Creating New Supply Chains in an Emergency

What we learned by supporting local production during the COVID-19 Pandemic



When the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, it quickly became apparent that the global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) would disproportionately impact people living in low-income countries. As the number of COVID cases exploded around the world, the disruptions in global supply chains meant rising costs for supplies, which led to unequal access to PPE in low-income countries and ultimately to increased infections and deaths. Of course, as we know the supply chain disruptions aren’t over yet, as we’ve seen with the recent baby formula shortages.

A crisis of this magnitude, never before experienced in the modern era, demanded new solutions. As governments and businesses struggled to procure essential supplies in what had become a seller’s market, NeedsList joined forces with the nonprofits Field Ready and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap to see if as innovators we could do things differently. With support from a grant from Creating Hope in Conflict: a Humanitarian Grand Challenge, our three organizations took on the challenge to map and match the PPE needs of frontline workers in refugee-led organizations in Kenya, Uganda, Bangladesh and Iraq with local manufacturers who could directly supply these items. Our goal was to bypass slow and costly global supply chains and support local manufacturers and organizations with rapid and locally produced aid-on-demand.

Our three organizations worked together by doing what we each do best: Humanitarian OpenStreetMap mapped the location of local manufacturers, NeedsList provided software for refugee-led organizations to log needs, and Field Ready identified and worked with local manufacturers to get the items produced and delivered into the hands of the organizations who needed them.

A screenshot of the Field Ready’s map on our software. Each purple dot is a need and burgundy dots are manufacturers.

A year and a half later, the project delivered over 380,000 items to frontline workers who have been working to protect vulnerable populations from COVID.

Some of the needs posted by local organizations in Uganda.

Some highlights from the project include:


In Uganda, we partnered with refugee-led organizations LIRA NGO Forum, Gloford and YAREN to protect local healthcare providers and staff in the region during surges. Over 120,000 people received locally produced PPE including face shields, hand sanitizer and other protective items.

Field Ready staff delivering face shields to Lira NGO forum in Uganda.
Locally produce face shields being used at YAREN in Uganda.


In Kenya, local leaders used our software in Kakuma refugee camp beyond identifying needs–the program ended up providing job training and income opportunities for refugees and promoting recycling, since protective masks were made from recycled materials.


In Iraq, Field Ready connected local manufactured to hospitals and clinics in Erbil and Mosul to protect frontline health workers.

20,000 locally-produced PPE items were delivered to hospitals and clinics in Erbil, Iraq
7,000 locally-produced PPE items being delivered to Ibn Sina Hospital in Mosul, Iraq


Involute Tech BD delivered more than 20,000 items, mainly safety goggles, and face shields to range of organizations, including SARPV, YPSA, and the NGO Forum for Public Health.

Qureshi Enterprise delivered more than 10,000 units of hand sanitizer, to the NRC Bangladesh, Shushilan, and Gonoshasthaya Kendra in Cox’s Bazaar.

It’s important to underscore that this project was conceived, planned, and executed by relatively small organizations across four different countries and contexts in the midst of a global pandemic.

Although the humanitarian sector is massive, it’s still extremely risk-averse, and there is very little appetite, support, or funding for innovation. As such, this project would not have been possible without the funding and support from one of the few entities supporting humanitarian innovation: Humanitarian Grand Challenges, which is a partnership between U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, and Global Affairs Canada, with support from Grand Challenges Canada.

We believe that while the outcomes and impacts have been remarkable, there is much more work to be done. We know that not only is it possible to support and scale local production of PPE and other essential items, but also that new models will be essential in a world that will continue to experience the destabilizing effects of climate change, pandemics, and conflict. Shifting away from reliance on global supply chains to local production is not only possible–it’s necessary. We hope this project helps catalyzes the international humanitarian community to consider deploying its funding to new models.

The future depends on it.




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