Imperial and SU collaborate to address climate change, healthcare and social impact

Stellenbosch University (SU) has entered a high-profile collaboration with Imperial, one of the top logistics service providers in Africa.

“The initiative creates wonderful opportunities for staff and student research to have large-scale and real-world impact,” says Prof. Sara Grobbelaar, an associate professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering.

Imperial has committed to a significant investment for the next three years in the form of bursaries for a group of multidisciplinary postgraduate research students at SU.

“We expect that the investment will provide bursaries for ten doctoral and master’s students over this three-year period,” Grobbelaar says. “There is also an opportunity to involve as many final-year and honours students as possible over the period.”

Six students are already participating in this initiative: Billy Ruyobesa (Industrial Engineering), Suzanne Stofberg (Department of Logistics), Chibuike Mbanefo (Institute for Biomedical Engineering), Christi Herbst (Industrial Engineering), Pinquan Chen (Department of Logistics) and Johan Slabbert (Industrial Engineering).

Imperial has established an operating base for the students and their academic supervisors at its Technopark office near Stellenbosch, providing infrastructure and support to help create an enabling environment for students.

“Imperial’s collaboration initiative with Stellenbosch University is focused on investing in the future of Africa,” says Cobus Rossouw, Executive Vice President: Digital & IT at Imperial. “The spirit of the bursary initiative is one of collaboration, focusing on the exchange of ideas and knowledge between the University, the students and Imperial.”

Although Imperial focuses on a wide range of sectors, including healthcare, consumer, automotive, chemical, and industrial and commodities, this collaboration’s immediate focus is on healthcare supply chains and the carbon footprint of fresh food supply chains. Imperial recently identified possible research topics in collaboration with the Department of Industrial Engineering and the Department of Logistics (in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences). One of these is scaling and digitising the Unjani Clinic network, one of Imperial’s CSI beneficiaries. These black women owned and operated primary healthcare clinics provide accessible, affordable and quality healthcare to communities in low-income areas.

Grobbelaar explains: “We have to grapple with the research question: ‘How do we ensure that we develop relevant capacity and infrastructure to respond to the pandemic, but also ensure that health system improvements are sustainable, relevant and useful post-COVID-19?’. From a climate change and carbon footprint perspective, the main question is: ‘How do we plan for the impact of climate change, and do our bit to reduce our contribution to the overall impact?’. The aim here is to collectively develop relevant capacity and infrastructure to convert mobility energy needs into specific solutions for cold chain transport.”

This multi-disciplinary research project aims to address and resolve challenges in the logistics and supply chain industry, ensuring cross-pollination between the industry and academia, and inter-field collaboration. “Aside from linking students to our in-country operations, our long-term goal for this collaboration initiative is to identify talent and further cement Imperial’s position as a partner of choice for employees, clients and suppliers,” concludes Rossouw.

Photograph: (from left to right) Billy Ruyobesa, Suzanne Stofberg, Chibuike Mbanefo, Christi Herbst, Pinquan Chen and Johan Slabbert.