Meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will require adapting or redirecting a variety of very complex global and local human systems – including local markets and supply chains. In recent work with USAID/Uganda, we explored tools for capturing the dynamics of such systems, in order to identify leverage points for change. One such leverage point is the set of relationships along the supply chain. In more developed economies, relationships are known to have a major impact on firm performance, but these dynamics are not well understood in less developed markets, especially those with a large number of smallholder farmers. With a qualitative study in a representative region of Uganda, we examined the types of value gained by supply chain participants from their relationships. We find that relationships in a smallholder economy can provide value similar to those in a developed economy, but that the sources and mechanisms of value creation may differ, and that additional types of value can be equally or more important. For example, community ties may be more important than traditional transactional relationships. The results suggest where development practitioners can work to strengthen relationships to enhance smallholder supply chains and move towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.
Dr. Erica Gralla is an Associate Professor of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering at the George Washington University in Washington, DC, and currently visiting the Kuehne Logistics University in Hamburg, Germany. She completed her Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Engineering Systems Division and her B.S.E. at Princeton University in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering. Dr. Gralla studies decision-making in real-world contexts, to develop knowledge and tools for better decisions in the design and operation of complex systems. She draws on methods from systems engineering and operations management to examine how system structure and human behavior affect performance in sociotechnical systems. Recent application areas include disaster response, international development, and spacecraft and facility design, with partners including USAID, FEMA, and NASA.