We need more women in the humanitarian supply chain work. I’m doing something about it

Pamela Awuor Steele, 58, the founder of Pamela Steele Associates (PSA) at her Mega Plaza office in Kisumu on August 3, 2022. Photo | Pool  


What you need to know:

  • Pamela Awuor Steele has had a lustrous career as a supply chain expert, spanning 30 years across the globe. This year, she moved her organisation, Pamela Steele Associates (PSA) to Kisumu from the UK to empower young women in the trade

Pamela Awuor Steele will never forget the morning of December 26, 2005. It was the morning that changed her life. On the fateful day, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake swept off the coast of Indonesia triggering one of the worst tsunamis in the history of the world.

Indonesia’s, Aceh province was among the first areas to be hit by the waves, killing thousands of residents and leaving behind massive destruction of property.

The event would see several Humanitarian organisations spring to the rescue, and Oxfam (where she worked) was not to be left behind.

The international organisation was to supply more than 50,000 survivors with clean water and sanitation equipment.

But before the dispatch could be made, Oxfam, which is also a campaign organisation against arms trafficking in conflict zones, had to clear any planes before they could be used to ship out emergency supplies.

Fear of sacking

But neither the directors could be reached hours before to sign off the dispatch of the essential life-saving supplies.

As a result, the United Kingdom Oxfam Acting Head of Logistics and supply who was Pamela was caught in a catch-22. To usurp her powers, face sacking and sign-off or wait for her seniors, and risk the lives of millions of people who needed the essentials to survive? She decided to put herself in the line of fire to save others. 

“I knew I would be sacked, but I was sure of walking with my head high knowing very well I had saved lives,” recalls Pamela.

The amber planes could only be approved by the company’s most senior executives.

“I approved the planes and the next morning, the first dispatch carrying large tanks for storage of clean water had arrived in Banda Aceh,” she recalls.

By mid-morning, the world was watching Oxfam on the ground saving lives. It was a beautiful story, but it is then that the reality hit Pamela—what if she lost her job?

 “I was not sure how my boss would react but I was convinced that I had lost my job,” shares Pamela.

On Monday morning, Pamela went to the humanitarian director’s office and admitted to her actions.

“He listened, woke up from his seat, held my hand, and directed me to an office where the program staff was holding a meeting sending a cold chill down my spine,” Pamela says.

‘Can you imagine that Pam approved the plane that took supplies to Indonesia?’ Pamela recalls her boss saying as she remained silent and fearful.  

Her boss’s next statement caught her off guard.

“For the first time, we have a leader who can be bold and make tough decisions,” said her boss who went ahead to praise her for the job well done.

The lifting words

From that day onwards, Pamela’s career was on an upward trajectory. “I hold those words close to my heart. They molded my career for the better,” Pamela who holds several academic certifications from Kenyan and international universities and has 30 years of experience in Supply Chain, says. 

17 years down the line, Pamela, a supply chain expert, has never looked back on her mission to save lives. Today, the mother of two, has worked with different humanitarian organisations sending supplies to countries hit by calamities before opening her supply chain organisation, Pamela

Steele Associates (PSA).

The 58-year-old born in Ugenya, Siaya County says her line of duty has enabled her to live her dream of service to humanity.

Early life

Growing up in Siaya, Pamela wanted to be a Catholic nun, a passion inspired by her frequent visit to the convent.

Her mother would tag her along whenever she went to Sega Catholic Mission where the little girl admired the nuns for their immaculate look.  When she

revealed her desire to become a nun, her mother was not surprised. “My mother neither agreed nor disagreed with me, maybe because she wanted to give me more time to think about my decision,” she says.

After clearing her primary school education, she joined Lwak Girls for her O’ levels intending

to join the convent afterwards. It is until she interacted with the nuns and learnt that they never received any payment that Pamela decided to change her career path.

“Apart from engaging in charity activities, I always wanted to make money to help my mother and stepmother who were widowed,” she says. 

After Lwak Girls, she proceeded to Kereri girls for A levels before securing admission at the Kenya Polytechnic to pursue a course in purchasing and supplies.

After graduation in 1987, she worked for wood venture(K) Limited an Asian company, for

eight years.

The logistician however realised that she still had a burning desire to work with charity organisations so when she applied for a vacancy with the World Vision

Kenya and secured a position as a logistics manager working with survivors of Sudan, and Somali civil wars, and Rwanda genocide. She later moved to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) supporting responses in the Horn, East, and Central Africa between 1997 and 1998.

“After realising that there was no room for growth I got back to the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply in the UK for a graduate diploma in supply,” says Pamela.

In the year 2000, she got employed as Oxfam GB regional operations manager, again responsible for logistics operations for Horn, East, and Central Africa region while based in Nairobi.

Two years later, she applied for a Senior Logistics Advisor position at the Oxfam GB headquarters and beat many candidates for the vacancy in the UK.

“I served the position for a few months and got promoted to Acting head of Logistics and Supply at the same organisation during the Indonesian crisis,” Pamela who later served as the deputy head of logistics to the organisation before moving to the United Nations Populations Fund as the Humanitarian Logistics specialist based in Denmark, says. She also worked with the United Nations Children’s Fund in Denmark.

Gaps for women in logistics

During her numerous fieldwork, Pamela identified several gaps in women representation in the humanitarian organisation and felt the need to help.

“I noted that while women would be affected most during calamities, very few were working with a humanitarian organisation in the supply chain field to ensure their needs were being met sensitively and adequately,” Pamela says. 

“Apart from women often bearing the brunt of calamities, they understand their needs better and are better placed in the supply chain office.

“I would see the poor health systems with doctors pushed to the point of giving up due to inadequate pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical supplies,” she explains.

Wake up call

These issues served as a wake-up call for Pamela as decided to start her own supply chain consultancy company in the UK, to empower more women and offer medical supplies.

It is at this time that she was also diagnosed with stage one breast cancer, and got hospitalised and treated, thanks to the good health systems in the UK.

Not one to put down for long, in 2015, her consultancy firm soon secured an assignment with Bill and Melinda Gates offering technical support to help transform the health supply chain for Nigeria’s Kaduna and the Niger States, and the Ethiopian Pharmaceutical Supplies Agency.

This year, Pamela who serves as PSA CEO, moved her organisation to Kisumu, Kenya.

“I wanted to give back. I want to empower more girls to venture into the supply chain field,” Pamela who has enrolled 30 supply chain qualified young women with various employers across Kisumu county

in partnership with the county government of Kisumu and The Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition, says.

“There is a need to have more women in the humanitarian supply chain sector. When given

a chance, females are good organisers and problem solvers,” she explains.

The young women will go through an eight-month program while attached to different organisations organized by PSA with a monthly stipend while receiving weekly training suitable for the job market.

“We aim to shape the young women to suit the employer’s demands so that by the end of the

eight-month session, they are absorbed by the organisations,” shares Pamela.


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