Supply Chain Now Episode 344


“Some organizations rely upon big, thick reports, showing that literacy increased by 10% over five years, etc. We get a lot of stories and pictures of recipients getting the books. We get testimonials from our recipients saying these books really were good and thank you so much.”

Patrick Plonski, Executive Director of Books for Africa


Books for Africa is the world’s largest shipper of books and computers to Africa.  They send high quality books to schools, libraries, universities across the continent. In addition to being an important humanitarian mission, the organization faces significant logistical challenges, such as shipping 20 tons of books to a library in Africa and then coordinating with people on the ground to distribute them to other schools and organizations in the community.

Books for Africa just reached a major milestone, sending their 48 millionth book with the assistance of partner organizations like Vector Logistics.

In this interview, Patrick tells Supply Chain Now Host Scott Luton about:

  • The unique challenges being faced by this large volunteer-driven organization during the pandemic, including a lack of volunteers and donations in the U.S. and closed ports abroad.
  • How he works to ensure that Books for Africa doesn’t just send books, they send the books that local communities want and need most
  • Staying productive and positive in good times and in tough times, and never giving up

Amanda Luton (00:05):

It’s time for supply chain. Now broadcasting live from the supply chain capital of the country, Atlanta, Georgia, heard around the world. Supply chain now spotlights the best in all things, supply chain, the people, the technologies, the best practices, and the critical issues of the day. And now here are your hosts.

Scott Luton (00:28):

Hey, good morning, Scott Luton here with you on supply chain. Now welcome back to the show on today’s episode, we’re continuing our logistics with purpose series here, powered by our great friends over at vector global logistics. On this series, we spotlight leaders and organizations that are own a noble mission and they’re changing the world in one way, shape, or form. So stay tuned as we look to increase your supply chain leadership. Our cute on a quick programming note right here. Before we get started, if you enjoyed today’s conversation, be sure to find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts from. All right, so I want to welcome in my fearless co-hosts here today. On today’s show, we’ve got the whole gang or most of the whole gang, Enrique Alvarez, managing director of vector global logistics. Enrique, good morning, good mornings. God and great having guy green being here, whether you guys, absolutely. We’ve had a string of outstanding interviews by folks doing really special things in the global business world and I think we’re going to continue that string here today. Um, Enrique, joining us is your colleague Adrian per till business development, uh, and strategic accounts from vector global logistics. Adrian, how are you doing? Good morning Scott. Well, thank you Greg, to be a part of this again. Absolutely. Absolutely. I miss our lunches back at King plow, but we’ll be back there soon enough, right?

Scott Luton (01:55):

I hope so too. Alright, so we’ve got a great feature guest today. As we’ve mentioned earlier. I want to welcome in Dr. Patrick Klonsky, executive director with books for Africa. Good morning Pat.

Patrick Plonski (02:08):

Hey Scott, how are you doing? Glad to be on your show.

Scott Luton (02:11):

Well, I heard we’re doing great. Uh, all things considered. Heard a lot about you and your organization organization from the vector team and looking forward to diving into your story here today.

Patrick Plonski (02:23):

Yeah, thank you. Looking forward to having a good conversation.

Scott Luton (02:27):

Definitely. Well. So before we talk shop, before we talk about all the neat things that books for Africa is up to, let’s get to know you a little better. So tell us about yourself, Patrick, you know, kind of where you’re from, maybe an anecdote or two from your upbringing. You name it.

Patrick Plonski (02:43):

Well, yeah, thank you. I was born on a farm in, uh, outside of the twin cities in Minnesota and still live, uh, and work at books for Africa. Just a, you know, about an hour away from that farm. So I, I love Minnesota. Um, I, I have a lot of fun growing up on that farm, but thing about a farm is you’re, you’re sort of remote and I was always a great student of, of history and, um, world affairs. And so I always wanted to travel and go somewhere. And I remember as a out there on the farm, on some of the hot summer afternoons in the summer, we’d be out holding, uh, weeds out of the bean field. And I’d see these planes flying over and, uh, and I’d be there hoeing and I’d look up and I’d say, you know, I bet those people are going somewhere. I want to go somewhere.

Scott Luton (03:41):

You know, that’s so funny you mentioned that, uh, here, you know, we live in the Atlanta area and so we see planes all the time and I can’t help but think, and when I’m at, uh, uh, one of my kid’s soccer games or baseball games, and you see one of those planes going, you can’t help but wonder where they’re headed to what adventure is next, you know. Um, but I want to ask you, Pat, going back to your Minnesota roots and your love for the state, or are you a big baseball fan? A big twins fan?

Patrick Plonski (04:10):

I am. I, back when they used to have transistor radios out on the farm and the twins were horrible. I would listen religiously and, uh, listen to them, uh, lose. They’ve gotten better now and it’s a lot more fun to, uh, you know, to, uh, to, to watch the twins and actually, you know, get to the stadium’s beautiful stadium. So loved, loved the twins. Great fan. Always have them.

Scott Luton (04:38):

Well, your 1991 twins absolutely broke my Atlanta Braves heart. What a team you had that year led of course by hall of Famer, the late Kirby Puckett. Uh, what a great series that was.

Patrick Plonski (04:51):

Oh yeah, that was awesome. Uh, you know, interestingly, um, one of our supporters at books for Africa is the son of Jackie Robinson. Things ended up traveling to Africa and he now lives in Tanzania as a coffee farmer. Well, we brought him back a few years back and, uh, he threw out the first pitch at a twins game, uh, you know, in, uh, honoring the legacy of, of his father Jackie Robinson.

Scott Luton (05:21):

Incredibly special story and what a great legacy that is. And for his son to be involved in initiatives like books for Africa. Scabby uh, very rewarding. Well, um, before we, we turned over and we bring Adrian and to talk about your professional journey. What else? So, um, what is so special about living in Minnesota these days? Where do you find, when you’re not, you know, doing good and, and leading the organization you lead, where do you spend your free time?

Patrick Plonski (05:52):

Well, um, you know, I, I love to travel and I love to come home and I just love the fact that Minnesota is such a, uh, you know, is an international place. Um, it’s very livable community here. Uh, but, um, I, it’s fun to travel, but I, I, and I look forward to it, but I always look forward to coming home. Uh, you know, just I think, um, you know, the greenery, the trees, the parks, uh, Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, which is actually not accurate because there’s actually some 20,000 lakes in Minnesota. Huh. So, uh, you know, the great American dream is to own your own house. The great Minnesota dream is to own your own cabin. So all Minnesotans, uh, worth their salt either own or get to a cabin, uh, whenever they can. And that’s up in the Northern part of the state. So my family has a cabin now also. And so we, we really enjoy that among, among many other things.

Scott Luton (06:54):

Love that. You know, I think the people are special up there. I’ve been to the twin cities a couple of times in my career and have always really enjoyed, uh, the warmness and, and, and just the conversations you have and, and so much of the culture up there. All right. So, uh, Adrian want to bring you back into the conversation. I know you’re a bit curious about, uh, Pat’s professional background.

Adrian Purtill (07:18):

Yeah. Uh, tell us about your professional journey and how that journey, uh, actually helped to shape your worldview.

Patrick Plonski (07:28):

Yeah, thanks Adrian. We, um, I went to a small liberal arts college in Minnesota, studied history, and I always thought I was gonna, you know, political science and history. I always thought I’d end up at a embassy working for the state department or, um, you know, advise the president of the United States at some point. So I always thought that’s where I be and that’s where I wanted to be. But then what I found out is that for those sorts of jobs, you, you would sort of get sent where they wanted to send you. And I thought, well, you know, I like to travel and, and, but I like to be able to pick the country and, and decide when I’m coming and when I’m going. And so I, I didn’t like the constraints, um, as my wife would say, you don’t like to be told what to do.

Patrick Plonski (08:19):

So I do like to sort of set my own course, but I was looking for something international, but also that would give me more control over my own destiny. And, uh, I sort of started in politics. Uh, I, I thought I would just, uh, that would be a holding pattern. So my first real job was at the Minnesota house of representatives and I thought, well, that’ll hold me and then I’ll go to Washington. And it was such a good job. I stayed there 11 years. I was getting, uh, resumes at our office from people in Washington who wanted my job and they were saying, you know, I want to work for, you know, the Minnesota house of representatives. I’m whatever, an intern in Washington. And I thought, well, gosh, if everybody wants this job, this must be a pretty good job, I should probably keep it. And so I did. And I was working with agriculture, the agriculture committee, and we actually traveled to Washington D C a lot with the agriculture committee. So that was a, I found I was able to live in Minnesota, which I love, but also travel, which I also loved. So I spent a good bit of time meeting with members of Congress, uh, the agriculture committee and, and uh, working on agricultural policy.

Scott Luton (09:34):

Yeah. If I can ask you a quick question, Pat, on that note, um, what is one thing about politicians that the general public may not appreciate? What’s w what’s one thing that you really enjoyed during, during those 11 years?

Patrick Plonski (09:49):

The thing I liked about, uh, politicians is that they are very personable as a rule. They are people, people, people you don’t get elected if you don’t like people. And so politics now was standing, you know, when you sit down and talk with elected officials, they’re very personable. They, they know, they’re very proud of where they come from. So they’ll talk, you know, they, they’ll love a particular, uh, pizzeria or a particular restaurant or their sports team and they’ve got a million stories and they’re, and that’s the thing is they’re really fun people to talk to in their own right. Politics notwithstanding.

Scott Luton (10:33):

Wait, it sounds like early on in, in your earlier career, you had a global element that a lot of folks would love to have. And, and, and did that really shape as Adrian was asking about your worldview and how you look at that business and the economy?

Patrick Plonski (10:52):

Well, when I was working for the legislature, I, uh, you know, the, the Minnesota house of representatives always, uh, I always was trying to get into the international realm. And I was trying and trying and I remember some people sort of scoffing at my efforts and saying, yeah, you keep talking about this path, but you know, you’re, you’re not international. You work here for the Minnesota house of representatives. And I remember what ultimately happened is the job at books for Africa came. I applied for it. I had, I had was actually working at switched to the Minnesota university of Minnesota. I was working again, agricultural education and I managed to travel a bit. I get, you know, um, a foundation funded, um, project or something. And, and so I was, you know, in working on agricultural issues in Europe and in, you know, a little bit in central America.

Patrick Plonski (11:48):

And, uh, and so I applied for books for Africa and lo and behold, they wanted to hire me. And I remember thinking, okay, this is it. You either take this job, Pat or stop talking about it because this is it. And I had, again, a good job at the university of Minnesota, but this was the great leap. And, um, you know, it was a small nonprofit at the time, books for Africa. And there were risks, but in, in crisis, as opera is opportunity as is often said. And so I thought, well, it’s time to take a calculated risk, leave that safe, cushy job and a real, really do the international things that I’ve been talking about and wanting to do for, for decades.

Scott Luton (12:31):

Hmm. Well, let’s, so that, that’s a great segue into talking more about books for Africa. Um, so you made the leap and then you’ve been there for how long Pat?

Patrick Plonski (12:44):

17 and a half years now.

Scott Luton (12:45):

Wow, man. And gosh, so much has changed in the last seven years, much less less 17 years. But let’s make sure our audience knows what the mission is behind books for Africa to tell us more about what the organization does.

Patrick Plonski (13:01):

Well, our mission is very simple. We are the world’s largest shipper of books and computers to Africa. We, so our mission is to send high quality books to schools, libraries, universities across Africa. And, and that’s how we measure success is numbers of books sent. Now that being said, we don’t want to send junk. We want to send good high quality books that people, uh, our recipients in Africa find useful. Uh, and so that’s, that’s the mission, day in and day out. Every single shipment has a story behind it. So in some ways, every one is unique, but in some ways everyone is the same. It’s, it’s sending books to Africa. And so that’s our core mission and it has been our mission since day one. And we’ve grown it such that we are now the world’s largest shipper book, Stanford.

Scott Luton (13:59):

Hmm. So tell us, I love how I love simplicity, number one and a simple mission is so, um, uh, so powerful. Uh, it’s, it can be very unifying and, and just, um, you know, keeping everybody on the same page and, and protecting that alignment. Talk about if you would, the impact, um, you know, I think here in the States we probably take for granted, uh, the books we have at our disposal and the books that our kids have at their disposal and, and, and the impact that has on their development. Speak to the impact that organization that your organizations have. And in sharing that with African children.

Patrick Plonski (14:42):

Yeah. I was once told by a newspaper editor, uh, pictures are good news and I always remember that. And it’s always true. It’s some organizations rely upon big, thick reports, you know, showing that whatever literacy increased by 10% over five years or whatever it is. And I, you know, as a, as a, I have a doctorate in education and I studied all that stuff so I can recognize the benefit of that to that sort of data on a continental level is really hard to come by. It’s very expensive to get. And uh, it’s, it’s hard to confirm. So we, we don’t get a lot of data. What we do get is a lot of stories and we get pictures of recipients getting the books. We get testimonials from, uh, our recipients saying, you know, these books really were good and thank you so much. And they’re very helpful.

Patrick Plonski (15:44):

So it’s a lot of, of testimonials. It’s a lot of stories. It’s pictures, it’s little short videos. And, um, you know, the, the interesting thing about these books is we don’t make anyone take our books. The recipients want these books and they go through a lot of work to get them. And, uh, our friends at vector, uh, can, you know, testify to a lot of the work that has to be done. And sometimes the recipient is a school teacher or something. They, they don’t know international shipping. All they know is they want to get 20 tons of books to their community library and in there and distribute, uh, maybe around 10 or 15 schools and libraries and that community, they not only think about international shipping, uh, and so that’s where we have to make it really simple and, uh, allow them to do what they want to do, which is to just get, get the books, distribute the books. And, uh, you know, we, I always say we wouldn’t be around 31 years if, if there were not a demand for what we’re doing and if we were not on the right track. So someone at USA once told me, uh, Pat never give up. You’re on the right track. Never give up. Uh, she told me that after we had just been denied for funding and I’ve been denied for a lot of fun.

Patrick Plonski (17:13):

And also there were plenty of opportunities over the years to give up. But I remember that there was a big funding person at USA. They told us, you’re not going to get the funding, but you’re on the right track. Never give up. And so we, we don’t,

Scott Luton (17:27):

well then I imagine that that kind of goes to the territory. You’re not gonna, you’re not gonna win every grant, every funding requests. I mean, um, but to your point, you wouldn’t be around 31 years if, if you weren’t fulfilling a great and noble mission. Uh, and I love your, going back to what you shared earlier, the quote you got. Uh, pictures are good news. That is, there’s so much truth in that on a wide variety of levels and, and we all know we need more good news than ever before right now. So love what you’re doing. So Pat, talk about in your role as executive director of the organization, what is your day to day look like? Or week to week, where do you spend your time?

Patrick Plonski (18:09):

It’s an interesting question. I ask myself that sometimes too is I say, well, what did I accomplish today? And you know, it’s nice if you know, like Monday for example, um, I applied for the federal assistance, the PPP grant, and we got a hundred, you know, I applied in the morning and by the afternoon there was $190,000 in our books for Africa account. Okay, well there you go. That’s, that’s something that was accomplished today. Right? But some days you don’t, I’m sending emails and there’s a lot of, it’s a lot of little things. You’re sending an email, you’re talking to a staff person, you’re, you’re checking on a, on a project. And at the end of the day I sometimes say, what now? What did I accomplish? I mean, really what, you know, I sent a bunch of emails, but did I accomplish anything? And so I think I always ask myself that question because at the end of the day, we’re extremely efficient at books for Africa.

Patrick Plonski (19:09):

We have to be as a small nonprofit. So it’s all about making your time count. And you know, that’s what it takes. I think to run a global operation. We are active in every single country in Africa. We’ve shipped every country in Africa. Uh, we just, yesterday we hit the 48 million bookmark. We sent our 48 million book yesterday, uh, to regulations. Yeah, thank you. Where I go container went to Kenya, to Nairobi. So it’s, um, you know, an average day could be anything from applying for and receiving funding. It could be talking to members of Congress or trying to get them to talk to, you could be talking to our friends at vectors saying, you know, can we line up the shipment? Uh, and all the logistics with that, coordinating with staff, making sure we’re all on the right page. Or it might be someone calls a, uh, a 90 year old person who is moving out of their house into an apartment and they want to know if we want their 50 year old encyclopedia set. We get a lot of calls like that. Uh, the short answer is we really don’t, but we appreciate that.

Scott Luton (20:25):

All right. So before I bring Enrique in, who is going to have a few questions around the global environment, um, I’m always really curious, are in challenging times what leaders, uh, some of the core elements of their leadership and, and the best practices that they go that they, um, keep front and center. Uh, yesterday we were talking a member of the med share team and he spoke about the power of focus right? During these challenging times. It’s cause one thing, Pat, that you really relied on for effective and successful leadership, especially in challenging times. What would that be?

Patrick Plonski (21:07):

I hate to say it, but it’s common sense on some level. I think it’s, it’s efficiency and you know what? Everyone brings different things to the table. Um, some people bring, you know, tremendous analytical skills. Some people have great communication skills. Um, for me, what, what, what I like to focus on and, and bring to the table and, or try to bring to the table is we’re all about efficiency. How do we send the most books, uh, most efficiently and effectively for the lowest cost? Because then we can stretch those dollars. Uh, further, um, I think there’s also a sort of, uh, uh, PR benefit or visibility or a charisma element. I was once, um, I remember my wife once, uh, was working on this master’s program in international and nonprofit management and she brought me in as a speaker to the class and I had just been hired at books for Africa.

Patrick Plonski (22:09):

And so I came in to speak to her class on, um, uh, nonprofit management and they were all studying to have a job like I have had. And it dawned on them that I had really no experience in international nonprofit management at all. And they were sort of shocked and appalled that someone without training could run an organization like books for Africa. And I remember the instructor of the class said, you know, training is important, but it’s not everything. Occasionally a charismatic leader will come forward and they will run an organization and they’re able to do it. And so training is important, but there are other elements that can also, uh, bring to, you know, bring themselves forward. So I always like to, based on that, I was, I like that. I always liked to think of myself as the charismatic leader. Hopefully that’s true. I’m sure a lot of others would disagree with that, but for a different competence, I don’t know.

Scott Luton (23:17):

I think you’re getting a vote of confidence from Adrian. Adrian.

Adrian Purtill (23:21):

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I’ve dealt a hand with, with Pat and, uh, his enthusiasm and uh, and just willingness to get involved as is always front and foremost, if it would have been a vision. Yeah. Well, and I think if I may add a couple of things about, um, just if you don’t judge, uh, Pat’s leadership by what he’s saying, but what kind team that he has.

Enrique Alvarez (23:46):

I mean, they’re amazing. They’re super nice. They’re very professional, very hardworking, all the warehouses, all the people that I have had the opportunity and the pleasure to interact with. They’re just not only like efficient and hardworking and committed, but they’re just good people. They’re fun to hang around, they go and play instruments and it’s fun to go grab a beer with them. And I think you have a really good team, Pat. So I think that actually speaks very clearly to the kind of leader that you are.

Patrick Plonski (24:15):

Yeah, yeah. I’m going to just hop in there. I agree. I always think of it like every year cause we’re going to have this year, our best year ever. We’ll send more books this year and raise more money than ever before. To me that’s like winning the super bowl. When you have a record year, it’s like winning the super bowl. And so to go to a sports metaphor, I always want to keep the team together to, to compete again next year. So yeah, it’s a great team. A lot of the folks on there have been with us a long time and there’s no substitute for, you know, someone who’s a personable that some people who are liked by other people and people who are competent and committed. We have clearly, I’m sorry, go ahead Adrian.

Adrian Purtill (25:02):

No, just saying James and the Atlanta warehouse man. I mean he’s such a, he’s so enthusiastic and he leaves the volunteers there and uh, that’s a minefield of information that, it’s such an introduction. It’s such a fantastic introduction to books for Africa, if that’s a first, uh, uh, first, uh, knowledge of them. And, uh, he is, he is really, he is really contagious, you know,

Scott Luton (25:27):

absolutely. Well clearly to, to, to ship your 48th millionth book, uh, and you know, that that is, that is really doing something. And as much as I love the intangibles that both Enrique and Adrian have shared about you, Pat and your team and your culture, I mean that, that’s, that’s what we call GSD, getting stuff done now that’s so important. Um, alright, so Enrique, um, I think this is a great, uh, segue here. I know you’ve got some, some broader questions for Pat.

Enrique Alvarez (26:01):

Yeah, no, just in general. I mean, we’re clearly facing a very tough challenge as, as a community, as a country, as just citizens of this planet basically. And, and running a, uh, an organization like yours pad in the middle of what’s going on and knowing that this probably the virus is going to be effecting Latin America and Africa. Next, how are you and what kind of information are you kinda like keeping track of how, how do you manage your team now that you’re relying a lot on volunteers? And one of the things that you can possibly do is probably come together and gather a team and inspire them the way that you used to because of all the social distancing rules and what we need to do to keep everyone safe. So how, how’s someone like you and an organization like yours that rely so heavily on inspiring people on the ground and face to face kind of cope with what’s going on and what can you just tell us about, about your team around that?

Patrick Plonski (26:59):

Well, um, yeah, thanks for that. Uh, the challenges with this Corona virus situation, um, you know, are just many and probably they’re multiplied because we’re a global organization and, and you know, things are closed down on a community level, let alone on a global level. So yeah, we in Atlanta, normally we have about 11 to 13,000 volunteers every year helping pack the books. Right now, zero volunteers, no one can come in there because of the social distancing and, and the state home orders. So we don’t have the volunteers books. Normally we have books piled up all over the place. Uh, in our warehouses with the schools closed. The books have been reduced to a trickle. A fundraiser. We’re supposed to have the ambassador from Ghana and I know vector, uh, you just sent a container to Ghana, uh, recently. And no, the ambassador, he was going to come next week for an event.

Patrick Plonski (27:59):

Can’t have that event, can’t have 300 donors in the room at the same time, uh, ports in Africa close down. So even if we can get books out the door, will they be able to be received in, uh, Kenya or to car or, or, uh, Cape town. Um, don’t know. It might change. It may be open today and closed when the books land. Uh, so all of those things are challenges. I think how we deal with it is we, we don’t give up and say, well, I guess we can’t do anything. We’ll just have to wait. No, there are things that we can do. And so we did send yesterday our 48 million book. Uh, you know, we are continuing to sort books, not as much as previously, but we’re re reading shipments, um, for when the ports open up and we can send books, um, that might be June or, or whatever.

Patrick Plonski (28:58):

So, you know, I think we have to just say, well, how do we most effectively use the resource of the time and the staff that we have, uh, to, to maximize our impact given the current situation. So we can’t be, we can’t operate at a hundred percent efficiency, but we can operate at 50% efficiency. And so I’d say, you know, we, we take what we can get. I’ve always been a firm believer in taking what you can get and it, it’s sort of a half flow approach. And, uh, our goal is to send by the end of this year, our 50 million books to Africa, and I think we will probably achieve that. Wow. I love that.

Enrique Alvarez (29:40):

That’s, yeah, that’s incredibly inspirational for, for so many other companies out there and, and organizations like yours.

Patrick Plonski (29:48):


Enrique Alvarez (29:49):

So in terms of all their programs or if you want to use or leverage Scott’s platform and his followers or listeners I guess is probably the better word, um, what, what kind of things can we do, uh, as people that admire what you guys are doing, people that are committed to helping others and making a positive impact in the world? Is there anything that, because it seems that so many things are shot down or, or, or struggling, is there something that you are asking, um, people that follow books for Africa to do right now? Is there something that we can do to help out? And right now,

Patrick Plonski (30:31):

again, I would say in life we take what we can get. So this is a horrible situation. So what’s really difficult to do at this point in time as a nonprofit is to raise funds. It’s not the right time to ask people for large amounts of money. Now we can ask people for small amounts of money. We can talk to our partners. So, but, but that’s kind of out. And so you have to I think, say, well, okay, what can we do? Well, what we can do is tell our story. So last week in Atlanta for example, we got coverage in the Atlanta journal constitution, the largest newspaper in Atlanta talking about books for Africa and our work in sending medical books to Africa. We also got coverage, um, the, uh, TV, uh, in Atlanta, uh, can’t remember the station. Uh, but, uh, you know, uh, also talking about our, our work and, and connected to the Corona virus situation and how we’re continuing to do what we can in spite of Corona virus.

Patrick Plonski (31:36):

So that visibility is very important and that’s something that can be done and it’s an opportunity to tell your story. So I think, um, you know, we did get a large grant from Merck and it’s, it’s an opportunity to talk about that. So the things you can do, there are things you can’t do for us, a lot of our work is preparing shipments in our warehouse so that when the, the Corona virus ends, we’re, we’re ready to go. So I would just encourage listeners to, to look at it from the standpoint of not, well, we what, you know, we can’t do anything. So we’re just gonna have to wait. There are certain things that you can do and you want to do. You don’t want to waste your time, you don’t want to create busy work, but there are things that can and should be done. And so that’s the way we look at it. Okay. Here might be a, it might be a simple minded question. I’m, I’m good at those. Uh, Pat, um, what you were talking

Scott Luton (32:40):

earlier about the books in demand, right? And the demand that’s fueling, you know, soon to be 50 million books by the end of 2020. What types of books, um, do you find move the fastest and are most in demand? So if we, if, if any of our listeners wanted to, you know, send books your way, what types of books would those be?

Patrick Plonski (33:00):

Well, Scott, it is a supply and demand situation. We, there’s demand for almost all kinds of books at some level in Africa, but some books are much more in demand than others. And then some books are much more in supply than others. So for example, there’s huge demand for things like a simple algebra book, but also we have a pretty good supply of that. What we really need, uh, where there’s demand and, and not enough supply is things like university books, especially engineering books, let’s say, or, um, you know, let’s say, uh, medical books or, uh, it’s things that at that university level, uh, in some, uh, specific topics, books that are very expensive in the United States are, are very expensive in Africa also in, in more so less accessible because there’s less money to buy such books. Uh, so I, and everybody’s always, you know, if I had a container load, 20 tons of engineering books, I could have somebody, you know, 10 people would want those. They’re always looking for that kind of book, technical books, business books, uh, and, uh, uh, books about it that are current. Those are the kinds of things that are, are in demand. Um, that said, you know, a lot of demand for children’s books too. We get a lot of them and we, we send a lot of them.

Scott Luton (34:27):

Um, that’s very helpful. Um,

Patrick Plonski (34:30):

what kind of demand, and this is just a, you know, this is something that not necessarily the listeners can provide, but we also provide books in local languages. So we are, um, doing an order, hopefully here in the next couple of weeks to print a bunch of French books. There’ll be printed in Hong Kong and then they will be shipped, we think to Cameroon and a vector will help us with that. Uh, and so that’s, uh, uh, you know, sometimes it’s very specific. It’s about getting people what they want. Uh, one other interesting story and I know vector is going to help us move these is uh, back to Ghana. The former United nations secretary general Kofi Annan, uh, is, has been a longtime friend of books for Africa. He passed away and his, uh, personal library is going to be sent to Cape coast, uh, area of Ghana where Kofi Annan went to high school. And so we’re going to be sending that. So sometimes it’s very, very specific things to, uh, but it’s all about getting people what they want, I think. Agreed.

Scott Luton (35:38):

And, and uh, what I’m hearing you say is a lot of get getting them the information they need to make themselves better and make their communities better, make their businesses better or give them entrepreneurial ideas. Maybe, um, love the good work that you are doing. Um, all right. So Enrique, any before we kind of shift gears and make sure that, um, our listeners know how to get in touch with Pat and books for Africa. Anything else on your end?

Enrique Alvarez (36:08):

The question is to Patrick or just

Scott Luton (36:10):

yes, yes. Yeah. I’m going to circle back cause it goes back to her. Scott got some news on, on some of their projects,

Enrique Alvarez (36:16):

right? No, I mean just one thing that I would add is I’m just thinking Patrick with, we’ve had the pleasure of working with him and his company for many years now. We’ve established a good friendship and this really, um, I’ve said this to him before in person and, and it’s just a pleasure to work with companies like kid, his son organizations like, like what they have, they have books for Africa. I think it’s making our job in logistics a little bit more meaningful because one point we’d go from like just shipping containers to starting to ship any location or home or AR or just happiness sometimes. And I see it in books. It’s very, very clear. We thanks to Patrick and his support, we’re able to donate a container full of books for a party that we um, we helped organize for children in Ghana.

Enrique Alvarez (37:09):

And um, the first thing that this children are like 5,000 children all over and they had a soccer balls and different games and food and music. And when the container arrived with the books, it was just heartbreaking and incredible to see how all this children that otherwise would have done anything else is Ron grabbed the book, sat down and started reading. And honestly I just, it’s just amazing. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see the picture of Scott. I think I shared them with you. But it’s just amazing. It’s books are still very powerful and children love them. And so what Patrick’s doing is very, uh, very inspirational, so, so thanks for doing it Patrick. And as you mentioned, it never give up. You can’t afford, we can’t afford for you to give up. So keep going.

Scott Luton (37:57):


Patrick Plonski (37:58):

Rica and maybe I’d just as as Enrique say, vector has, uh, they are our premier shipper working with vector over the last, I dunno, five years or whatever it’s been, uh, books for Africa and vector together. We’ve sent millions and millions of books to, to Africa, to, to many countries. We send books to some 30 countries in any given year. And so it’s been a good partnership. It’s been a good relationship. And, uh, we, we, uh, value it and appreciate the philanthropic spirit also, uh, our friends at vector. Absolutely. Thank you for saying that. We appreciate it.

Scott Luton (38:38):

We’ve seen it in our collaboration going back, uh, over a year with the vector team. We’ve seen it firsthand and, and we talk a lot about, uh, our disdain for lip service leadership and, um, there’s none of that here. It seems like on this whole line here, there’s, there’s no lip service leadership all about action and getting stuff done. So. Okay, so Pat, let’s make sure our listeners know how to connect with you as well as, um, learn more about books for Africa. What’s the easiest way for that to happen?

Patrick Plonski (39:10):

The easiest way to be in touch with books for Africa is to go to our website, which is books, and there’s a lot of information there. You can donate, you can organize a shipment of books to Africa. If you’re in Africa, you can go there and see how to order a container of books from books for Africa. And, and then we start talking about fundraising after that. So the website is sort of the clearing house, uh, as far as social media. I’d also encourage folks to, uh, to go to our Facebook page. We put a lot of the latest and greatest information, success stories from Africa and whatnot. On Facebook. So check us out on the web and um, Facebook

Scott Luton (40:00):

outstanding and will to our listeners. We’ll, we’ll feature as many of those links as possible on the show notes of this episode. So, uh, Patrick, really appreciate you joining us today. Love what you’re doing, love with the team is doing and has done for so many years and we’ll have to head back home later this year and get an update on that. 50 million books.

Patrick Plonski (40:20):

Go absolutely in vector. Uh, get ready guys. You’re going to send that 50 million book and it’s going to Ghana and the ambassador from Ghana will be, um, it’s going to go in a container that, um, is going to be sent to the, uh, in honor of the Ghana’s ambassador to the U S visiting both Atlanta and Minnesota. And so we’re going to put that 50 million the book in a container. It’s going to go to Ghana and uh, uh, vector. Get ready for that. You guys are going to be pending.

Enrique Alvarez (40:53):

Yeah, we’ll look forward to that. And that’ll be, that’ll be definitely a huge milestone. We’ll definitely celebrate when you guys and your achievements. And uh, I know also Patrick, we were going to have to get ready for the partying guy, not this year after hopefully the corner buyers. Uh, we’re after we’re all behind that. Uh, we want to ship another container, so we’ll definitely need your help on that as well. Uh, awesome. December this year.

Patrick Plonski (41:19):

Awesome. Looking forward to that.

Scott Luton (41:21):

Definitely, definitely so much. A lot of brighter days. Lie ahead and look forward to celebrating these goals with, with both of you and your organizations. Okay. So Pat, don’t go anywhere. We appreciate time here today. Really enjoyed your perspective, both personally and professionally and we look forward to reconnecting soon. But here, as we start to wrap up today’s episode, I want to bring Adrian back in with vector. Uh, Adrian vector is involved in the, in a variety of fronts. Um, and, and some of it’s related to to Cobra 19 and our efforts there. Others, you know, vector has been involved in a lot of philanthropic, uh, initiatives for a number of years. Give us a quick update on a project or two that our listeners should know about.

Adrian Purtill (42:05):

Well, uh, in, in, uh, two spirit of, of Victor’s heart and, and giving back and making a difference in the world. And we’ve just talked about that and it’s been mentioned on, on, uh, other shows of yours. Got as well. Um, we started really deep diving into the world of, of uh, bringing in personal protective equipment, uh, into the USA and, and, and, uh, into, into Mexico and even into, into Europe as well from, from China. Uh, many, many weeks ago when we realized how bad this was going to get, uh, rather than sit on the sidelines and watch things happening, uh, Pat said earlier, there are things that can be done now. And so we jumped, uh, first head first into, uh, into this world and, and, and, uh, try to see how we could best make a difference. So we actually started a covert 19 taskforce and, uh, one of my colleagues is responsible for sourcing and procuring the equipment and getting pricing on it.

Adrian Purtill (43:05):

We work closely with our partner K group in China. We’ve got a long standing relationship with them. Um, and, and some of the projects we were doing now with, currently we have a China coming up from China departing on Monday. Um, I personally am working with someone bringing in 2 million masks for, uh, for a hospital in Toronto. Um, and just recently now as from tomorrow, in fact, we will be distributing a hundred thousand mosques, uh, to the homeless and to frontline workers through an organization that we’ve teamed up with, uh, based in Atlanta, love beyond walls. Um, Tim and Terrence list his company. And, uh, so, uh, that will be happening, uh, from, from tomorrow. And, uh, Tim’s list, his organization is in, is incredible. Um, they have been many years now actively involved in bettering the conditions of the homeless and impoverished, impoverished. And, uh, so we, we’ve moved, we’re excited to be a proud to be part of that initiative to help us people. So that is, uh, that is kicking off and those models will be delivered as from tomorrow. So, uh, we’re very much, uh, jumping right into this and, uh, and seeing where we can, we can help. And how we can make a difference to a lot of people.

Scott Luton (44:26):

Great point. I love, love the spirit, uh, that fuels these efforts. Um, and, and again, the Kandoo action focused leadership, so really appreciate what Enrique, Adrian and whole vector global logistics team is up to. But you know, what Assad from all those projects, this series logistics with purpose, uh, has brought so much inspiration. I think, you know, we’re only four or five episodes in and we have a lot more stories to cover. But hearing from people like Pat and books for Africa and, and how they’re finding ways to continue the mission despite the, the, uh, this challenging set of circumstances and air buys and enduring that is, that is good news. Uh, and while we don’t have a picture for right in, in this, in this episode, we will soon enough and I can’t tell each of you how much what you’re doing helps, helps us all. So, uh, on that note, I want to thank Dr. Patrick Klonsky, executive director with books for Africa, not beyond social media. You can learn Pat, thanks so much for your time. Thank you, Scott. You bet.

Patrick Plonski (45:33):

Thanks to Enrique and uh, Adrian. Also absolutely great friends of books for Africa, so appreciate talking to you again and we’ll keep talking to you later today as we arrange more exactly, exactly this morning and we’ll be again later.

Scott Luton (45:56):

Thank you standing and big thanks. Of course, Enrique Alvarez and Adrian Patil. Uh, both with vector global logistics, uh, gentlemen, really, really enjoy this mutual project we have here and these stories we’re spotlighting and thanks for all the good work that vector’s doing.

Patrick Plonski (46:16):

Thank you, Patrick. Thanks everyone.

Scott Luton (46:20):

All right, so to your audience, you bet to our audience, be sure to check out a wide variety of industry thought leadership at supply chain now, find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts from. On behalf of the entire team here, Scott Luton, wishing you a successful week ahead, stay safe, but please follow the expert advice precautions that have been distributed. No this at brighter days. Certainly lie ahead on that note, we’ll see you next time here.

Prefer to watch the podcast rather than just listen?  Watch Scott, Enrique, and Adrian as they welcome Patrick Plonski to Supply Chain Now on our YouTube channel.

Patrick Plonski, Ph.D. has served as the Executive Director of Books for Africa since 2003. He holds a Ph.D. in International Education (2009) and previously served as Executive Director of the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council at the University of Minnesota (1998-2003), and Committee Administrator for the Minnesota House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture (1987-1998).  Learn more about Books for Africa here:

Enrique Alvarez serves as Managing Director at Vector Global Logistics and believes we all have a personal responsibility to change the world. He is hard working, relationship minded and pro-active. Enrique trusts that the key to logistics is having a good and responsible team that truly partners with the clients and does whatever is necessary to see them succeed. He is a proud sponsor of Vector’s unique results-based work environment and before venturing into logistics he worked for the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). During his time at BCG, he worked in different industries such as: Telecommunications, Energy, Industrial Goods, Building Materials and Private banking. His main focus was always on the operations, sales and supply chain processes, with case focus on, logistics, growth strategy and cost reduction. Prior to joining BCG, Enrique worked for Grupo Vitro, a Mexican glass manufacturer, for five years holding different positions from sales and logistics manager to supply chain project leader in charge of five warehouses in Colombia.

He has a MBA from The Wharton School of Business and a BS, in Mechanical Engineer from the Technologico de Monterrey in Mexico. Enrique’s passions are soccer and the ocean and also enjoys traveling, getting to know new people and spending time with his wife and two kids Emma and Enrique. Learn more about Vector Global Logistics here:

Adrian Purtill serves as Business Development Manager at Vector Global Logistics, where he consults with importers and exporters in various industries to match their specific shipping requirements with the most effective supply chain solutions. Vector Global Logistics is an asset-free, multi-modal logistics company that provides exceptional sea freight, air freight, truck, rail, general logistic services and consulting for our clients. Our highly trained and professional team is committed to providing creative and effective solutions, always exceeding our customer’s expectations and fostering long-term relationships. With more than 20+ years of experience in both strategy consulting and logistics, Vector Global Logistics is your best choice to proactively minimize costs while having an exceptional service level. Learn more about Vector Global Logistics here:

Scott W. Luton is the founder & CEO of Supply Chain Now. He has worked extensively in the end-to-end Supply Chain industry for more than 15 years, appearing in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Dice, and Quality Progress Magazine. Scott was named a 2019 Pro to Know in Supply Chain by Supply & Demand Executive and a 2019 “Top 15 Supply Chain & Logistics Experts to Follow” by RateLinx. He founded the 2019 Atlanta Supply Chain Awards and also served on the 2018 Georgia Logistics Summit Executive Committee. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and holds the APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) credential. A Veteran of the United States Air Force, Scott volunteers on the Business Pillar for VETLANTA and has served on the boards for APICS Atlanta and the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance.  Follow Scott Luton on Twitter at @ScottWLuton and learn more about Supply Chain Now here:


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