Designing Platforms & Algorithms to Optimize Informal Supply Chains

When and Where

Monday, February 08, 2021 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm


Professor Joann de Zegher, Assistant Professor of Operations Management, MIT Sloan School of Management.


Large parts of production systems in global value chains crucially depend on the informal sector; for example, smallholders produce over 50% and 20% of global food calories and critical minerals respectively, and over 60% of global employment is informal. These “informal” supply chains are characterized by significant inefficiencies that impact the planet’s most vulnerable populations and most threatened ecosystems. The toil of the people and planetary impacts to provide food, clothing and entertainment, however, is largely invisible to the consumer. Such opacity is also a significant barrier to rigorous research. Our work aims to develop and deploy meaningful solutions to address such systemic problems, by leveraging large-scale fieldwork and tools from optimization and algorithmic mechanism design. As an example, I will provide a deep dive into the problem of market price information transparency for suppliers in smallholder supply chains. We develop a novel platform-based mechanism that crowdsources market information, increases supply chain efficiency, and enables supply chain digitization.

Speaker Bio

Joann de Zegher is the Maurice F. Strong Career Development Professor and an Assistant Professor of Operations Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Her research focuses on the design of operational strategies, technological innovations and algorithms to advance social and environmental impact in informal, first-mile, and global supply chains. She holds an MS in econometrics and management science from Erasmus University Rotterdam, and a PhD from Stanford University.

Watch the recording of the webinar below

This is a School of Cities Seminar Series "Building Resilience in Food and Health Supply Chains"

Supply chains are the primary societal infrastructure for the production, delivery, and recycling of goods and services. Though sometimes invisible, supply chains are the systems that ensure that flour is available in your grocery store, that hospitals have sufficient personal protective equipment, and that there are enough trained staff to administer medical tests, deliver babies, and check-out your groceries. While much of the effort in supply chains over the past 50 years has been to make them agile, fast, and cheap, there is a growing realization that supply chains must be able to adapt to disruptions from local events such as the inability for a plane to land due to weather to global changes such as the closing of the US-Canada border due to COVID-19.

This seminar series seeks to develop a multi-disciplinary understanding of resilient supply chains by examining two which are of critical importance to everyday life: food and health supply chains. The talks in this series look at these supply chains, both independently and together, through the inclusion of diverse speakers representing at least the following perspectives:

  • Supply Chain Optimization 
  • Northern and Remote Food and Health Security
  • Urban Food Systems
  • Systems of Food Production
  • Healthcare Systems