How Lean transforms relationships to empower employees and increase impact


  • Andrew Parris Medair, Switzerland
  • Bublu Thakur-Weigold ETH Zurich, Switzerland



humanitarian, leadership, private sector, Lean


The challenges of humanitarian leadership are well-studied by the social sciences. However, there is untapped potential in applying private sector management principles and best practices to humanitarian work. Some non- profit organisations have fruitful experience applying Lean Management, an innovative management system developed by Toyota, which is not just about manufacturing better cars or improving industrial processes. Lean focuses the organisation on providing more value to its customers which, in the case of the humanitarian sector, are its beneficiaries. Our panel shared their experience of using Lean Management to address common issues in humanitarian operations. Their stories demonstrate the potential of Lean to transform work and relationships by devolving power to lower-level workers and partners. By empowering staff and local entities, it also improves relationships, collaboration, and ultimately the outcomes of humanitarian missions.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Andrew Parris, Medair, Switzerland

Andrew Parris was born in Hollywood, and holds a BS from UC Berkeley, and an MS PhD from MIT. His experience includes eleven years in Aerospace, nine years with World Vision (three living in East Africa), and four years as the Process Excellence Manager at Medair. The common thread in his career has been to build up and empower people with Lean thinking and tools that they can use to innovate and improve how they work, to achieve greater impact with less effort.

Bublu Thakur-Weigold, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Bublu is Associate Director Programs of the HumOSCM Lab at ETH Zurich's Chair of Logistics Management. She is a specialist in innovation diffusion and technology transfer, with over 20 years of industry experience. Over the past years, she has gained extensive teaching and research experience in the area of humanitarian operations and supply chain management.

Bublu holds a Bachelor's degree in Management Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Master of Science in International Logistics from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and obtained her Doctorate from the University of Economics in Prague (VSE).


Akers, P. A. (2016). 2 Second Lean: How to Grow People and Build a Fun Lean Culture. BookBaby.

Garvin, D. A. (1993). Building a learning organization. Harvard Business Review, 71(4) 78-91.

Girardin, C. (2021). Evaluating the Promotion of Innovation in NGOs. HUMLOG blog.

Netland, T. H., & Powell, D. J. (Eds.). (2016). The Routledge companion to Lean Management. Taylor & Francis.

Parris, A. (2013). Improving processes for good in East Africa The TQM Journal. 25(5) 458-472. or,1554731606281)/.

Parris, A. (2019). Making work and the world a better place. ISE Magazine 51(4),1554730618048)/.

Parris, A., Pope, D. (2020). What Christian Leaders Can Learn From Lean. Management Sciences. 21. or

Parris, A., Thakur-Weigold, B., Wagner, S. (2021). Medair’s Beirut Blast Response 2020. unpublished teaching case study.

Taylor, D., & Pettit, S. (2009). A consideration of the relevance of lean supply chain concepts for humanitarian aid provision. International Journal of Services Technology and Management, 12(4) 430-444.

Womack, J. P., Jones, D. T., Roos, D., & Carpenter, D. S. (1991). The machine that changed the world: based on the

Massachusetts Institute of Technology 5-million-dollar 5-year study on the future of the automobile. Rawson Associates.

A group of Medair workers distributing sealing off kits to affected families in Beirut




How to Cite

Parris, A. . and Thakur-Weigold, B. . (2021) “How Lean transforms relationships to empower employees and increase impact”, The Humanitarian Leader, p. Working Paper 019, Oct 2021. doi: 10.21153/thl2021art1495.