulkadir 

Imagine you’re the new CEO of a public health supply chain in a developing country. Your job is to ensure the availability of medicines in Government-owned health facilities for the wellbeing of the citizens.

These supply chains are usually fragmented and broken, and patients can hardly get medicines for basic healthcare needs. You inherit a demotivated health personnel that are waiting to collect their retirement benefits. Donors and development partners have invested over time in these supply chains. Still, they have only created an unsustainable system in dire need of transformation. Your new role is to transform these supply chains and make them function to save the lives of patients and improve their wellbeing. The following rules will help you succeed in my experience:

Rule #1: Believe in yourself because no one else will

This is very important as you will be making difficult decisions that have never been made to turn the system around. Stakeholders will not want to change from the usual ways of doing things. Say, for example, you all come together and decide to work together to reduce wastage in the system and provide visibility for all partners. It sounds reasonable until you come to implementation. You’ll find that people are not open to sharing information and will do anything to keep from sharing with perceived external stakeholders.

The best way to work around this is to create trust gradually by sharing your own information. It will be awkward at the beginning, but it allows people to see that you trust them with your data, and over time, they will begin to relax and share theirs. 

Rule #2: Create a vision that keeps you up at night

If you’re not dreaming about it, then you cannot achieve it! I usually imagine that we have conquered the work and had visibility of the entire system only to wake up and find it was all a dream. I always wonder how Amazon is doing it, and I tell people I want our organization to be like Amazon. Usually, they will smile and humor me like a five-year-old. By the end of 3 years on the job, we were a leading supply chain organization to be reckoned with within the country. Good start!

Rule #3: Find a rebel team that are not experts and a kickass cheerleader

Often times the use of so-called experts in a massive transformation is a downer as they have an idea on how events should turn out. They will continue to administer their prescription even when it’s obvious there’s no improvement in the situation. You need fresh minds that are willing to learn and adapt quickly because during transformation, conditions will continue to change rapidly, and your team has to keep up. Flexibility was critical when we wanted to start collecting demand data from health facilities, we opted for manual collection because of the situation on the ground. Still, we quickly learned that it was impossible to sustain as the field team was always behind on data reporting. We immediately had to move on to using short message service with codes for sending data. People thought we were crazy, but we went ahead to set up the first SMS real-time platform for collecting demand data from over 200 health facilities.

Usually, these projects have lots of reviews. Like my conducting teacher will say, by the time you’re done with the analysis of each stage, people are already tired. Energy has waned, and transformation is dead on arrival. Stay connected with your team and continue to build your music until you take down the roof. 

Your cheerleader has to make sure you’re up as soon as you get down, no slacking off! It helps if you’re in different time zones.

Rule #4: Don’t be shy about getting your hands dirty and learning new tricks

Even though you’re the CEO, you’re also the warehouse cleaner, dispatcher, picker, lumberjack. ‘I learned that one very quickly.’ The bottom line is you’re going to work your fingers to the bones. Forget everything you’ve being and learned in the past, live in the moment. You might even discover a treasure island. When we decided to clean up our warehouses that nobody could remember when it was cleaned up last. After over a month of daily scrubbing, we got rewarded when we discovered equipment that none of the staff on the ground knew about them! Treasure at last!

Most people will notice the improvements achieved by your team. Still, supply chain practitioners are not recognized in a system that works, get used to that, and never look back.

Rule #5: Get insured

Boxing is not my thing, but ignore this at your own peril. You will be taking on featherweight, lightweight, and heavyweight on this match. They’re not going to be happy you’re bringing positive change, and you will not get too many chances to explain. Get ready, cause they’re coming for you and you better be insured. It doesn’t hurt to make friends as you start out on this journey because you’ll need all the friends you can get to starve off these opponents, you might even lose a tooth or two. If you come out alive, you’ll earn some respect and new friends. Not so bad after all, some might even champion your cause in the future. Invest in your team and the people you meet on this journey that could be your joker.

By now, you should be starting your transformation, don’t be disappointed if your team doesn’t catch up quickly. Continue to encourage your team to learn and fail more often, at least you’re confident that one day, they’ll get it right.


You have 15 tree stumps around your warehouse, you have loads of trash to dispose of and some probably friendly snakes roaming around. You’re also short on cash, as a Supply Chain rebel, how will you solve this problem.

To be continued………..

  • This is so so interesting and so so real..I am proud of how far you have come ma and am grateful for the gift of being a part of this journey. Nothing good comes easy in a VUCA world. I celebrate your resilience and awesome leadership ma.
    Please keep up the good work ma. Soon it will be totally right and the world will gather to learn. Kudos to a leader per excellence.

    • This means so much to me! Just knowing you’re out there imparting what you’ve learnt and breaking boundaries is amazing! Rebel Lola! Don’t forget to sign up!

  • I’m not surprise to see this coming from someone like you, from the time I first met you and subsequently, I know you possess the qualities of new ideas that could bring about the change in doing things in the drugdrugs supply chain management, please go make us proud and nothing will hold you back.

    • Thank you Aliyu! You have been a source of inspiration and support! You are part of this story! Join our rebel trybe because I know you’re one already!

    • Thank you Ibrahim! With your support and kind words, it will be ready in no time! It takes a rebel to know one! Sign up! We have loads of activities which I know you’ll love. Our drink and learn session is out of this world. Coming up on Saturday! 👏👏👏 ! See ya

  • Great read here Hajiya, found it deep and my kind, take no prisoners Ma. Can’t wait for the next write up. Congrats Hajiya.

  • This is experience talking, not theory….Solutions to solutions to SC problems are best interpreted and applied based on real life contents. It’s very interesting how you have simplied the journey, please keep the great work!

  • I’m proud and happy to be part of this journey, as your driver i know the battles you faced with so many group of individuals but Alhamdulillah all are history. I pray to Almighty Allah to continue to help you.

  • Quite interesting. It reads more like an itinerary for new CEOs or anyone who finds himself occupying a team leadership position where they are expected to redefine the purpose of the team and do away with underachievement. Waiting to read the next part. Keep the flame lit.

  • Interesting to know how well you’ve mastered the arena you found yourself. Keep pushing as there’s no going back…
    Be assured that majority have got your back.

  • This is really transformation in action. Keep up the good work as you continue on the path of systems improvement that will enhance delivery of needed supplies for effective healthcare delivery! Kudos and best wishes for the onerous task ahead!

  • Alhamdulillah! Alhamdulillah!! Alhamdulillah!!! This is very educating,at least people like us will learn more.We look forward to seeing more write ups.

  • Implementing a well coordinated strategies and simplified supply chain mechnism of this nature ,will surly enhance effective & efficient productive in both human and material management, in all field of knowledge. Kudos to your ma’a

  • Very reached write up as a student of supply chain management this will be my project topic, you are really an archiver in your field keep going don’t sit down

  • This is amazing and inspiring, I admire the great work and wish I’m part the team . My prayer for success is always with you.

  • Hands-on!!!
    I am particularly nit surprised that the author, Ramatu Abdulkadir will achieve this transformation. This piece will be s great resource globally. I am pumped up already.
    I hope millions will, as well.

  • We are already seeing the results of radical or draconian decision making in handling international supply chain. You have already created a niche for yourself. Great job you are doing out there.

  • Rule 5 motivated me most. Most of the times, the system that needs corrections most, it doesn’t recognize hard work. You may never be rewarded or appreciated for the effort. But you as the CEO, you know your target and at the end of time, everything will make perfect sense.

  • When I started reading through I didn’t take note of the author, but as I read the first paragraph I just know that the story sounds familiar so I had to scroll back to find out Who the author was.
    This is an incredible write up, written from a successful practical experience, very educative and informative not just to CEOs but also to supply chain students.
    Thank you ma for sharing this worthless information free to the world.

  • “Create a vision that keeps you up at night”, priceless nugget for me . More grease ma, keep up the good work and thanks for sharing knowledge

  • Believing in oneself is the key to accomplishing any tasks.You are one of the strongest people i know.I’m proud of you,keep it up.

  • Hajiya am really thrilled by your wealth of one wish is how to tap from your wealth of experience.

  • This is fantastic nd educative…. Your write up inspired me nd I have good confident in you. Well Done, Nice one.

  • Hajia,you’re a supply chain transformation crusader your achievement is visible in Kaduna States, you’re one of the people that inspired me to study procurement and supply chain management

  • Welldone Ramatu. Well written write up, and super proud of you.
    Regarding the puzzle, I’d burn the trash using the tree stumps as full, and probably kill the snakes alongside…don’t think anylon snake is friendly.

  • Quite an interesting article coming from s practical experience. Thanks for sharing, while wishing you great stride ahead.

  • “Without confidence you are twice defeated in the race of life…” Ramatu!
    “With confidence you have made it even before you have started”.
    This is a good one and I see you making it through , cos you have that confidence built in you.
    Good luck 👍!!!

  • Amazing analysis. The way you chose your words and your command of the language is absolutely brilliant.
    I was drawn from the start to finish and I must confess and wanted you to carry on.
    You expressed yourself clearly, concisely, and comprehensively.
    Your analysis was good, new, vibrant and full of good case studies.
    Well done and keep up the good work. You will go places and be successful with this kind of piece.
    Once again. Well done.

    • Wow! Muri! Thank you for the wonderful review. I’ll do my utmost to keep bringing you insights into global supply chains with local flavors always! Watch out for part 2! Best.

  • Great piece.

    Let me also add…
    When you begin to notice a turn around…you never stop steering the wheels (continue to innovate)…else you get stuck all over again.

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