Samaritan’s Feet: The Trials and Triumphs of a Global Non-Profit

Moving much-needed athletic footwear to some of the most remote corners of the globe can be a daunting supply chain challenge. But the humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Feet has persevered and is working steadily toward its goal of delivering 10 million pairs of shoes to 10 million people in 10 years. The lessons SF has learned along are instructive for any supply chain professional.

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The supply chain management themes we’ve heard for years—improve operations, get lean, and reduce costs to improve profits—mainly target for-profit companies. Less attention has been paid to the supply chain challenges faced by non-profit organizations, and even less to those non-profits focusing on humanitarian aid. Like their counterparts in the private sector, non-profits must continuously improve their supply chain operations to control costs. Yet their ultimate goal is not to increase profits, but to ensure that the greatest portion of donations and resources go toward helping those in need.

Humanitarian needs fall into two categories. Some needs result from disasters such as the earthquakes in Haiti, the Tsunami in Sri Lanka, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, or Hurricane Katrina in the United States.  Other humanitarian needs are not brought on by any specific incident, but rather result from long-term, chronic conditions. Humanitarian efforts addressing this category of needs can be more difficult to conduct because they don’t receive the significant exposure and outpouring of support that typically occur in the wake of a disaster.

Human health is the principal focal point of many humanitarian organizations working around the world. These groups understand that many illnesses are preventable if the necessary materials are made available to those at risk. A good example can be found in the work of the Gates Foundation providing mosquito netting to protect against malaria.

Prevention can also make a critical difference when it comes to illness and injuries related to the feet.  Foot-borne illnesses, soil-transmitted infections and diseases, and parasites attacking the feet are common problems in areas where proper shoes are not readily available. Common symptoms of these afflictions are digestive problems, lethargy, dehydration, and debilitating illness. Even in their mildest forms, these health issues may affect daily life, inhibit learning abilities, and stunt physical development. In some cases, the affliction can result in amputation or even death.

It is estimated that more than 300 million people wake up each day with no shoes to wear. Children, in particular, are at the greatest risk of contracting these infections, diseases and parasites from lack of footwear. While drugs can be used to treat patients (if any drugs are available), the real opportunity lies in the prevention of these problems. This is the mission of Samaritan’s Feet (SF).

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