Meet the inspiring woman behind the logistics and supply of COVID-19 vaccines

Meet the inspiring woman behind the logistics and supply of COVID-19 vaccines

Bridget Barnard is Pfizer’s Supply Chain Director for Sub-Saharan Africa. Speaking to SAPICS (The Professional Body for Supply Chain Management), for a Women’s Month initiative that shared messages from inspiring women who are making their mark in the once male dominated supply chain profession, Barnard humbly noted that her most recent success story was to facilitate the logistics and supply of the COVID-19 vaccine into Sub-Saharan Africa.

To date, more than eight million doses of Pfizer’s life-saving vaccine have been administered in South Africa. “SAPICS is proud and honoured to have Bridget as a member of our supply chain community, and to have the opportunity to share her story with supply chain professionals,” commented SAPICS president MJ Schoemaker.

As a member of the South African chapter of the International Association of Public Health Logisticians (IAPHL), which SAPICS has partnered with, Barnard is also making a vital contribution to professionalism and community in South African public health supply chains with the objective of improving the availability of healthcare supplies and medicines.

Reflecting on her role in the vaccine roll out, Barnard said: “The key to success was one team, a clear strategy and an aligned, focused vision. That vision is bringing breakthroughs to patients’ lives. It was a new learning for a cross functional team in a complex matrix environment to work collaboratively and with speed to ensure efficient supply on time. While the challenges were many, the outcome is so fulfilling - to impact and make a difference in patients’ lives. Individual agility, organisational agility and communication has been a core capability change that I have experienced.”

Looking back to the start of her career path, Barnard revealed that she started out in the supply chain field as a Kardex Clerk with a steel company in 1993. “I was young and naïve about industries and my career. All I did in my first position was manually capture stock coming in and stock going out on a card. The most innovative application in this job was using different colours; red for outgoing stock and green for incoming stock. Times have certainly changed and today there are applications, software, and infrastructure to support this and more in the supply chain management area. As I navigated my work experiences with other companies, my passion for supply chain management grew, and I decided to complete my post graduate degree in Supply Chain Management. I haven’t look back since.”

Her first job in the pharmaceutical industry was an inventory controller. Barnard then moved to logistics and customer service management. “This brought new responsibilities to ensure the efficient inbound and outbound movement of stock for the private and public sectors. Later I moved to demand planning and started managing multiple portfolios, including innovative medicines, consumer health, animal health, and nutrition. Working in demand planning was really my comfort zone and still is today, because of the stakeholder engagement.  I would say demand planning is a real passion of mine.  I then stepped into a role as a Market Lead for Southern Africa, or the position more commonly known as a Supply Chain Manager.  I was responsible for demand planning and logistics in this role. Finally, I took up my current role as Supply Chain Director for Sub-Saharan Africa, where I am responsible for some 43 countries in Africa with a multitude of complexities and diversity. I am responsible for all the logistics, customer service and demand planning activities in my organisation. I know I am fulfilling my purpose, so it’s not just a job. I thoroughly enjoy my role due to the diversity and variety I must manage on a day-to-day basis.”

Barnard has seen some significant changes in the supply chain profession over the years, from its increasing importance and recognition as a strategic business function to more women being employed in the profession. “At the start of my career, supply chain management was accepted as an operational function. Today, supply chain issues play a key role in informing sound business decisions. Today, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, the supply chain function is a key contributor to shaping organisational direction, impact and success, and supply chain executives sit at the leadership table.

“Over the past decade, Pfizer has actively ensured that women are well-represented in its employee pool. Presently, of the more than 200 people employed by Pfizer South Africa, 149 are female; so women constitute 67% of the total workforce. Pfizer South Africa has ensured that women are well-represented at the executive management level. To date, of the 15 executive managers at Pfizer South Africa, 10 are women, so we also have 67% female representation among executives.”

Barnard is optimistic about the future of supply chains and the profession beyond the COVID-19 crisis. “We have already adapted to an environment where we needed to review our network for risks that became more evident due to the many constraints we saw, such as trade restrictions, shortages of medicines, switches in the medicines needed and the slowdown of economies. Resilience is and will continue to be a key focus area for supply chains in the future.  We may see our supply chains getting shorter or we may need to move from a single sourcing strategy to a multisource strategy, to ensure supply.”



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