The Logistics Institute–Asia Pacific wins Best Educational Course Provider Award at 2023 AFLAS Awards

When NUS' The Logistics Institute – Asia Pacific (TLI-AP) launched its Master’s programme in Supply Chain Management in 2011, it had one goal in mind: to plug a crucial gap in the industry.

“We were well-served on the operational level, but there was a gap at the managerial specialist level,” explained the institute’s executive director Dr Robert de Souza.

Since then, hundreds of logistics executives, supply chain analysts and manufacturing planners have emerged from the course. These efforts have not gone unnoticed. Last month, the NUS institute won Best Educational Course Provider at the Asian Freight, Logistics and Supply Chain (AFLAS) Awards.

“Our mission is to help the industry. I’m proud that we built a really good Master’s programme that’s appreciated by the community,” added Dr de Souza, who attended the ceremony at JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach on 28 September 2023 along with NUS Senior Vice Provost Prof Bernard Tan.

The annual awards are organised by the newspaper Asia Cargo News and given to leading cargo, logistics and supply chain companies around the world after a vote by industry members.

The award – the institute’s 14th AFLAS award (previously AFSCA) – recognises its MSc programme, jointly run with NUS Business School and NUS College of Design and Engineering, and co-led by Associate Prof Tan Kok Choon, the Degree Education Programme Director and a recipient of the Supply Chain Educator of the Year award.

The programme includes an optional annual summer school stint in Steyr, Austria, with Austrian research centre LOGISTIKUM. The aim is to provide a unique and enriching experiential learning journey such that students engage not just culturally but also professionally with industrialists and students in other countries. Over an intensive 2-week programme, students visit at least four leading Austrian companies and work in groups with SCM postgraduate students from Steyr to present their case analyses and propose innovation solutions to the company management team, based on the real-life problem descriptions given by the respective company executives. 

The programme also bagged the Asia’s Education Excellence Award from CMO Asia, and the Industry Transport Award, in 2017 and the Supply Chain Asia Awards - Supply Chain Education Institution of the Year from 2009 to 2011. Supported by the NUS School of Continuing and Lifelong Education (SCALE), the institute is also set to break into the Southeast Asian region with its new summer school programme. For his work in the industry, Dr de Souza has also won a slew of awards, such as the Public Administration Medal (Bronze) in 2014, various fellowships, and most recently in 2023, an Honorary Fellows award by the Supply Chain Asia.

A strength in humanitarian logistics

Since it opened in 1998, TLI-AP has served as a bridge between government ministries and agencies, academia and the industry. Run by about 15 academics, researchers and staff members, it has come to be known for its strong pragmatic research, particularly in humanitarian logistics, procurement and collaborative urban and last mile logistics.

Together with Indonesia’s National Agency for Disaster Countermeasure, it is studying how to supply relief items to floods and earthquake victims more quickly. It used simulation and optimisation to preposition inventory for enhanced disaster responses, and also created an online portal for donors to procure relief supplies to meet the needs of impacted populations.  

“I’m very proud of the impact we have made in humanitarian logistics. It is an area that has not been done as much elsewhere in Asia. We have been contributing to knowledge, systems and people,” Dr de Souza said of the institute, which is advised by industry experts and officials and is supported by both Singapore-based and international agencies such as the Economic Development Board, A*STAR, Temasek Foundation International, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“We went from something that was very ‘Singapore’ (in focus), to taking (our research) out into the region and making an impact,” he added of TLI-AP, which has strong ties with local universities across ASEAN as well as the Georgia Institute of Technology. The work was seeded by Switzerland’s Kühne Foundation, with whom it co-founded The Humanitarian Logistics – Asia Pacific Education Centre in 2012.

“We are guided by our founding concept of ‘from/by Asia for Asia,’” he said.

Today, the institute is looking to deepen its reach in Southeast Asia.

“We want to take (Singaporeans) to Jakarta, Hanoi, Bangkok so they get more immersion in the region,” added Dr de Souza, who, along with Prof Mark Goh, the institute’s Director (Industry Research), previously received the Supply Chain Educator of the Year Award from non-profit organisation Supply Chain Asia.

While hands-on experience is important, learning also happens on screens with a healthy dose of fun. Over the past decade, TLI-AP has launched a slew of computer game and board game titles in an initiative led by TLI-AP Game Master Mr Za'Aba Bin Abdul Rahim, as a pedagogical tool to teach people about supply chain management and logistics. The initiative won the 2018 innovPLUS FLAME Award, organised by inlab of the Institute for Adult Learning Singapore, as well as the 2021 HELiX Award by the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management.

Putting Singapore on the map

TLI-AP also keeps a close watch on industry trends. Supply chains around the world, particularly in ASEAN, have been affected by the pandemic and rising geopolitical tensions.

“(Since the COVID-19 pandemic), we have been seeing more interest from the industry on risk management – how to build a robust and resilient supply chain,” Dr de Souza explained.

Artificial Intelligence and machine learning will likely have a “great impact” on logistics, he noted, but more needs to be done to help the community understand their usefulness.

“My peers in the industry are very pragmatic. What is the technology going to do for us? What’s the viability of the technology? What’s the maturity of the technology?” he said.

Dr de Souza, who has led the institute for 20 years, is pleased with how far it has come.

“Singapore has to play a major role in supply chains to keep itself relevant. If we can train individuals to partake and lead in such an industry, then we have done very well,” he added.

“What we want to achieve is greater ‘mindshare’: that Singapore is known for its logistics, and that NUS is known for logistics. I think we have achieved that, but it’s a journey...For an institute of our size, we have done an outsized job.”