Direct Relief Accelerates Digital Transformation to Expedite the Delivery of Humanitarian Aid to Millions of People Worldwide

Find out which technologies enabled the global nonprofit to significantly expand its mission’s impact within its current warehouse capacity.

One of the mobile workstations used by Direct Relief in the warehouse
by Your Edge Blog Team
June 22, 2020

For the past 72 years, Direct Relief’s mission has been simple: improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty, emergencies or disasters. In recent years, though, executing this mission has become highly complex and significantly more time sensitive.

There is compounding demand for life-saving medicine, food and financial aid around the world as the number of fires, floods, earthquakes and storms rise and large-scale economic and health crises linger. The nonprofit’s commitments to both acute relief efforts and long-term initiatives expand almost daily. And the urgency of aid requests seems to increase by the minute.

Given that Direct Relief collects, organizes and redistributes all donated supplies out of a single warehouse in Santa Barbara, California, what they’ve come to realize is that efficiency is literally mission critical.

A Tale of Two Inventory Management Challenges – and a Two-Pronged Solution

As a humanitarian aid organization, Direct Relief is used to overcoming adversity. It is also comfortable managing fluctuating demand. However, like most suppliers, its fulfillment speed can be throttled without proper inventory visibility and management capabilities. Given how many millions of people rely on the pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies that it provides to public health initiatives, even the slightest delay in the delivery of aid shipments can have serious consequences in times of crisis. That is one of the reasons why Direct Relief recently accelerated its digital transformation, as described in this case study.

Like most warehouse operators or distributors, Direct Relief is responsible for a very diverse inventory mix. But, unlike its for-profit peers, the private charitable organization does not have control over that inventory mix. As a donations-reliant operation, Direct Relief may have hundreds or thousands of different SKUs on hand at any given time, and unit volumes can vary dramatically from day to day. The inbound logistics team must systematically sort, put away and catalog the physical location of new donations in a way that allows the outbound logistics team to see, allocate and deliver on-hand inventory to beneficiaries in real time. That is all but impossible to do efficiently using paper-based processes.

The second reason why Direct Relief decided to mobilize many of its workflows was because of its growing need to rapidly mobilize people and pallets to more than 80 countries worldwide and all 50 U.S. states. In times of global crises, such as the COVID-19 outbreak, it is not unheard of for Direct Relief to boost its daily deliveries of medications to public health clinics by 50 percent or more, as explained in this video. And, as the numbers demonstrate in this blog post, Direct Relief has had to very quickly acquire, process and – in some instances – manufacture tremendous quantities of PPE and other medical supplies for those on the front lines in addition to its normal aid distributions for acute and chronic health care programs. The organization has also been working in overdrive to ensure that the continuous donation of funds and PPE made by supporters such as Newcastle Systems is properly allocated and distributed to those who need it most,

In other words: though the reach and impact of Direct Relief’s efforts have greatly expanded, its warehousing space and workforce has not. That is why Direct Relief turned to Zebra Technologies and its partner Newcastle Systems to help modernize its operations.

Find out which technology systems and process improvements facilitated a 20 percent warehouse receiving efficiency gain for Direct Relief, even with a 40 percent donation volume increase, in the first month after implementation.

Read Direct Relief’s digital transformation story now

We then invite you to learn more about Direct Relief’s current humanitarian aid commitments and the ways in which you can contribute to its COVID-19 mission specifically via this campaign driven by Zebra partner Newcastle Systems.

You can also learn about Zebra’s philanthropic efforts here and join in Zebra’s salute to the front-line COVID-19 heroes at

Your Edge Blog Team
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