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10.23 2020

Thinking Outside the Box: Reflections from VillageReach Board Member Sena Kwawu at the 16th TechNet Conference

Originally posted on Medium.com

Sena Kwawu, VillageReach board member, has spent his career focusing on operational excellence, from leading Six Sigma/LEAN organizations, running risk management at an insurance firm, being on the executive team overseeing global coffee supply chains at Starbucks, to managing operations at Frontdoor, Inc, a US-based home services business. This week, he shared his private sector expertise as a plenary speaker at the 16th TechNet Conference, a gathering of immunization professionals from around the world committed to strengthening immunization services.

The takeaway? We must think creatively to overcome the challenges of maintaining existing immunization services and introducing a new vaccine all in a constricted financial environment. Here’s what he shared:

The big picture is one of massive progress. Supply chain professionals like those attending TechNet, contributed to dramatic increases in immunization coverage, bringing us to a point where immunization averts 2–3 million deaths every year. The bad news: COVID-19 threatens progress by stalling routine immunization and other primary health care services. As per the 2020 Goalkeepers Report, “…we’ve been set back about 25 years in 25 weeks.”

Since there’s no playbook, Sena instructed supply chain professionals to think outside the box. He said reaching beyond the immediate task at hand and traditional ways of working can unlock new solutions. Only then will we bring vaccines to every child while also improving efficiency — a daunting task under any circumstance let alone a global pandemic.

Sena gave an example of his experience at Starbucks, where the company thought not only about the desired outcome — securing enough coffee beans — but also about the broader system they were trying to build. Starbucks could choose to source their coffee from a few countries, but instead sources from over 20 to create a global wealth creation vehicle. He also highlighted how UNICEF’s Kid Power initiative encourages young children in the US to partake in physical exercise while providing food for malnourished children around the world using revenue from selling Kid Power fitness trackers at Target — tackling two problems with one solution.

Sena cautioned the audience that most people try to fit problems in a box, and encouraged us to think of solutions in a different shape or form. He said, if your problem looks like a box, consider solving the problem as an octagon, or whatever malleable shape you need to fit your environment. The results of that thinking can amaze you because you are more creative and can accomplish so much more.

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