by Bephine Ogutu
Pamela Steele is a health and humanitarian supply chain specialist who provides strategic leadership and management in support of global health and humanitarian field programmes. Working in this field has given Pamela the opportunity to bring life-saving supplies and hope to victims of human-made and natural disasters.
Growing up in Kenya, Pamela understands firsthand the challenges of living in a developing country. The struggles of her family that she had to overcome are the foundation of what drives her involvement in the health and humanitarian sector. The luxuries of education and active learning were not part of her life until she was 10 years old. However, it was primary, secondary and higher education that set the framework for a successful career and became her defining period.
By challenging herself both personally and professionally Pamela has achieved a series of academic accolades. She holds an MSc in Business Administration, an MBA in Supply Chain Management, and she is a member of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT). She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at Cranfield University, UK. Along with other academicians, she has been involved in multiple fora and institutes which promote gender awareness and which encourage more women to get involved in the field of logistics.
Her experience in health and humanitarian logistics and supply started in Africa in an extremely challenging environment, including cross-border operations involving several countries. The daily challenges she experienced working in that environment honed her ability to withstand the rigours of logistics and supply in third world conditions. Growing and learning each step of the way, she worked with several organisations such as World Vision International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Oxfam Great Britain, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNICEF, before she moved back to England to set up her management consultancy business focusing on supply chain capacity development for health and humanitarian sectors.
It is in this sector that she has chosen to continue her career and to make an impact in the field. She has spoken on logistics and supply chain management at various forums and has guest lectured on the subject on several occasions. One experience of this kind which was particularly memorable was when she lectured at Cambridge University on logistics systems control, in the aftermath of the Darfur crisis and the Indian Tsunami disaster: she provided her audience with a real-world description of logistics/supply in the non-profit sector.
Pamela continues to deliver guest lectures on humanitarian operations at Oxford University to engineering department students who are seeking to innovate products that could help alleviate the suffering of disaster victims in settlement camps.
Pamela was introduced to supply chain principles by her brother in law, who at that time was studying for a purchasing and supply course and was working in a warehouse. She was inspired to follow his lead and studied Purchasing and Stores at Kenya Polytechnic: she knew that this would be a challenge but she hoped that it would lead to employment, and thus provide her with the means to support her family. In the mid-1980s very few women ventured into the field of logistics – she was the only woman in her class and was one of less than 100 professionally qualified women of any kind in Kenya.
Having gained experience at a leading Kenyan hire-purchase company, she moved into the humanitarian sector working as a Procurement and Logistics Manager. She knew she had the right qualifications, experience and attitude to be successful and she never considered logistics to be a man’s job. Nevertheless, logistics within the humanitarian arena is still a male-dominated profession. She has worked hard to become recognised as an experienced practitioner who understands logistics in humanitarian and development programmes – not just because she is a woman but also because she had the skills and competence for the job. She has derived much career satisfaction from knowing that her contribution has saved lives and has helped restore dignity and hope to the victims of disasters.
Pamela continuously encourages women to venture into logistics as she believes it develops hard skills and offers the potential for career progression and satisfaction. While working with the NGOs, she gained much experience from meeting customers, and from managing and supporting teams both directly and remotely. Always prepared to learn from a variety of people, she has been inspired by many individuals. Her philosophy has always been “fortune favours the brave”.
Pamela’s belief in integrity, teamwork, respect and compassion has helped her to grow professionally and personally. She knows that by continuing to develop her career she will continue to play an important role in the lives of beneficiaries and in the health and humanitarian sector. As the CEO for Pamela Steele Associates, she provides supply chain expertise to ensure those involved in supply chain practice and decision making have demonstrable competence to deliver value to their customers who are often poor and vulnerable. She also provides technical advice and assistance to countries and liaises with governments and other partners. Her research in public health supply chain equips her with evidence that can influence policy and decision-making and a desire to overcome challenges and a continued inspiration to help others will continue to guide her career.
Before she is ready to retire, Pamela would like to make sure that there is something that she will have personally done for women in supply chain, working in the humanitarian sector – including those who are affected by disasters. This is what motivated her founding of the Women’s Institute for Supply Chain Excellence (WISE), whose aim is to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian organisations in delivering aid, to build a cadre of female logisticians and to provide them with an environment where they can share and exchange ideas while learning from each other.
By creating a place where women can feel empowered to develop themselves as individuals and professionals, Pamela will leave a legacy she can be proud of.