Lauren Corbett: Help is on the Way

Lauren Corbett: Help is on the Way

Lauren Corbett is program assistant, acquisitions and logistics, at International Relief and Development (IRD), a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization in Arlington, Va. She joined IRD in 2014.

Responsibilities: Working with donors to obtain in-kind donations and arranging to ship them to consignees for use in programs around the world.

Experience: Teaching assistant, Aldea Yanapay, Peru; intern, Office of Intellectual Property and Innovation, U.S. Trade Representative; research assistant, University of Virginia; intern, acquisitions and logistics, IRD.

Education: B.S. economics and foreign affairs, University of Virginia, 2013.

I am fascinated with how the world works, and with the notion of connecting people and ideas. Since I began working at International Relief and Development (IRD), I’ve come to understand the crucial role logistics plays in international development.

I originally started here as an intern, assisting with the day-to-day operations of IRD’s acquisitions and logistics department. Because we’re such a small department—just four of us—I had a chance to participate in all aspects of our projects, and soak up a great deal of knowledge.

After three months as an intern, IRD offered me a fulltime job. I do the same kind of work I did as an intern, supporting our programs to deliver non-food commodities to vulnerable people in need. The big difference is instead of simply assisting, I manage projects on my own.

IRD delivers medical equipment and supplies, pharmaceuticals, clothing and shoes, winterization kits, hygiene kits, and school kits to people all over the world. Many of the people we help are in conflict or post-conflict environments. Usually, we work with our colleagues in the field to identify a need, then put out a call to our network of donors and partners to fill it.

Occasionally, donors approach us with aid. For example, during the recent Ebola crisis, partners told us, "We put together a container of pharmaceuticals that we’d like to get to Sierra Leone. Can you help us?" They come to us because we have contacts on the ground with the means to distribute aid where it’s needed.

Once we secure a donation, we work with one of several freight forwarders to handle the transportation. About 90 percent of our loads move by ocean. The main exceptions are pharmaceuticals.

My department manages each load from the time it’s picked up until it gets to the destination country. My colleagues and I make sure all the required documentation reaches customs officials at the other end. When the shipment is complete, we monitor and evaluate the distribution, and go back to the donor with a final analysis of the impact we’ve made.

We don’t have our own warehouse. Instead, we work with local partners, such as Gleanings for the World, which lets us use space in its warehouse in Lynchburg, Va.

My work in logistics is like solving a series of puzzles. It can be stressful sometimes, but when we get all the pieces together, the result can be great. The most frequent puzzle we deal with is how to pay for transporting a load of donated supplies.

One answer to the fundraising puzzle is a partnership we recently formed with the Savers chain of thrift shops in the Washington, D.C., area. Small donors who want to support us can give gently used items to Savers, which then pays us a portion of the value of those goods. The money we receive goes directly to our programs.

I did a lot of the work involved in pushing the partnership through, getting the contract signed, getting the marketing campaign approved, and launching it. I’m excited to see where the partnership goes in the future.

This position has made me realize the importance of logistics in international development and relief. Wherever my career takes me next, I know I’ll be involved with logistics.

The Big Questions

What’s the best piece of work-related advice you’ve received?

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You’ll never learn anything new or grasp anything fully until you get your hands around it. Just go for it.

What movie will you never get tired of?
Love Actually.

Do you have a hidden talent?

Baking. It’s a kind of therapy for me, and it also helps me make friends. People love you when you bake for them.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love to travel. I’m always planning or daydreaming about my next adventure.

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