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A model to define and assess the agility of supply chains: building on humanitarian experience

Aurelie Charles (Université de Toulouse – Mines Albi, Albi, France)
Matthieu Lauras (Université de Toulouse – Mines Albi, Albi, France Toulouse Business School, Toulouse, France)
Luk Van Wassenhove (INSEAD, Fontainebleu, France)

International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management

ISSN: 0960-0035

Article publication date: 7 September 2010



By constantly working in environments with high degree of uncertainty, humanitarian organizations end up becoming specialists in the implementation of agile systems. Their counterparts in profit‐making organizations have a lot to learn from them in this domain. Volatility of demand, imbalance between supply and demand and disruptions are all factors that affect commercial supply chains and call for a high level of agility. The aims of this paper are twofold: first, to clearly define the concept of supply chain agility, and second, to build a model for assessing the level of agility of a supply chain.


Three approaches are used in this research: literature review, case study and symbolic modeling.


The paper developed first, a framework for defining supply chain agility and second, a model for assessing and improving the capabilities of humanitarian and commercial supply chains in terms of agility, based on an analysis of humanitarian approaches.

Research limitations/implications

The model has been developed thanks to inputs from humanitarian practitioners and feedbacks from academics. The practical application to various humanitarian relief operations and commercial supply chains is yet to be done.


This paper contributes significantly to clarifying the notion of supply chain agility. It also provides a consistent, robust and reproducible method of assessing supply chain agility, which seems appropriate for both humanitarian and business sectors. Finally, it is complementary to existant research on humanitarian logistics. It shows that though humanitarian professionals have a lot to learn from the private sector, the reverse is also true.



Charles, A., Lauras, M. and Van Wassenhove, L. (2010), "A model to define and assess the agility of supply chains: building on humanitarian experience", International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, Vol. 40 No. 8/9, pp. 722-741.



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