Ziyad Alhomaid and Asim Alrajhi, CEO and COO of Homoola

Ziyad Alhomaid and Asim Alrajhi are old university friends who, now in their mid-thirties, are turning trucking on its head across the Middle East. As CEO and COO of Homoola, they run the trucking enterprise solution solving the “empty mile” problem and accelerating change in the logistics sector.

Homoola is an Arabic word meaning “cargo” or “load” – and the company aims to take the load off shippers. Homoola’s digital platform is bringing new efficiency to road freight in Saudi Arabia and beyond by using load-matching technology to pair shippers and trucking companies. It gives shippers access to capacity at times of peak demand and allows them to optimize the efficiency of their shipments at others, while preventing carriers from driving empty miles or sitting idle waiting for cargo.

Since Homoola launched in 2016, the business has scaled up rapidly, carrying more than 7,000 loads in the first year and seeing average monthly growth of 35%. Agility became a key investor in 2017, recognizing the startup’s impressive potential, and Homoola has an exciting blueprint for future expansion.

We asked Ziyad and Asim to tell us more about Homoola’s secrets for startup success, and to share their top tips for new entrepreneurs.

How did the idea for Homoola come about?

Ziyad: We planted the first seeds back in 2004, before we went to university. We were transporting trucks from Dubai to Saudi Arabia, learning how the industry worked. Then we both went to learn more at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Business. When we graduated and moved back to Saudi, I began working in manufacturing and Asim had a job in logistics. In 2016, he got in touch because he was so struck that 40% of trucks return completely empty, costing the economy $5 billion every year. Knowing how big the inefficiencies were in the traditional way of doing things, we could see the enormous potential of a digital solution that made load-carrying more efficient.

So how did Homoola make the leap from idea to business?

Asim: We started talking seriously about all the other problems in shipping goods, and how to solve them. It’s a fragmented market; things are done on the phone rather than digitally, and often there’s no quality assurance. It’s hard to know when loads are going to arrive, who is going to deliver, or even if they’ll arrive in one piece. Homoola was our solution to those problems, and it’s been evolving ever since. Agility invested in 2017, and things have taken off even more as a result. Not only did the investment allow us to work full time at Homoola, but we’ve benefited enormously from Agility’s help with our strategy. Our monthly meeting with senior leaders from Agility – sometimes including the CEO and COO – is invaluable, as is their knowledge of transport all around the world, their access to technology, connections to international figures in the industry, and experience of digitizing their operations in Europe.

What makes the Homoola solution stand out?

Ziyad: Our idea for a digital platform is a crucial part of the customer appeal of our business model – but Homoola is more than just an online marketplace. We set out to provide a complete solution which gives shippers unrivalled availability and quality of service. We look after every part of the cargo’s journey from insurance, quality assurance, rating and payments to tracking and monitoring the load – all backed up with 24/7 customer care. With that support, customers love using the platform because it’s a quick and easy way of sending a shipment. They fill in a few details online, choose which kind of truck they need, and get a quick quote. Once they’ve placed the order, they have real-time tracking on their mobile, so they always know where their goods are.

Asim: This is even more important for shippers who need to transport a high volume of goods all at once. Normally, they can’t move everything through one carrier because the carrier simply doesn’t have enough trucks. But because Homoola has such a huge volume of trucks available, we solve this pain point. Rather than having to chase up multiple companies over the phone, we handle the entire volume of cargo, and the customer can track it all easily on our mobile app. It’s so effective that many of our customers have grown from using us for a small number of their loads to trusting us to look after 100% of their shipments.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to turn an idea into reality?

Ziyad: Firstly, know your goals. What do you want to achieve? What are you passionate about? Create a project you really want to commit to. Secondly, find strategic partners. You need to know exactly what you’re looking for in your co-founders and your investors. There’s going to be ups and downs, so you need a strong team around you. Co-founders should have a complementary skill set to yours so you have all bases covered. Finally, be ready for the journey! It will be tough at times, so fasten your seatbelt and prepare for the long haul.

What was the goal or passion that led to Homoola?

Ziyad: We saw the opportunity to bring the digital age to logistics and make a huge efficiency and sustainability impact. Our platform connects a network of shippers and carriers together to use trucking space as efficiently as possible and stop them driving empty. There can be a lot of waste in traditional logistics – shipments often come with a lot of paper. We’re reducing this on the carrier side as well as for shippers, and working towards a paper-free solution. So it saves time, money, energy – and the environment.

Asim: We also wanted to empower local people to build careers in the logistics industry. In Saudi Arabia, it’s a lucrative industry so we’re focused on building an ecosystem around road freight. This is in line with supporting Saudi Vision 2030, which is the government’s plan to diversify the economy by developing different service sectors. We’ve created 30+ jobs for local talent in our in-house team of developers, accountants and administrators. Having that positive social impact is a big motivator for us.

What are some of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs can expect to face?

Ziyad: Startups are usually challenging traditional ways of working, and bringing new ideas to the market. So you are likely to meet some resistance and a lack of understanding about what you offer. Be patient with clients, and don’t expect them to understand the first time – it’s taken four or five months to onboard some of our clients. The only certainty is that there will be setbacks. Learn everything you can from your mistakes, and from the mistakes of others. Then move on.

Asim: Absolutely, you need to expect failures. They’re inevitable, and what’s important is that you pick yourself up and learn from them. You have to view them as a step in your journey to success.

How is Homoola going to keep scaling up in future?

Ziyad: Well, we’ve got the “first-mover advantage” because we’re the only solution like this that’s operating in Saudi Arabia at the moment. So our network of truckers and customers is still growing on a monthly basis, and in the short term we want to keep expanding within the Kingdom. But there are other ways we are planning to expand too in the slightly longer term.

Asim: We’re already shipping goods around the GCC and Jordan, as well as within Saudi Arabia. But we’re looking at creating new bases in neighboring countries soon, starting with the UAE and Jordan. And then we want to look beyond just trucking and integrate with big shippers in the region. There’s a lot more to do!

By Henadi Al-Saleh
Head, Agility Ventures

I recently attended a Business Year conference on the role of the private sector in the future of the Kuwaiti economy. The event highlighted Kuwait’s potential to support a vibrant start-up community, but the need was clear for entrepreneurs to capitalize on the country’s digital transformation to drive innovation.

I spoke on a panel alongside entrepreneurs from other well-known Kuwaiti brands including Carriage and Just Clean. There were also insightful contributions from several others, including Kuwait’s Minister of Finance and the Director General of the Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority (KDIPA).

We discussed the fact that while funding for SMEs is critical, a complete eco-system including incubators, talent, laws and other elements must be a part of the wider picture.

I’m encouraged because many of the essential components of a strong knowledge-economy eco-system are coming into place in Kuwait: public and private funding sources, incubators, accelerators and vital sources of mentorship, advice, connections and go-to-market expertise. Kuwait’s legal and regulatory framework is evolving in a positive way.

At Agility, we believe that established companies like ours have a key role to play in supporting SMEs, especially those in the Middle East. We do this both by building products that facilitate SME growth, and by directly providing funding, mentoring and other resources to startups in Kuwait and the broader region.

In March, we brought experts from the MIT Media Lab to Kuwait for the Agility Data Hackathon, a four-day event in which technology students, coders and entrepreneurs competed to solve real world societal and business problems with data and analytics. The idea: to bring together a new generation of Kuwait problem-solvers and encourage development of the collaborative, creative mentality critical to the future of Kuwait and its citizens.

Agility Ventures, our in-house venture capital arm, invests in and advises startups on supply chain ideas and technology. Startups we’ve supported so far include Homoola, a Saudi Arabia company using data analytics and technology to bring new efficiencies to road freight, and CargoX, a Brazilian road freight platform.

We’re also acting as role models, driving our own digital transformation through in-house innovation and investment and the introduction of new products and services. As part of our SME product strategy, we’re investing more than $100 million in Shipa, a new family of tech-enabled freight, e-commerce and delivery services that help small businesses reach international markets. New technologies can streamline the shipping process and make it easier for small businesses to reach overseas markets.

Can Kuwait transform itself into an innovation hub and a private sector-led knowledge economy? The Business Year conference showed that we have the right ingredients for a thriving startup community: funding initiatives, banking structures, connectivity, and well-placed consumers. Now we need to connect the ingredients so they form a healthy, integrated eco-system rather than existing in isolation or as part of fragmented networks. With key stakeholders leading the call for change and entrepreneurs driving innovation, a connected ecosystem will deliver lasting results.

3D printing is big news. It is already a $14.5 billion dollar industry, and is set to keep growing steadily over the next few years.

Each year since 2000, the World Economic Forum has selected high-potential, early-stage companies that are poised to make a social and business impact through innovation.

MIT Media Lab co-hosts Kuwait’s first “Data Agility” hackathon

Fifty tech students, coders and entrepreneurs recently competed in an intense, four-day event in which they teamed up to use data and technology to find solutions to some of Kuwait’s most pressing social and business problems. These innovative minds were taking part in the first “Data Agility” hackathon, co-hosted by Agility and MIT Media Lab, one of the world’s pioneering interdisciplinary research laboratories.

Hackathons are intensive design sprints, where teams compete to see who can use data to fashion the best solution to a pressing problem in just a few hours or days.
Because they bring problem-solvers together in a competitive environment, hackathons have a reputation for fostering innovation and creative thinking — and for getting results fast. (See results below.)

Coached by MIT Media Lab members, nine teams set about creating innovative ways to crack issues faced by consumers, businesses and the government. Armed with data provided by Agility and Kuwait’s Public Authority for Civil Information, competitors were able to tackle problems such as unsnarling Kuwait’s epic morning traffic and making sure consumer products are always in store when shoppers want them.

What were the solutions? And could taking part in a hackathon help your business? We caught up with Lamia Hayat, Manager of Agility Ventures and coordinator of the event, to find out more about the solutions and what the future holds for Kuwait’s tech entrepreneurs.

Four days isn’t long to solve these problems from scratch! Can you talk us through what happened?

LAMIA: It was a real whirlwind! The opening ceremony took place Sunday night with an inspiring address from Agility CEO Tarek Sultan, and an insightful panel discussion on trends in data science, automation and privacy. We were also very honored that Lawrence Silverman, the U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait, attended to give his remarks and support.

Then competitors picked their teams and set to work on Monday morning at a collaborative working space in the city. I’m so glad we hosted it there because there was a really creative and fun vibe, and being surrounded by entrepreneurs and startups working on their own projects meant there was a real collaborative energy.

It went very quickly, but actually, lots of hackathons only run for 24 or 48 hours. Rather than intensive all-nighters, we decided to spread it out with official hours of 9am-5pm to fit with everyone’s lifestyles. We wanted to be accessible to everyone, including parents with young children, and I think this structure really helped us attract a diverse range of people.

What was the key to making the hackathon a success?

LAMIA: There was a real diversity of thinkers from universities, public institutions and private sector organizations. Competitors took part from businesses, banks, technology innovators, start-up accelerators and more – there were so many different perspectives. And it wasn’t just about the solutions that came out of it, but about building networks, sharing ideas and growing the community of tech innovators in Kuwait.

We were supported by various public bodies, including the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS), Kuwait Achievers for Future Opportunities (KAFO), and the Public Authority for Civil Information, which generously donated the data used during the event. People really came together to support innovation and entrepreneurship.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are interested in doing a hackathon?

LAMIA: I really recommend it! It’s a fantastic learning opportunity; you get to practice new skills, a new way of working, and meet a great diversity of interesting people.

And if you’re in Kuwait, get involved with ours! We’re already discussing next year’s, and putting lots of thought into how we can make it even bigger and better.

MIT Media Lab Participants

Kevin Hu

A doctoral student in the Collective Learning Group at the MIT Media Lab, Kevin’s research focuses on democratizing data analysis for non-technical people. He is currently interested in high-density data interface design, visualization recommendation, and applied machine learning.

Eduardo Castello

A Postdoctoral Fellow at the Human Dynamics Group at MIT Media Lab, Eduardo’s work primarily focuses on the combination of swarm robotic systems and blockchain technology to implement new security, behavior, and business models for distributed robotic systems.

Abdulrahman Al-Otaibi

A Kuwaiti PhD student at the Human Dynamics group at MIT Media Lab, Abdulrahman holds a bachelor in Computer Engineering and he is currently working on distributed machine learning algorithms.
After completing his undergraduate degree at Old Dominion University, Abdulrahman worked for 3 years at Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR).

The Hackathon Winners

Most Innovative Solution: PIFSS Team

This all-female team from The Public Institute for Social Security used Agility data to come up with a truly innovative warehousing solution which predicted inbound and outbound flow.

Best Business Solution: The Producers

Using traffic data, a team with members from the Civil Service Commission and Kuwait National Petroleum Companies produced a solution to Kuwait’s traffic problems with the potential to become a thriving startup.

Most Outstanding Solution: Team TANG

This team of extremely talented students from schools including the Kuwait College of Science and Technology, produced an outstanding methodology for predicting warehousing capacity using four years of previous data.

KUWAIT – March 24, 2019 – Agility, a leading global logistics provider, is collaborating with the MIT Media Lab to host a four-day competition that opened Sunday and challenges teams of Kuwaiti tech students, coders and entrepreneurs to solve real-world societal and business problems.

The Data Agility Hackathon will be co-hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, one of the world’s pioneering interdisciplinary research laboratories. Experts from the MIT Media Lab are coaching 50 Hackathon participants working in teams of 10 to find ways to crack issues faced by consumers, businesses and the government.

Hackathon competitors will use high-powered tools to analyze data provided by Agility and Kuwait’s Public Authority for Civil Information. Among the questions they will examine:

  • Can satellite imagery unsnarl Kuwait’s epic morning traffic so we can get to work, school and the airport faster?
  • Can predictive analytics ensure that your favorite cosmetics and fashion items are in store when you go shopping?
  • How can data science speed online purchases right to your door, faster and more reliably than ever?

Thinkers and representatives from Kuwaiti ministries, universities, businesses, banks, technology innovators, start-up accelerators and foundations also are taking part. The data used by the teams includes satellite imaging, Kuwait traffic information, location-based data, and warehousing and freight data.

Tarek Sultan, Agility CEO & Vice Chairman, said: “The Data Agility Hackathon brings a new generation of Kuwaiti problem-solvers together to learn, grow, and use their skills to improve life. We are trying to foster a collaborative, creative mentality and develop the skills critical to the future of Kuwait and its citizens.”

Ryan McCarthy, Director of Member Relations at the MIT Media Lab, said: “Hackathons bring together intellect, creativity and the latest technology tools to address unique regional challenges. We’re enthusiastic about bringing our interdisciplinary approach to design, prototyping and problem-solving to this event.”

Sunday’s opening ceremony featured remarks from U.S. Ambassador Lawrence Silverman; Dr. Youssef Al-Ibrahim, Chairman of the Supervisory Committee of Kuwait Achievers for Future Opportunities (KAFO) Project; and Abdulrahman Al-Otaibi, a Kuwaiti doctoral candidate at the MIT Media Lab. The opening was followed by a panel discussion on the trends and implications of data science, automation and data privacy.

Dr. Al-Ibrahim said: “Following the vision and direction of His Highness, the Amir to continue to empower the youth of Kuwait, we initiated KAFO following the national youth project. It is our mission at KAFO to identify young talent and connect them to others so that they can learn and collaborate as part of our role in contributing to the knowledge economy. We are proud to be part of this advanced program which promotes problem solving through innovation to enable youth in building the future.”

Agility has been a member of the MIT Media Lab since 2017. The Data Agility Hackathon is supported by the Kuwait Foundation for Advancement of Sciences and KAFO.

Q&A with Rashad Sinokrot, CEO of GCC Services

According the UN Refugee Agency, there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people and more than 25.4 million refugees worldwide. Many face significant risks to their safety, health, education and employability, which is why the Innovate for Refugees competition is helping to address these problems.

This global initiative is run by the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab — an organization affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that is dedicated to supporting those in the entrepreneurship ecosystem across the Arab world. It searches for the most innovative tech-driven solutions that improve refugees’ lives by providing access to education, shelter, sanitation and much more. Every year, it awards over $240,000 USD in grants to help these startups grow — without taking any equity from the businesses.

Rashad Sinokrot,
CEO of GCC Services

What makes the competition unique is that a quarter of the entrants were once refugees. We spoke to Rashad Sinokrot, CEO of GCC Services, and one of last year’s judges, to find out more.

  • In the second edition of the Innovate for Refugees competition, each of the five winners was awarded $20,000 USD to help their businesses grow. They are:
  • Akyas: producing single-use biodegradable toilets and sanitizer kits.
  • Hope In Sand And Pipes: helping refugees build a transitional shelter using locally available materials.
  • More Than One Perspective: facilitating an advanced training program that offers workshops, training and mentoring to prepare highly qualified refugees to enter the labor market.
  • Paper Airplanes: providing free, mobile-friendly video technology which connects refugee teens and adults with a course of individualized 12-week sessions from a personal instructor.
  • Tech For Food: providing digital skills trainings which take people from having never touched a computer to employable in the international digital economy in 8-16 weeks.

Can you tell us more about your experience of the Innovate for Refugees program?

Judging the Innovate for Refugees competition was an uplifting experience. I found out about the initiative because Agility is a consortium member of MIT Media Lab, and co-sponsors the Innovate for Refugees program. GCC Services is part of the Agility group and our work in remote site services with United Nations peacekeeping missions made me well-suited to judging the entries.

The judging panel saw some fantastic solutions. Many focused on providing access to education and the labor market, which both have a high impact on livelihood once people have resettled in host nations. Paper Airplanes uses virtual learning technology to help children continue their education while they are living in camps, and MTOP connects refugees with employers in Austria who can benefit from their diverse perspectives.

How is the competition affected by the fact that 25% of entrants were once refugees themselves?

With so many entrepreneurs who have lived as refugees, there is a huge amount of passion in the air. People are engaged and they really care about making a difference.

All of the projects with former refugees on the team are very practical. That personal understanding of the real issues people face means there are no fairytale ideas or unworkable concepts. It’s all things refugees need and would want to use. Of the five winners last year, three had team members who were former refugees, so having that direct experience really adds value.

It also means there are some touching personal stories. In one team, a Syrian woman who had been a refugee was working with a German man to help people from Syria integrate into German society. While they were working together on this venture they certainly put integration into practice, as they ended up getting engaged!

What role does technology have in ensuring these innovations make an impact?

Technology is crucial. Like the impact of digitalization in business generally, it allows these solutions to carry further, faster — and to reach far more people than traditional products can.

Most of the entrepreneurs are young and tech-savvy; they are familiar with the latest platforms and want to keep learning more. Over half of the refugee population worldwide are under 18, so it’s great to see them designing solutions for other young people.

With that said, of course any viable solution needs to be accessible and not have too many requirements from the end user. The most successful solutions were presented in a simple way so that they could be used by people with few means. Not all refugees live in camps, and some have access to the internet via a cell phone, or laptop. But they may not have 4G or 5G, so making the requirements as low as possible is really important.

Some refugees do struggle with tech skills, and limited access to computers is a significant disadvantage in today’s labor market. Tech for Food, one of the competition winners, is addressing this problem by teaching Syrian refugees digital skills through intensive vocational training.

But not all of the products need the user to have access to any technology; some simply use technology in innovative ways to create a product that can then be distributed to those who need it.

Which projects were particularly impressive in terms of their innovation, scalability, team, financial sustainability and impact?

One startup that impressed me on many factors was Akyas, led by Bara Wahbeh. She has produced a single-use biodegradable toilet bag which tackles hygiene problems in areas without sanitation infrastructure, such as refugee camps, war zones or impoverished areas. The bag biodegrades and integrates with the environment to become safe, disease-free soil.

This combination of manufacturing and biology was innovative and very impressive. The product is environmentally and financially sustainable, and addresses multiple problems at once. As well as providing a sanitation solution, it prevents gender-based violence by allowing women to go somewhere private to go to the toilet. It’s an impressive product, and has huge potential for scalability.

Will Agility and GCC Services continue to support the Innovative for Refugees competition?

Absolutely. This is exactly the kind of innovation that we love to support — it makes a difference to people’s lives. We’ll be co-sponsoring and judging the competition again this year, and will undoubtedly be just as inspired by this year’s innovations.

E-commerce in the GCC, worth $26.9 billion in 2018, could rocket to nearly $49 billion by 2022.

E-commerce is disrupting the retail sector.

Warehousing is in the midst of a tech-driven revolution as companies race to identify and adopt emerging technologies that cut costs, optimize operations and improve overall supply chain efficiency.

After many years in early stage venture capital funding, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the startup world.

The GCC e-commerce market is set to become one of the fastest-growing in the world, swelling to $20 billion a year by 2020, according to global consultancy A.T. Kearney.

That would represent an astonishing four-fold increase in the size of the market in just four years. It’s the reason why e-commerce giants are racing to put down roots in the region, and why new digital marketplaces are sprouting up. The Middle East is poised to experience an e-commerce boom. How can you make sure your business is prepared?

The backdrop

The growth in Middle East e-commerce is constrained for the moment by a shortage of financial and logistics infrastructure. But policymakers in Dubai and other key markets want to become e-commerce hubs and are trying to attract investment in the sector by simplifying and fast-tracking business registration and permits for physical assets such as warehousing, office space and vehicles. Indeed, investment is pouring in, as demonstrated by Amazon’s $580 million acquisition of Souq and successful efforts by Mumzworld, Awok and Namshi to attract funding.

Middle East consumers do have some idiosyncrasies – they retain a preference for cash payments, for instance, and have indicated deep concern about online security. For these and other reasons, many successful retailers in the region have not felt the urgency to bring their goods to the online market. So despite its potential, the e-commerce sector currently makes up less than 1% of the GCC region’s GDP, according to tech advisory firm Gartner.

The e-opportunity

How can SMEs ride the region’s e-commerce wave? First, they need to understand a few facts about the region’s fast-changing landscape.

  • Big + Global is not always an advantage. Mastercard reports that 54% of consumers in the Middle East and North Africa prefer shopping on local websites to buying on foreign ones. This means there is an opportunity for local SMEs to be “first movers” and carve out a piece of the market before the giants get established.
  • The shopping mall is changing. Stores in the gleaming shopping mega-malls across the Middle East are doubling as e-commerce fulfilment centers for online shoppers who want same-day and next-day delivery along with easy returns. At the same time, malls themselves are being transformed from traditional rack-and-shelf shopping space to leisure destinations emphasizing dining and “experiential” options such as indoor skiing, wall climbing and waterparks. Reem Mall, under construction in Abu Dhabi, is a prime example of this new mall experience.
  • Creative upstarts can come out on top. E-commerce marketers have disrupted or obliterated the business model in a number of categories where established players became complacent. In the United States alone, there are several interesting examples: pet supply store Chewy, razor subscription service Dollar Shave Club, mattress supplier Caspar and furniture store Wayfair.

Markets in different shapes, sizes

SME sellers looking to go digital in the Middle East have to figure out whether it makes sense to develop their own digital stores, to sell in third-party marketplaces devoted to a narrow product range, or go rely on large players that offer a wide array of product lines and feature competing sellers.

They need to understand whether how they’re going to handle cross-border shipments, warehousing, delivery, customer service, fulfilment and returns. They need to know the costs and benefits of using a global provider, a local one or a go-it-alone approach.

Amazon and Alibaba have their advantages, but that also makes it hard for them to fully penetrate or offer a satisfying online experience in certain product categories and markets. Businesses with specialized products and extensive ranges within those specialties often can use their expertise to create advantage.

The market for soft furnishings such as sofas, armchairs and made-to-measure curtains is one example of a category in which big players often struggle to compete with local-market leaders. These products are often tailored or customized to the buyer’s taste and only finished once the customer places the order. Giant e-commerce companies generally don’t provide customization options because they don’t specialize in these products.

The future of e-commerce in the Middle East

At Agility, we see huge e-commerce potential for SMEs in emerging markets. The unique conditions in many Gulf countries make the region a particularly exciting and urgent prospect. Logistics providers are now offering technology-driven solutions to SMEs that help them overcome the logistics challenges of e-commerce, with digital freight platforms, such as Shipa Freight, allowing companies to get rate quotes and book, pay and track air and ocean shipments with a few clicks.

SMEs looking to grow their online sales can benefit from partnering with logistics companies that have robust infrastructure and e-commerce expertise. First movers will have a crucial advantage if can they find partners who help them manage inventory, deliveries and returns for maximum efficiency.

To learn more about how Agility is supporting the growth of SMEs worldwide visit our Shipa Freight website, where you can read our global study Ship for Success that examines the trade patterns and barriers of SMEs.

Close encounters with the Willy Wonkas of Tech

By Henadi Al-Saleh

Some of the most mind-opening moments of my career have come from Agility’s decision last year to become a consortium member of the MIT Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. Behind-the-scenes access to the lab’s latest innovations has changed the way I think about our challenges. It’s been a long time since I was a kid marveling at the sweets in a candy store, but spending time at the lab is like being with the Willy Wonkas of technology.

The Media Lab is creativity in action. The people there describe their research as “anti-disciplinary,” meaning they want to free themselves from the limitations imposed by dividing knowledge up into different school subjects. Lots of universities describe their research as “interdisciplinary” – crossing the boundaries of academic disciplines – but the MIT Media Lab is taking it to the next level.

The lab’s mission is to use technology to create a better future for humanity. Whatever helps them fulfill this mission, they’ll do it. From the stuff I’ve seen coming out this liberated mind-set, it really works! They aren’t just thinking outside the box, they’re tearing the cardboard up. Just being involved with the Media Lab makes you think sideways, upside-down and back-to-front. What if clothes adapted themselves depending on your body temperature, rather than you having to change clothes, or buy different garments? What if the healthy things we don’t fancy eating tasted like the things we love most?

What’s lettuce got to do with logistics?

Sure, this stuff is exciting and cool, but what’s it got to do with being a global logistics provider? Well, nothing. And at the same time, kind of everything.

The lab has developed drones and object-locating technology that could revolutionize warehousing, but the bulk of its work has little obvious or direct connection to logistics. We joined because we want to explore new ideas and push the boundaries – and because we want to be inspired. Researchers at the lab approach their jobs with a sense of wonder and discovery, often stumbling on real world applications as they go along. What they love is when consortium members like Agility come to them with problems, such as how to more efficiently deliver humanitarian aid in Africa.

Culture change and radical thinking are notoriously hard in business. Disruption is scary because you’ve got to keep executing every day. But this is the way to open your mind to the possibilities. When our team travelled to Boston for the Media Lab’s Spring Member Summit a couple of months ago, we weren’t just tapping into a wealth of knowledge, we were tapping into a mindset. For me, these experiences are about sparking the “why,” and showing the incredible things humanity is able to achieve.

Chocolate-flavored lettuce is pretty out-there. At first it seems like a silly novelty, but then you realize how it’s thinking around a problem in a creative way. We all know that poor nutrition is damaging to our health, but many of us prefer tasty junk food and sweets to healthy, good-for-you foods. Well, what if healthy foods were just as tasty and appealing? I love chocolate, so the lab’s answer certainly set my mouth watering.

The WOW! Factor

Many of the other amazing things we saw at the lab are still top secret, but here’s one from the Affective Computing research group. It shows Agility Ventures’ very own Lamia Hayat making friends with a robot—an off-the-shelf Cozmo that the researchers are using in their experiments with machine learning.

He’s super cute, but the capabilities the researchers are working on giving artificial intelligence could ultimately help give children with autism the ability to learn how to read different emotions. Discover more about the lab’s incredible “deep learning” program and perhaps you’ll be as inspired by its infectious, hands-on creativity as I am.

We’re thrilled that we became consortium members. If you want to find out more about the lab and its work – and you definitely should! – visit the MIT Media Lab website and check out its amazing innovations in action on the lab’s YouTube channel. And if you hate vegetables, keep your eyes peeled. It might not be long before they taste a whole lot different …

KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait – 9 August 2018 – Agility, a leading global logistics provider, took part  in the mentorship and training of 55 students enrolled in this year’s LOYAC! KON Social Entrepreneurship Program, in collaboration with Babson College.

Agility’s participation in the program comes as part of its continued sponsorship and support of LOYAC and KON. KON is a six-week program for middle school and high school students from across Kuwait. It encourages participants to transform their ideas into action and aims to develop responsible business solutions to our community’s most pressing challenges. By the end of the program, students will be able to present their business ideas before a jury panel and a Babson College professor.

On July 18, Agility’s volunteer mentors led by Lamia Hayat, Assistant Manager – Agility Ventures, and Abdullah Fakhra, Senior Manager – Agility Ventures, used a game to help the students understand the complex evolution of the supply chain industry.  The students learned how to develop a solid business structure and were told how the Agility Ventures team vets startups and what it looks for before investing in a company. The session also included a discussion on how technology is changing the logistics industry.

Following the presentation, Agility’s Warehouse Operations team, led by Tek Bahadur Karki, Director – Warehousing Operations, took the students on a tour of the 18,000 sqm warehouse facility. The team explained their day-to-day work and the integrated systems Agility has developed to keep track of the thousands of shipments and orders. The students also learned about the climate-controlled chillers used to store goods that must be kept frozen.

Agility and its Infrastructure companies are committed to support of talented youth by empowering them to achieve their goals. One of Agility’s Infrastructure companies, United Projects for Aviation Services Company (UPAC), a leading commercial real estate and facilities management company, is also sponsoring this year’s program.

Agility Ventures, the corporate venture arm of Agility, partners with promising startups that are championing technologies that can help build faster and more secure and sustainable supply chains. Agility Ventures has invested in digital start-ups that bring new efficiency to e-commerce fulfillment and last-mile delivery for businesses and consumers.

LOYAC is a non-profit organization working towards the overall development of the youth. Its programs facilitate the professional development and personal growth of people ages six to 30. Babson College, located in Wellesley, Massachusetts in the United States, specializes in entrepreneurship education.

To find out more about Agility’s corporate social responsibility activities, please visit the company’s CSR page www.agility.com/EN/csr.

About Agility

Agility brings efficiency to supply chains in some of the globe’s most challenging environments, offering unmatched personal service, a global footprint and customized capabilities in developed and developing economies alike. Agility is one of the world’s leading providers of integrated logistics. It is a publicly traded company with more than $4.6 billion in revenue and more than 22,000 employees in over 500 offices across 100 countries.

Agility’s core commercial business, Global Integrated Logistics (GIL), provides supply chain solutions to meet traditional and complex customer needs. GIL offers air, ocean and road freight forwarding, warehousing, distribution, and specialized services in project logistics, fairs and events, and chemicals.

Agility’s Infrastructure group of companies manages industrial real estate and offers logistics-related services, including e-government customs optimization and consulting, waste management and recycling, aviation and ground-handling services, support to governments and ministries of defense, remote infrastructure and life support.

For more information about Agility, visit Agility.com

Homoola today announced the formal launch of its digital load-matching service in Saudi Arabia, where it will bring new efficiency to road freight by using technology to pair shippers and trucking companies. Homoola’s load-matching technology addresses the pain points felt by both shippers and carriers.  It gives shippers access to capacity at times of peak demand and allows them to optimize the efficiency of their shipments at other times.

Agility sponsored the Innovate for Refugees technology competition, an initiative by the MIT Enterprise Forum (MITEF) Pan Arab. The competition, which commenced in 2017, and is running through 2018, looks for the best tech-driven solutions to address the challenges faced globally by refugees. Projects were judged on innovation, scalability, team, financial sustainability, and impact.

Twenty semi-finalists presented their work to a jury comprised of key investors and business people, including Rashad Sinokrot, CEO of GCC SERVICES, one of Agility’s Infrastructure companies.

The winners were announced in Amman, Jordan on January 28, at a ceremony that attracted more than 300 investors, business entrepreneurs, media representatives and public figures. The winning teams, each receiving a $20,000 prize, included individuals hailing from Jordan, Lebanon, Kenya, Egypt, Tunisia, Sweden, France, Greece, the U.S., Germany, Austria and Turkey.

Winning Teams

  • Paper Airplane (the U.S.) provides free online language and skills instruction to people affected by conflict. The goal is to help individuals learn languages and marketable skills for their pursuit of higher education and employment.
  • Tech for Food (Iraq, Lebanon) provides digital training sessions targeting vulnerable communities to help them become employable in the international digital economy.
  • More than One Perspective (Austria) is an advanced training program that offers various workshops, training and mentoring to prepare highly qualified refugees to enter the labor market.
  • Hope in Sand and Pipes (Lebanon) provides a transitional shelter for refugees using locally available material with minimum maintenance requirements and environmental considerations in the design to minimize the effects of the heat in the summer and cold in winter.
  • Akyas (Jordan) is a personal single-use biodegradable toilet with a sanitizer kit. The bag is made of biodegradable plastics and designed to provide maximum hygiene.

In addition to the cash prize, finalists will also benefit from a mentorship program in innovation and leadership. Mentors will work with one team to insure the success of their initiative, for two hours per month, over a six month to one-year period. The MITEF Pan Arab team will follow up regularly with both mentor and mentees to note progress and challenges faced throughout the mentorship session.

This was the second year of the Innovate for Refugees competition, with wide participation, including more than 1,800 applications from around the world.

Agility’s corporate venture arm, Agility Ventures, partners with start-ups who are championing technologies that can help build faster, more secure, and more sustainable supply chains. They offer start-ups unrivaled access to a global network of resources and the expertise to incubate, invest and scale the best ideas.

Agility has a globally recognized CSR program, covering humanitarian logistics, community volunteerism, fair labor and environmental sustainability. Agility’s humanitarian logistics program has supported humanitarian partners, including the United Nations World Food Program, in more than 50 pro-bono projects related to natural disasters and complex humanitarian emergencies. Since 2006, Agility has completed more than 1,700 community education, health or environment projects affecting more than one million people in 80 countries, including the construction or refurbishment of 38 schools in 18 countries.

In 2016, the World Trade Organization released an extensive report on small and medium-sized businesses.

Agility is the first freight forwarder to collaborate on a Maersk-IBM solution to provide more efficient and secure methods for conducting global trade by using blockchain technology to manage and track container shipments.

Agility Ventures is an investor, board member and advisor for Eunimart, an India-based e-commerce startup. Eunimart CEO Shayak Mazumder attended a World Economic Forum event at the invitation of Agility Ventures.

I recently attended a World Economic Forum (WEF) event in Tianjin, China, as part of the Agility delegation. To say that it was a great opportunity for a fledgling startup like Eunimart would be an understatement. This is exactly the kind of opportunity that can help catapult a startup from a second-tier city like Hyderabad in India to a world stage, helping us get access to global investors and bigger business partners, and overall acting as a catalyst for rapid growth.

By Shayak Mazumder, CEO Eunimart

I have been a part of several startup ecosystems. What new technology companies typically need is to get a co-founder/idea to mentorship, investment and validation. Remember, traditional businesses operate with existing business models and bring forth incremental change, but startups bring about a paradigm change in the way we operate. That’s why investing in startups is a practical way to stay ahead of the curve and is beneficial for all members in the ecosystem. The WEF event brought together the people and elements needed for companies like ours to accelerate formation of their ecosystems.

International collaboration for greater synergy

It was during my MBA at INSEAD that I first truly understood the value of collaboration and bringing globally diversified thought processes to bear on problems that have a global scale. This not only creates unique solutions and more sustainable results, but, most importantly, provides a global market to validate ideas. At the WEF, the first startup I met was from Namibia and the second from Argentina. I ended the event with partnership plans in several countries.

Mentorship from industry experts and thought leaders

I have never met so many thought leaders in one space. While I work to help SMEs sell their products globally in a scalable manner through our platform, the sheer variety of topics, technologies and expertise at the WEF is unprecedented. I reveled in this unique opportunity to open my mind to new ideas and technologies and in the three-day period grew more in my understanding of tech than I had in the last one year.

Policymakers and technologies need to collaborate

There is nothing more important than policymakers and governments remaining abreast of what changes technology can bring. While early stage startups seldom look to collaborate with policymakers, simply due to the small scale of their operations, they fail to grasp the massive impact that policy and regulation have on their business models. Policymakers, on the other hand, tend to automatically connect new tech with existing business models rather than imagining new business models enabled by innovation. WEF provided us with an opportunity to hobnob with various government agencies. We were able to educate them about how existing problems could be solved through new technologies.

Bringing the various ecosystems together

More than anything else, WEF brings several ecosystems together. There are governments, corporations and other institutions, all trying to promote startups and doing great work. So you see Startup India, for example, promoting 30K startups in India! At WEF, what’s impressive is the sheer volume of opportunity — where Startup India looks to collaborate with Startup Bahrain and incubators in Pakistan end up joining hands with Malaysian ecosystem enablers.

The awe that I felt a first was mixed with a sudden dose of reality. It was like someone doused me in cold water and left me exposed and shivering. The volume of people and ideas was humbling. Once I got used to the enormity of the event, I was overwhelmed by the number of amazing people I met – and the sense that I should be trying to meet more. How in a setting like that can you figure out who is most important to you and would create that extra value for you? The only strategy is to be open and to start conversations with as many people as you can, explore their ideas and discuss your ideas with them. I met several potential business partners and investors. What impressed me was how open and like-minded everyone was. In what can be a gloomy world, the event left me with optimism. It was a breath of fresh air.

Our host nation, China did not disappoint, whether it was police officers who dropped their duties to give me a lift or hotel receptions where only payment options were through QR codes. China’s aspirations to be a global leader came through clearly. It all added up to a WEF with a potent mix of amazing talent and opportunities to use new connections and ideas to our benefit. I’m a believer. I would love to go back as often as I get the opportunity. My thanks to Agility.

Eunimart is India’s leading cross-border, e-commerce company, using AI technology to enable small merchants sell globally. Eunimart provides end-to-end cross border solutions for e-commerce, connecting SMEs to multiple international market places, including Amazon Global, eBay global, Lazada, Linio, Bonanza, Souq, Wadi, and Wish. Agility Ventures works with Eunimart to help facilitate entry into new markets, and offers Eunimart access to the Agility logistics/customer networks for use of their services. Agility Ventures, which has a seat on the Eunimart board, advises the company on performance and on securing additional investment.

Agility CEO Tarek Sultan shares his view of innovation in the logistics industry and explains how embracing disruption is enabling Agility to stay ahead of the game.

Completed Phase 3 clinical study paves way for approval request

DUBAI — September 23, 2020 – Healthcare solutions provider Global Response Aid (GRA) and Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories (NYSE: RDY) announced that the anti-viral drug Avigan® produced promising results in a single-blinded, placebo-controlled Phase 3 clinical study conducted in Japan with the sponsorship of FujiFilm Toyama Chemical.

Patients who received Avigan® recovered from COVID-19 symptoms 2.8 days earlier, on average, compared with the control group. Analysis showed patients had a statistically significant higher probability to recover when administered Avigan® compared with the patients not receiving the drug.

The study involved 156 hospitalized patients showing COVID-19 induced pneumonia, and divided in two groups or “arms.” Patients in the first arm received Avigan®. Patients in the second arm received a placebo looking identical to the drug. A statistically significant percentage of the patients in the group receiving Avigan® had a rapid reduction in viral loads.

The study aimed to measure recovery from pneumonia and COVID-19 symptoms. It monitored patients’ temperature, oxygen saturation and CT scan imaging of the lungs. Time-to-alleviation of the symptoms was measured between the first administration of the drug (or placebo) and the moment when SARS-COV-2 induced symptoms became undetectable.

Shortening recovery time lowers the risk of complications in patients and, importantly, significantly reduces the risk that a patient will spread the virus. The latest results open the possibility of treating patients with mild or moderate cases of COVID-19 in outpatient settings, which also could help slow the spread of the pandemic.

Avigan®, which contains the active ingredient Favipiravir, was developed by FujiFilm Toyama Chemical in the 1990s as an anti-influenza drug. GRA, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, and FujiFilm Toyama recently entered a global licensing agreement covering the production, marketing and distribution of Avigan®.

Results of the Japan trial suggest the effectiveness of Avigan® as a treatment to prevent COVID-19 patients from progressing from mild to more severe or critical clinical stages of the disease, and to accelerate recovery from COVID-19 symptoms.  

GRA CEO Mitch Wilson said the FujiFilm Toyama study represents a breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19, and opens the way for approval of Avigan® as a COVID-19 treatment in Japan. The drug is already approved in India, Russia, Indonesia and other countries around the world.

“The findings from this university-led study are the proof we all need to tackle this pandemic,” Wilson said. “We are actively working with regulators in order to speed up the approval in major markets. Because Avigan® is manufactured in pill form the drug can be self-administered from home, which reduces patient load in hospitals and on medical staff. Furthermore Avigan® does not require refrigerated transport or storage making it much easier to quickly distribute the drug to countries and markets with limited cold storage infrastructure”

Avigan® is the subject of clinical trials in COVID-19 patients in several countries. It was used to treat COVID-19 patients in studies in China’s Hubei province, led by the China-Japan Friendship Hospital. It is undergoing testing in the United States in a multi-site Phase 2 study involving initially hospitalized patients, a trial sponsored by FujiFilm Toyama Chemical. It also is the subject of an investigator-initiated Phase 2 study in subjects with mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 being conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Avigan® Tablet was approved for manufacture and sale in Japan in 2014 as an influenza anti-viral drug. The drug is to be considered for use only when there is an outbreak of novel or re-emerging influenza virus infections in which other influenza anti-viral drugs are either not effective or insufficiently effective, and the Japanese government decides to use the drug as a countermeasure against such influenza viruses. GRA is a Dubai-based company established by global logistics leader Agility (KSE: AGLTY) and AiPHARMA a biotechnology company to procure and develop certified diagnostic, testing and protective products and services used in the detection, treatment and prevention of COVID-19 and other public health threats.

By Chris Price, Chief Executive Officer, Agility Global Integrated Logistics

  • When the pandemic dies down, trade protectionism will become the biggest threat to global supply chains.
  • This will both drive up prices and make resiliency harder to achieve.
  • Accelerated digitalization and uptake of new technologies can help firms find a balance between supply chain resiliency and efficiency.

Seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses of all kinds are devising ways to protect themselves from future shocks by making their supply chains more resilient. In doing so, they need to guard against the mistake of preparing for the last battle rather than the coming one.

At some point, hopefully soon, the unprecedented global response to COVID-19 will reduce it to a manageable threat that allows us to return to something approximating normalcy in our personal and professional lives.

When that occurs, the greatest immediate and long-term risk to supply chains won’t be a virus. It will be trade protectionism, which was resurgent even before the COVID crisis, and now threatens to choke off the lifeblood we need to speed us toward recovery.

As recently as 2016, trading nations were erecting fresh barriers – subsidies, tariffs, quotas, licensing requirements and other obstacles – at twice the rate they were adopting measures to liberalize trade, according to Global Trade Alert. By 2018, new obstacles outpaced liberalizing steps by three to one. Last year, the ratio was four to one, and the value of global merchandise trade fell by 3%, the first decline since 2015.

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, we have seen protectionism intensify. Some emergency moves are clearly temporary. They were put in place by governments to ensure access to the medicines, machines and protective equipment required to contain or treat the virus. In other cases, the aim was to guarantee adequate food supplies for local populations.

Yet these new measures and others have been taken against a backdrop of simmering trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies, the US and China, and a growing chorus of voices in the US, Germany and other countries calling to re-shore, nationalize or find alternative sources for key products and industries such as 5G wireless equipment, semiconductors, steel, electrical power gear, mobile cranes, rare earth minerals and other goods.

The 164-nation World Trade Organization (WTO), normally the body that would quell trade wars and bolster the global consensus for free trade, has been weakened, perhaps fatally, by a loss of faith in its dispute resolution system and the apparent withdrawal of US support.

“In the current alternate universe we’re living in, global trade is collapsing and the WTO and the liberal order itself are in a true existential crisis,” Bloomberg noted in June.

As economies around the world emerge, unevenly, from the pandemic, we can expect demand to begin to strengthen. As it does, trade flows, carrier schedules and inventory levels will start to normalize, and supply and demand will find a new equilibrium.

But normalization won’t mean a return to normal. The World Bank expects a 5.2% contraction in global GDP in 2020. Advanced economies could shrink by as much as 7%, although they are likely to recover faster than economies in emerging or developing countries, the bank says.

Trade, which has accounted for 54% to 60% of global economic activity in recent years, is set to retreat even further. The WTO forecasts a drop in global trade flows of 13% to 32% in 2020. UNCTAD expects trade to decline by 20%. For context, the largest quarterly decline in trade volume during the 2008 financial crisis was 5%.

Global trade has shrunk dramatically in 2020Image: UNCTAD

The new wave of protectionism, which includes a sharp rise in the use of international economic sanctions and penalties, will significantly increase the cost of goods at a time when we are experiencing historic levels of joblessness, poverty, and business failures on every continent.

Protectionism is likely to make supply chain resiliency harder to attain, not to mention more costly.

The first step toward resiliency is diversification of sources and suppliers. For many, that means reducing reliance on China, which accounts for 28% of global manufacturing.

Yet the economic trauma caused by COVID-19 will shrink the universe of suppliers, not expand it. And new layers of protectionism will leave companies with even fewer choices of supply because they will rob efficient producers – in China and elsewhere – of their competitiveness and make them too expensive.

Simply uprooting from China is not as easy as it seems. Forty years after it began modernizing, China today holds advantages available nowhere else: unmatched scale; abundant skilled and unskilled labour; sophisticated automation, engineering and sciences; world-class infrastructure and logistics; closely synchronized and integrated supplier networks both in-country and across Asia. Twenty-five years ago, leaving China meant leaving a low-cost manufacturing centre. Today, it would mean giving up on the world’s largest consumer market and an economy growing at twice the rate of the US before the COVID-19 crisis.

Other attempts to build resiliency also defy easy answers. For instance, businesses that see the pandemic as a reason to beef up future inventory through the addition of “safety stock” will probably think differently when the historically low cost of capital begins climbing.

Once the COVID-19 threat recedes, businesses across virtually all industries will have to find a new balance between efficiency and resiliency, because the latter carries a cost. Rather than trying to ‘deglobalize’ or shorten the physical length of far-flung supply chains, they should consider the resiliency offered by accelerated digitalization and deeper integration of technology.

From its earliest days, the pandemic separated digital leaders from laggards. Leaders had tools that gave them accurate visibility into supplier status, orders, shipments and inventory. They could make data-driven decisions quickly because they had trusted supply chain partners – especially freight forwarders and third-party logistics providers (3PLs) – sharing fresh information in near real-time and hunting down available production and shipping capacity. Laggards floundered and continue to flounder.

One obvious lesson from the pandemic is that digital capabilities such as predictive modelling, big data and partner integration are driving business flexibility. When things are relatively stable, those digital capabilities provide a competitive advantage. In times of disruption, they give companies the ability to optimize schedules, ports, modes, vendors and other variables, adjusting on the fly to events that could otherwise prove calamitous, even ruinous.

True resiliency means being ready for any kind of disruption: political, economic, cyber, conflict-based or, yes, pandemic-related. Knowing where to find it is what will separate tomorrow’s leaders from laggards.

Originally published on the World Economic Forum’s Agenda blog.

Global Response Aid and Dr. Reddy’s to sell premium original version of anti-viral drug

DUBAI – September 10, 2020Global Response Aid (GRA) and Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories will begin selling the anti-viral drug Avigan® in Indonesia following a recent decision by the country’s National Agency of Drug and Food Control (NA-DFC) to approve the drug’s active ingredient, Favipiravir, for treatment of patients infected with COVID-19.

The approval by Indonesia’s national medicines regulator follows a similar decision in August by the medicines regulatory body of India, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO), which approved Avigan® as a treatment for patients infected with Coronavirus.

Avigan® was developed as an influenza anti-viral by FujiFilm, which has licensed GRA and Dr. Reddy’s to manufacture, distribute and commercialize the drug globally. Clinical trials of the drug have been conducted and are underway in the United States, Japan, China, the Middle East and other countries, where it is being used to reduce fevers and shorten recovery time in patients who receive Avigan® in the early stages of infection with COVID-19.

Throughout the pandemic, the governments of Indonesia and Japan have been collaborating on the search for effective treatments and other challenges. In May, the Japanese government delivered more than 12,000 Avigan® tablets to Indonesia for use in fighting COVID-19.

With the drug now approved for use, GRA and Dr. Reddy’s will distribute Avigan® in Indonesia through private healthcare providers opting for a premium quality drug.

“Generic versions of Favipiravir are or will be available in Indonesia, India and other markets as it gets addditional regulatory approval and becomes accepted as a safe, effective treatment for COVID patients,” said Eric ten Kate, Head of Life Science at GRA. “GRA’s focus is getting branded Avigan®, the premium version of the drug, to providers and patients who want the original formulation, which has a higher potency, fewer impurities and five times the shelf life. Our goal is to provide the safest, most effective version of Favipiravir available anywhere.”

Mitch Wilson, CEO of GRA, said: “Approval by Indonesia means that Avigan®/Favipiravir is now being used to treat patients in the three most populous Asian countries – China, India and Indonesia. We expect further approvals in the near future and will be announcing multiple manufacturing locations globally to meet the growing demand.”

“The diligent and efficient work GRA and Dr. Reddy’s are conducting is the reason we chose them as our partners,” said Junji Okada, President, FUJIFILM Toyama Co., Ltd.

Avigan® was approved for manufacture and sale in Japan in 2014 as an influenza anti-viral drug. It has generally been used only when there is an outbreak of novel or re-emerging influenza virus infections in which other influenza anti-viral drugs are either not effective or insufficiently effective.

Working with government agencies, non-governmental organizations and local regulatory authorities, GRA is providing Avigan® to qualified patients with COVID-19 on a compassionate-use basis for emergency treatment outside of ongoing clinical studies.

The pandemic has disrupted supply chains around the world. It presents vast logistics challenges everywhere. But there are solutions. And at their heart are technology and people – and the tools, communications and data that link them.

The essential nature of logistics has been highlighted by the Coronavirus crisis, from getting personal protective equipment (PPE) to healthcare workers, to replenishing stocks in supermarkets.

The challenges are imposing. From much-reduced air and ocean cargo capacity and a rapid shift from in-store buying to e-commerce to the COVID-19 “bullwhip effect” on inventories and supplies, never have so many businesses and consumers had to adjust, improvise and innovate so rapidly.

Here are four key logistics challenges that spurred the search for new solutions.

  1. Capacity

Capacity evaporated. In normal times, ocean freight is typically around 90% of global trade volume. But the pandemic initially curtailed the supply of manufactured goods out of Asia, then rippled across the world and sent demand for goods shipped by ocean freight plummeting. Ocean carriers responded by removing shipping capacity from the market: cancelling sailings and eliminating “strings” where vessels call on several ports before reaching a final destination. Air freight capacity also dropped, in large part because a significant portion of air cargo flies in the bellies of passenger flights, many of which were cancelled as passenger traffic dried up. Meanwhile, driver shortages and cross-border restrictions shrank road freight capacity in certain places and led to long backups and delays.

Ocean freight capacity is starting to bottom out and stabilize. In the meantime, a number of other answers have emerged, including:

  • Shift of ocean cargo to air, despite higher shipping rates and a scramble for space. Makers of tech products – laptops and headsets – saw demand soar as millions around the world left the office and began working from home for extended periods;
  • Use of air charters for urgent, high-value cargo that would otherwise go aboard freighter aircraft or in the belly of widebody passenger flights;
  • Conversion of empty passenger aircraft to “passenger-freighters” that can carry cargo in specially packed passenger cabins, in addition to belly cargo;
  • Charter sharing and freight consolidation among forwarders or shippers that might normally be competitors;
  • Alternative modes such as rail from China to Europe, then long-haul trucking across borders;
  • Alternative airports, ports, and trucking routes where there is extra capacity.
  1. Fluctuating demand

COVID-19 has turbocharged the consumer shift to online buying. In Italy, e-commerce sales of consumer products rose by 81% in a single week; McKinsey forecasts that 55% of consumers in China will continue shopping online as the crisis eases – for example, buying cars without ever visiting a showroom. Businesses weathering the storm include those with omni-channel inventory strategies that have pivoted to BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) models, and smaller firms such as restaurants that transformed their websites into points-of-sale and converted themselves into delivery-led operations.

The retail-to-go approach presents logistics hurdles. E-commerce demands rapid fulfillment and delivery that is also inexpensive for the consumer. Among the solutions is alternative inventory storage: more warehousing close to point-of-origin or destination, conversion of stores into storage as distribution and fulfillment hubs, or strategic use of ocean freight as “floating storage” through careful timing of orders and deliveries.

  1. Geographic risk

The crisis also provides an opportunity to re-evaluate supply chain locations. At the start of the pandemic, when China shuttered production, some US fashion retailers said more than 70% of their stock was sourced from the country. Disruption to its industries have left electronics retailers facing delays of 10 weeks on shipments. The same is true for brands producing in other nations.

Will the crisis alter global production and sourcing patterns? Will it prompt companies producing or sourcing in Asia to diversify by spreading production, or to adopt near-shoring or reshoring strategies? There are signs some US manufacturers are looking at bringing production closer to home, mainly in Mexico.

For many, it will be hard to cut or loosen ties to China. Supply chains there are highly efficient, the labor force large and skilled, the market vast and growing. Chinese production is deeply integrated with inputs from and production in other Asian markets. China, for instance, is a major source of fabric for garment manufacturers in the region, making it hard to remove from the equation altogether. And a “China+1” strategy to spread supply chain risk is also potentially expensive.

Many companies with the flexibility to move have already done so, as the result of US-China trade friction that began in 2016, or because labor costs in China were rising. Pre-COVID-19, the Agility Emerging Markets Logistics Index 2020 found 70% of those with operations in China were planning to stay put, despite global trade tensions and other headwinds. This sentiment may endure after the pandemic, suggesting a logistics-led solution, smoothing supply and demand issues, is the best approach.

  1. Inventory management

Consider the COVID-19 “bullwhip effect”  – the changes in consumer demand that ripple through the supply chain at ever greater magnitudes, creating long-term problems for production and supply. This can be seen in the one-off surges in demand for toilet paper – stockouts one week, then excess inventory buildup the next. From goods delayed to goods unwanted, the pandemic has created inventory chaos.

Some solutions exist in creative logistics:

  • Improving visibility tools and using advanced data analytics for better modeling;
  • Moving stock closer to key markets;
  • Working out whether smaller volumes of inventory are needed in order to be more responsive to fast-paced trends;
  • Demand planning and ordering in shortened, more frequent cycles.

One lesson of this crisis is that without people, technology is of little value. Companies that reacted quickly to the supply chain disruption caused by the pandemic typically did so because, as Biju Kewalram, Chief Digital Officer of Agility GIL, says, “Technology doesn’t make itself useful. People make technology useful.”

“We’ve found that the customers that have a high degree of digital supply chain already built in were able to flex a lot better and more quickly with us. But they also had agile organizations where internal collaboration and collaboration with customers and suppliers were already part of the culture, data and visibility were shared, and people were empowered to be nimble in how they responded.”