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The VCU School of Business and its international partners recently achieved a significant milestone in their quest to deliver social impact solutions to impoverished communities in sub-Saharan Africa when the Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa donated two all-terrain vehicles to the group’s representatives in Cape Town.

In December, Ford representatives delivered two Ford Ranger trucks to the Generation Social Fleet Holding Company – a collaboration that includes VCU Supply Chain Management and Analytics, the VCU Henry Ford Entrepreneurship Academy, the Young African Leader Initiative network and Generation Schools, a network of Southern African schools founded in 2016 by Jevron Epstein.

Global opportunity born of two cultures connecting at VCU
In 2017, after receiving a Mandela Washington Fellowship for young African leaders, Epstein traveled to VCU for a six-week summer program of academics, leadership training and networking. While there, he met and began collaborating with VCU Adjunct Professor David Berdish, the executive-in-residence for VCU Supply Chain Management and Analytics.

Before joining VCU, Berdish served as social sustainability manager for Ford Motor Company. He spent nearly a decade conducting research and pilot programs that culminated in a 2012 Ford mobility project – Sustainable Urban Mobility with Uncompromised Rural Reach – that provided prenatal care to mothers in rural India.

As Berdish shifted his career to teaching, Ford continued its support of his vision and expanded it to include VCU supply chain management students. Upon finding a passionate partner in Epstein and Generation Schools, Berdish revived his ideas for a shared-use mobility program and began collaborating on promising opportunities in Southern Africa.

Poorest townships to receive nutrition and education
Just over two years later, that shared dream has begun to take form. Micro-businesses in the Cape Town region soon will deploy the shared-used Ford vehicles to distribute fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables; goods and services; as well as education modules and training.

The fleet will operate efficiently, utilizing software and carefully researched delivery schedules and routes recommended VCU students. “Our students have done all the origin and destination routes that a logistics specialist would do in the real-world,” explains Berdish.

VCU students also helped source the vehicles’ after-market hardware, including solar- and vehicle-powered cold storage units for food transportation.

“Our students are learning how businesses can make the world a better place,” says Berdish. “Supply chain management touches everything from the raw materials pulled out the ground to final products delivered into the hands of consumers. We prepare our students to have a global impact. They are going to reduce greenhouses gases, conduct business ethically, and use creative tools to deliver products in the best way possible. That’s the strategy we share every day.”

Those living in the poorest townships in the Cape Town metropolitan area have the least accessibility to good nutrition, fresh water, healthcare and education. The Generation Social Fleet ultimately hopes to expand use of its vehicles to include a variety of “front seat” services, including healthcare screenings.

“We aim to have desalinization systems installed in the back of the vehicles in order to purify sea water,” explains Chelsea Kent, head of Human Resources for Generation Schools in Cape Town. “Jevron’s idea is to have these systems installed in order to transport clean drinking water to underprivileged communities. That’s all part of our five-year plan. We truly want to help and give back to the community around us.”

Empowering female farmers in Southern Africa
“The Generation Social Fleet is a great opportunity for Ford in a number of ways,” says Deb Heed, a global sustainability specialist with Ford. “We get to learn more about the shared vehicle market in South Africa. And we’re also supporting social entrepreneurs who are driving positive change in their communities, which supports our vision of delivering positive impacts on communities through access to mobility.”

As a signatory to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, Ford sees the Generation Social Fleet project as aligned with at least four of the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

  • Good Health and Wellbeing (SDG3);
  • Quality Education (SDG4);
  • Gender Equality (SDG5); and
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG8).

One entrepreneurial user of the shared fleet, Phillip Van den Berg, soon plans to expand his produce business by collaborating with a network of rural women farmers currently unable to transport their fresh fruits and vegetables to local markets.

“Philip has a small vehicle and a business. I’ve been to his warehouse,” says Kent. “His new delivery route will have him picking up produce at 4 a.m. from mostly women-owned farms. Our trucks can navigate rural roads that were previously inaccessible. The Ford Rangers give him far more cargo room and the cold storage coolers means the produce he picks up won’t go bad on the journey to restaurants, cafes and schools.”

Student from a developing country: “I know how bad it can get.”
Muayad “Moe” Elhassan, a VCU senior pursuing a concentration in Supply Chain Management and Analytics, worked on the global effort in two different supply chain classes – Global Supply Chain Management [SCMA 386] and Logistics Distribution Strategy [SCMA 410].”

“This project has me so excited,” he says. “It exposed me to how much opportunity there is in the supply chain field – to be able to work internationally, to be able to travel and also to have a humanitarian impact.”

“The biggest thing for me is ultimately giving people access to clean water,” he says. “I’m from a developing country myself. I came here from Sudan when I was six. So I’ve seen how bad it can get in certain remote areas where people just do not have access to water. These are things we take for granted over here.”

Real-life projects with real-world impact
“Projects like these give Ford a deeper understanding of the mobility needs and opportunities in South Africa,” says Heed. “It’s an opportunity to test new technologies and, of course, give back to the communities where we work and live.” Ford has two plants in South Africa and has been an active participant in their auto industry since 1923.

According to Berdish, an important next project step is “to work together to document, process and deliver our solution set of relationship building, technology, vehicles’ reach, carrying capacity, quality of data and the connectivity of the data to social entrepreneurs in development areas that will ultimately improve lives in Africa.”

“This is data we can share with the United Nations, Global Compact, USAID and companies like Ford and others that might be interested in sustainable logistics and mobility.

“The solutions to Africa’s pressing social problems must be discovered through experimentation,” he declares. “The opportunity is huge: Companies are now in a great position to improve life for the world’s poor while also improving their bottom line.”

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