Anup Akkihal

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
India
Fellow since 2016
Logistimo
This description of Anup Akkihal's work was prepared when Anup Akkihal was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2016 .

Introduction

Anup Akkihal is achieving last mile availability of public goods by building inclusive and collaborative value chains, and open sourcing the technology, research insights, methodologies to democratize and enable village entrepreneurs to stitch together new supply chains from the bottom-up.

The New Idea

Anup believes adaptive technology combined with trust-based human networks will liberate last mile supply chains from inefficiencies, ensuring reliable accessibility of “essential” and “social” goods to the most remote areas in developing countries.

Co-founding Logistimo, Anup and his colleagues created a technology platform to improve coordination, accountability and better decisions across human networks – thereby reinforcing trust and collaborative opportunities in existing, yet fragmented and isolated value chains where each actor (e.g. wholesalers, retailers, distributors) functions on personal interest and partial information. The system opportunistically provides actionable information to all actors in the form of optimal order guidances, stock out warnings, and other alerts; thereby creating opportunities to optimize the chain, minimize losses, and ensure delivery of products at the right time, place and quality.

Logistimo open sources their technology, insights, and deployment methodologies. Envisioning them selves as the “Linux” of low-resource logistics, Logistimo promotes adaptation of their technology and implementation in new regions and industry sectors, enabling anyone to build their own value chain.

The Problem

There are 3 billion citizens living in rural areas of poor “emerging market” countries. In India, 68% of the country’s population lives in rural low-resource settings, with poor infrastructure and connectivity. Even though government and large donor resources have been mobilized to provision essential goods for last-mile beneficiaries, the results have largely fallen short of expectations. In the state of Karnataka alone, 75% of medical stores experience stock outs at least every other day. Even though the Indian government has become the largest producer and exporter of vaccines in the world, 2/3 of children in India are not vaccinated on time, leading to India having the greatest number of deaths among children under 3- a majority from vaccine preventable diseases.

Rural supply chains in India typically connect 6 to 7 echelons (manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, sales agents, resellers…etc.), a condition largely inherited from the administrative structure of the License Raj. Upstream actors often use various disconnected systems for inventory management (e.g. Tally or simple book keeping), whereas the downstream actors largely do not use any system per se, opting instead to “eyeball” stocks and make instinct-driven resupply decisions. This informality prevents real time visibility along the value chain, and therefore also complicates planning and potential teamwork. In a data-poor environment, common mental models are difficult to build, limiting trust, so each actor exhibits often-conflicting behaviors rooted in self-preservation. Suppliers may seek to produce and sell a maximum amount of goods, whereas distributors may prefer to limit inventory-holding risks, and last-mile retailers – who often have limited resources – cannot replenish sufficient quantities to offset variability in demand. Each actor works in isolation, hindering collaboration and breeding a culture of conservatism and sometimes mistrust between buyers and suppliers, thus leading to consistent stock outs at the last mile.

Even when supply chain actors coordinate on a common management platform, the most valuable information comes from the last mile: accurate and up-to-date data on consumer demand. The challenges of collecting consumer data are both technical and human. The last mile retailer – often the only actor in the value chain in direct contact with the customer – has limited resources, technical support and know-how.

The Strategy

Anup and his team are achieving last mile availability of public goods by building inclusive and collaborative value chains, and open sourcing the technology, research insights, methodologies to democratize and enable village entrepreneurs to stitch together new supply chains from the bottom-up.

Anup co-founded Logistimo in 2011. The organization empowers orchestrators of public goods value chains. These orchestrators – often governments, international agencies, NGOs and multinational corporations – have strong social incentive to build and maintain efficient (or responsive) systems to deliver goods to the last mile at the right time, to the right place, in the right quality, and in the right condition. Examples of such orchestrators include government ministries providing healthcare, nutrition, and energy resources as part of existing programs targeted at socioeconomic advancement in rural regions; and large inter-governmental or non-government agencies such as the United Nations, Shell Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and others.

In partnership with orchestrators, Logistimo technology enables large-scale structural and behavioral shifts in systems to resolve inefficiencies, and achieve both reliability, and a platform for teamwork and continuous improvement.

The platform allows actors along the supply chain to enjoy visibility and smart decision support so that the whole chain performs well. This includes notifications, prescriptive analytics, and other information to avoid bottlenecks and maximize value for each actor. This transparency creates an environment conducive for building trust and realizing collaborative opportunities with an eye on satisfying customer demand. The technology is a web-based platform, accessible via mobile, smartphone or computer application. Keeping in mind sparse connectivity, limited technical literacy and sometimes even low literacy among users, Logistimo creates usable services independent of these challenges. For examples, using simplified language and only numeric data entry; or supporting seamless offline and online modes with transmission over SMS and GPRS..

Once the technology is in place, users are empowered with better information symmetry, on which trust and teamwork can grow.

In 2015, Anup and his team co-created “Tusker” with Shell Foundation, a live auction-based on-demand door-to-door transportation service for villages aimed at resolving the inefficiencies (especially unavailability of reasonably priced less-than-truckload services) of last mile logistics. Using natural market mechanisms, Tusker provides load aggregation for drivers to earn more, and for the unit economics of last-mile delivery to favor more frequent replenishment of essential and social goods.

Anup and his team are creating a new, flexible architecture for rural supply chains, focusing on providing equitable access to healthcare, and better economic opportunities.

The Person

In 1974, Anup was born in West Virginia, USA, into an immigrant family originally from North Karnataka. Annual vacations to India sensitized Anup at a young age to the difficult realities of the country.

Anup excelled in his studies, but dropped out of high school, and luckily attended college at The Johns Hopkins University at the age of 16. Anup spent most of his career building supply chain technology and developing strategies across a spectrum of industries – including automotive, military and healthcare. He’s had the privilege of working in a U.S. Department of Defense program called Single Army Logistics Enterprise (SALE). He supported Global Combat Support System (GCSS) Army Field/Tactical – designing and engineering tactical logistics systems for field operations and the battle theater. Military logistics challenges – such as designing "disconnected architectures" and ensuring "system redundancies" – were surprisingly analogous to the challenges of supporting remote villagers' needs. Realizing that the sophisticated hardware (such as RFID tags and durable handheld devices) connected via SATCOM were largely replicated using common mobile phones, it generated an interest in engineering systems for social advancement. The interest was reinforced by Anup’s personal experience as a slight Indian-American kid always falling sick during family visits to India. He incubated these ideas at MIT in 2009, where he previously focused his thesis on humanitarian supply chains.

Anup moved to India in 2010 to co-found an “inclusive supply chain” effort called Logistimo to pioneer novel value networks in frontier markets. Alongside collaborators, he works to assure rural access to essential products and strengthen market linkages for village producers across emerging markets — especially in public healthcare, agriculture, energy, industrial goods, and consumer products. Although the rural Indian context resonated so much with his previous work, a steep learning curve emerged to package technology into a sustainable business, and continually evolve to meet the impact. Anup and his team therefore remain students of social change, with an ever-focused eye on the impact.