The Supply Community at the forefront of UNICEF’s humanitarian work

Eight UNICEF Supply colleagues share how they’ve overcome COVID-19-related challenges to continue delivering supplies for children throughout the pandemic.

In the mahadra of Bounaye in Nouakchott, Fatoumata, 11 years old, learns how to wash her hands properly under the watchful eye of a UNICEF specialist.
19 August 2021

Resilience and adaptability – these are the attributes that helped the UNICEF Supply Community navigate uncharted territories since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, turning challenges into learning opportunities to bring hope and solidarity to vulnerable children around the world. Facing an unprecedented global health emergency, UNICEF supply colleagues worked together to overcome challenges and remained focused on their common goal of delivering critical supplies to help realize children’s rights to health, nutrition, water, education and protection.  

The UNICEF Supply Community comprises of 1,200 members representing 142 nationalities across 106 countries around the world. They are at the forefront of UNICEF’s humanitarian work. Below are eight testimonials from supply colleagues in the field. 

Thomas Atkinson, Supply and Procurement Officer - Denmark 
Thomas Atkinson offloading goods from a trailer at the UNICEF Supply Division warehouse in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Planning transport operations amid lockdowns has been extremely challenging. Huge demand, limited supply and skyrocketing transport costs meant that we had to reconsider priorities, optimize our loadings, share space, bundle equipment and take every measure to secure freight priority for our supplies to reach children, communities and health workers. To achieve this, we worked closely together with other United Nations agencies and corporate donors. I was deployed to the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva as part of the United Nations COVID-19 Supply Chain Inter-Agency Coordination Cell (SCICC) to ensure daily operational coordination, given that UNICEF-procured COVID-related supplies constituted a large part of the total volume transported through the SCICC. 

Tabinda Syed, Supply and Logistics Manager - Zimbabwe 

With the support of the Government of Zimbabwe, we approached the market of personal protective equipment (PPE) collectively as the development sector, which helped control the prices for these high-demand supplies. UNICEF led the procurement process for PPE on behalf of the sector, sharing over 40 long-term arrangements (LTAs). The process increased the PPE supplier pool and resulted in substantial cost reduction. UNICEF is also mainstreaming sustainable procurement in Zimbabwe, requiring suppliers to answer a sustainability questionnaire to assess carbon footprint. All the millions of textbooks we procure each year are sustainably sourced from Forestry Sustainability Council-certified suppliers. Our team procures jerrycans made of recycled plastic only and we have so far helped recycle 215,000 kilograms of used plastic. 

Tabinda Syed standing in front of the UNICEF Country Office in Zimbabwe.

Nie Ping, Procurement Assistant - China 
Nie Ping, Procurement Assistant in the UNICEF Global Supply Hub in Shanghai, China, wearing personal protective equipment.

When it was first established in March 2020, the UNICEF Global Supply Hub in Shanghai had a total volume of outbound shipments of 24,000 square metres. Within half a year, this increased to 84,000 square metres with four bonded warehouses. Operational duties increased accordingly, and high-level coordination was crucial. We worked with suppliers to ensure commodities comply with export requirements. We sought to simplify the export process for humanitarian shipments from the Government of China, especially for personal protective equipment (PPE) items. We established operational procedures and workflows with partners and freight forwarders. And we were left with a great sense of accomplishment navigating new challenges to deliver on-time shipments to one country after another. 

Babrak Hasair, Supply and Logistics Officer - Afghanistan

The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic presented our team with an opportunity to create a more sustainable supply chain for soap in the local market. As the pandemic escalated and global supply chains were massively disrupted, sourcing quality soap became a huge challenge. The Afghanistan Country Office supply section rose to the challenge, procuring 4 million soap bars that were distributed across the country. This was possible following substantial efforts to identify local soap manufacturers with whom we communicated UNICEF requirements to produce the needed soap for the pandemic response. The UNICEF logo and short messages promoting hand hygiene were engraved on the soap bars. 

Babrak Hasair a Supply and Logistics Officer in the Afghanistan Country Office supply section.

Antoine Ngamale, Logistics Associate - Cameroon
Antoine Ngamale, Logistics Associate in Cameroon, assessing the Port of Kribi in Cameroon.

To optimize UNICEF logistics operations on strategic corridors during a critical time, our team conducted a capacity assessment of the Port of Kribi in Cameroon in the midst of the pandemic. The decision to use this new terminal as port of entry for landlocked Chad and the Central African Republican resulted in a 2-week gain on lead time, 80 per cent reduction on extra charges and improving on-time delivery of supplies for children. We further optimized shipping operations by piloting a project that demonstrated the benefits of transferring additional responsibilities to freight forwarders. This approach has been rolled out throughout the West and Central Africa region.  

Rabab Saffideen, Supply and Logistics Officer - Lebanon

In the aftermath of the massive explosions at the Port of Beirut that destroyed the Lebanese Ministry of Health’s central warehouse, our team immediately mobilized to save 1.75 million vaccines doses and over 300 cubic metres of medicine. We safely transported these essential supplies to store them in the UNICEF warehouse, ensuring the continuation of immunization campaigns across Lebanon. We also started working on the rehabilitation of the cold chain and provision of solar energy for Government warehouses – a critical step in preparation for the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines. Responding to the devastating Beirut explosions on top of the COVID-19 pandemic presented was an extraordinary achievement at all levels.

Read more about UNICEF's response to the blast.

Rabab Saffideen, Supply and Logistics Officer in UNICEF Lebanon, inspects a shipment of supplies at the tarmac of the Beirut International Airport.

Özgür Tacer, Supply and Procurement Officer - Turkey
Özgür Tacer, Supply and Procurement Officer in Turkey.

The situation in Turkey having a massive refugee mobility towards its north western borders with Europe was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the impact of the pandemic on supply operations, our team was able to support the emergency response to the in-country mobility and possible new influxes by prepositioning supplies in strategic locations along the south eastern and north western borders. Working with suppliers, we ensured seamless and timely procurement of the needed quantities for the emergency response. This allowed us to continue reaching children and their families with relief, education and hygiene supplies. Additionally, UNICEF was chosen to lead procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) on behalf of United Nations agencies in Turkey. 

Ana Marcela Boquin Henriquez, Administrative Assistant - Honduras

The COVID-19 pandemic and hurricanes Eta and Iota left a trail of pain and destruction in Honduras and the region. I am proud to say that despite these difficult circumstances our team achieved great results including: safe water for children through the provision of 4,480 water filters, 80 water tanks, 8,800 water containers,18,200 purifying water tablets and sachets; education continuity through the provision of 358,000 educational work books for children and software development support to the Honduran Ministry of Education; support for national vaccination campaigns through the provision of 3,100 high-filtration masks to health workers; and improving nutrition needs of children through the provision of 32,000 micronutrients sachets.  

Ana Marcela Boquin Henriquez, Administrative Assistant in Honduras, inspecting boxes of supplies.