For an Australian, travelling to another country involves crossing a body of water by air or by sea. A flight, even from the closest access point to our nearest neighbour, takes hours. Consider then the logistical situation for countries in the Pacific, where routes take longer and services are less frequent, and you touch upon one issue that makes doing projects in the region more difficult.
“One of the things is the tyranny of distance,” says Alan Johnson, senior humanitarian trainer with aid facilitator RedR Australia. Johnson trains logisticians for deployment to emergency situations worldwide.
Often in disaster scenarios time and cost conflict: with more time, shipments become more cost effective, but the nature of an emergency demands supplies as soon as possible. Johnson says it is thus the project manager’s job to weigh up all the options in the context of the country’s infrastructure. “One of the challenges in the Pacific, particularly, is the ports. What size ports are there? Can you transfer goods to the shore? To charter a plane will cost you X dollars. It may be cheaper to do that, but there may be a risk if the airfield is damaged,” he says. “That’s the planning process, and then you make a decision based on the risk.”
He suggests that in some cases, where the probability of natural disasters is fairly high, such as in Pacific islands commonly visited by cyclones, it may be wise to pre-position stock in secure areas in-country for better accessibility. “You have to have a contingency plan in place where you’ve addressed all these particular logistic areas,” he advises.
Fortunately, the United Nations maintains logistics capacity assessments on a number of nations, showing the country’s infrastructure and capacity, including telecommunications infrastructure. When disaster strikes, it is then easier for external stakeholders to understand the context of the logistical environment and, with local updates, plan transport.
No similar assessment exists in such a comprehensive form for other types of projects, however, which makes it important for project managers to research available resources and garner an understanding of the local environment, says Madelinka Sulic. Director for International Projects and Planning at DET International and TAFE NSW National Business, Sulic says TAFE works in partnership with local organisations, using their knowledge to develop an effective project.
“We work with a partner to identify really clearly what is going to be possible in a particular location with the resources we have. You can’t just go into a country and say ‘this is what we do in Australia and this is how it’s going to work here’,” she says. “The resources and the training has to be contextualised, it has to make sense to the country and clients you’re servicing.”
Location also poses some challenges for service projects like TAFE’s, particularly in developing nations in the Asia-Pacific where some of its work occurs. “You have to factor in remote locations, the available resources in-country, the telecommunications, because that will have a huge impact on your staffing, your project management team, how you will then deliver your project objectives,” says Sulic.
Flexibility is key, she adds, not just because an outbreak of SARS or an earthquake could change the project environment, but also because people differ. “Cultural communication styles are very different. Expectations are very different. The ways people approach things are very different. People say things like, ‘it runs on Fiji time’ but that’s part of the reality, how the community works, and that’s the way their infrastructure and dynamics work. We need to work within that.”