Supply chain pracademics: encouraging co-creation between academics and practitioners in the supply chain field podcast

Supply chain management has much to gain from collaborative relationships between academics and practitioners, from knowledge exchange and enhanced training to better problem-solving, increased innovation and more relevant solutions. Despite the benefits of co-creation, there can be obstacles to overcome, particularly around meeting the expectations of all parties.  

In this podcast, we explore the opportunities and challenges around co-creation between academics and practitioners in the supply chain field, and how we can foster these relationships. Our guests highlight the supply chain issues that would benefit most from co-creation and offer strategies that can help drive collaborative success.    

Speaker profiles

David Loseby is a Professor of Research Impact in Supply Chain Management at Leeds University Business School. He is Editor-in-Chief for the Journal of Public Procurement (JOPP) at Emerald Publishing and Editor for the International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management (IJOPDLM). David has over 30 years’ experience at senior executive/director level, driving value and change through procurement and organisational transformation. Further, David continues to work with a broad portfolio of clients providing thought leadership and advisory in procurement & supply chain, change/transformation, ESG, digital, and applied behavioural science (informed by his PhD study). He was previously the Group CPO for Rolls Royce, managing the impact of Covid-19 and a significant portfolio of organisational and digital transformations. 

Chee Yew Wong is Professor of Supply Chain Management at the Leeds University Business School and Editor-in-Chief for the International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management (IJOPDLM) at Emerald Publishing. He is the Funding Director of the Centre for Operations & Supply Chain Research (COSCR). His research examines how organisations use information in supply chains to make them more sustainable, responsive and effective. Aiming to advance information processing capacity, Chee has engaged with a variety of organisations through joint research, knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) projects and consultancy projects. Through these projects, they have co-created a variety of organisational skills, processes and solutions in supply chain digitalisation. 

In this episode:

  • What are the biggest questions in supply chain management today?
  • How does supply chain management affect our everyday lives?
  • How might co-creation further innovation in supply chain management?
  • How does the International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management encourage co-creation?
  • What’s the future of co-creation in the supply chain management field? 

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Supply chain pracademics: encouraging co-creation between academics and practitioners in the supply chain field

Rebecca Torr (RT): Hello, I'm Rebecca Torr and welcome to the Emerald podcast series. Supply chains have a profound impact on our everyday lives; from the availability and price of goods to the creation of new jobs. The global response to the COVID 19 pandemic highlighted the critical role of supply chains to our lives. But it also exposed their vulnerabilities and complexities. Supply chains sort have been in the spotlight once again following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which has led to shortages and escalating prices of food, energy and the cost of raw materials. In the face of these challenges, effective supply chain management is more critical than ever. So, what are the biggest questions in supply chain management today? And how can co-creation help tackle these issues and drive innovation? 

To explore these topics, I'm joined by two professors in supply chain management from the Leeds University Business School, David Loseby who is also Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Public Procurement. And Chee Yew Wong, Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management.

Chee Yew Wong (CYW): My name is Chee. I'm a professor of supply chain management from Leeds University Business School. I'm also the Editor-in-Chief for International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management at Emerald Publishing. I used to work with many different companies including ABB, the global electrical engineering company, Lego, a toy company, Casper, a beverage company, and many others, as a supply chain professional, as a researcher and also sometimes a consultant. My research focuses a lot on how a company can use data from suppliers and customers to make a supply chain more resilient, more responsive and more intelligent. I currently help engineering companies in Leeds, for example, to develop their digital transformation plan, another multinational company in the medical sector, to develop data analytics capabilities, a startup company based in London to develop supply chain tools to assess forced labor rates, risk, and so on.

David Loseby (DL): I'm also a professor of research impact at Leeds University Business School. Like Chee, I'm an Editor-in-Chief of a journal, the Journal of Public Procurement. But I also work as a guest editor on Chee’s journal. I'm also a visiting scholar at the University of East Anglia where I manage a number of Executive MBA and MSc types of activity and programs. And the focus for my work really is the intersection of behavioral science, in particular procurement and supply chain. So, the commercial aspects, but more in terms of thinking about the ways in which people are motivated to adopt digital technology is a key component, particularly when we consider the low adoption rates in some cases of digital technology in organizations. So that really becomes the big focus. In my background, I guess I could say that I've probably been a Group Chief Procurement Officer for several decades, which has probably aged me terribly, but worked for companies like, more recently, Rolls Royce, INCH’K, GSK, Barclays Bank, so quite a broad and deep background in lots of areas. But I also lived and worked internationally to for quite a number of years. So, also have some good global experience in the bank, as they say. 

RT: Fantastic. Oh, we're really lucky to have both of you. I mean, it's all your insights. Obviously, with you having the theory and the practice of working with companies, it would be great to unpick some of that and find out your thoughts. I suppose where to start would be to strip everything back and start with what is supply chain management. And how does it affect our everyday lives?

CYW: Supply chain consists of a chain of relationship between suppliers and buyers, from the origin such as the farms, forests, or mines where natural materials are extracted all the way to processing and manufacturing to the consumer who consumed them and also the management of the end of lives of products and materials when we don't want it anymore. 

A supply chain supports lives in many ways because it provides us with shelters, with medicines, food, medications, everything else we need. It is very important because, when it is disrupted, it can increase inflation. It can also even cause massive migration when disruptions of food become severe. It matters also, because many supply chain activities consume natural resources and energy and cause emissions which warm up the planet. And they might also pollute our land, rivers and seas, which could threaten our children's and our grandchildren. 

RT: It's quite interesting that you mentioned supply chain disruptions. Obviously, recently, we've seen lots of that with the COVID 19 pandemic and the shortages that we've experienced there. Now, with the Ukraine war, we've had escalating prices with supply chains disrupted. What are the biggest questions we're starting to see in supply chain management at the moment?

DL: I think the realization is that we have a high degree of complexity within our supply chains. And perhaps what people don't realize is that there isn't a simple A to B route for a singular product or service from one supplier to the next. A good example was recently illustrated visually where crops picked in one country are then packed and then shipped to another country to be packaged, then another destination to be repackaged and redistributed. The multiples of different routes and suppliers and processes that are involved in that are tremendous. But I think the other thing that perhaps people don't see is all the things that we call indirect goods and services. And so most organizations will consume around 10 to 20% of their total turnover costs in what we call indirect goods and services. And this might be anything from data storage, to processing, to all sorts of things that we can think of, from energy, all sorts of things that don't directly go into a product or a service. 
To give an example, in my last role at Rolls Royce, we were very cognizant of the fact that there were 40,000 plus parts to any jet engine. So, the mantra that we had was that if you're one part short you don't have an engine. So, the fragility of that is absolutely immense, as you can imagine. And, of course, all of these products have to be shipped on time, to the right quality, to the right destination, etc. Therefore, supply chains become very, very complex. And, in a world where we've had huge amounts of stability, that has still been quite a task. But of course, the moment you start putting ripples, and unbalancing things, shorting things, and delaying things, and challenging quality, it becomes hugely disruptive. It only takes one piece of disruption in all of that complexity and, suddenly, you're in a position whereby you can't then satisfy or fulfill an end delivery point. That’s when people start to notice as we have done recently in our supermarkets, in terms of tomatoes, and peppers, and cucumbers, and all those things that we love to consume any time of the year, I might hasten to add. So, the whole seasonality doesn't figure into this equation. It becomes very much an expectation that they will be there 24/7 365 days a year. The reality is that that takes quite a monumental effort to make that happen. 

RT: Just looking into this topic more and more, it really is quite surprising how it just takes one small thing you think is small, but it can just escalate, and it can really impact, such as not being able to get tomatoes. I mean, that's just quite a shock to any consumer. I suppose that goes in any sector in any industry. 

I know we're going to be focusing on bridging the gap between academics and practitioners. And I was just wondering, and maybe Chee wants to answer this, in light of all these disruptions, we need some innovation, I'm guessing. We need some answers to this. And where do you see co-creation coming into that? How can we encourage more collaboration between academics and practitioners?

CYW: As an academic, I'm very fortunate to have lots of time to do research. I think it is important for people like us to take responsibility to conduct research that can inform managers and policymakers to create a better world. Even though it is important to conduct desk research or theoretical research, working with a practitioner is different because it actually is one of the best ways we can co-create new questions and answers to many of the challenges we mentioned just now. These are very important engagements and also processes that we go through to change the way we think about the world to understand what is happening recently, so that we can co-create new solutions, new ways of thinking, that can inform both our intellectual work as well as what is happening in the real world.

RT: And what would you say at the moment are the challenges and the opportunities around co-creation in supply chain fields?

CYW: Some of the challenges that we have is that many academic institutions have put a lot of pressure on academics like me to publish in high quality journals. That means we spend a lot more time doing research very often in front of the computer, rather than engaging with practitioners in the real world. Sometimes that diverts our effort and attention to details that do not necessarily affect the real world. Sometimes, they want us to perform research that does not answer the real-world problems. So those are challenges that we face as academics when it comes to the co-creation of resources with practitioners.

RT: And David, in terms of the challenges and the opportunities, is there anything that you have seen in the way that universities or research evaluation systems, such as the research, excellent framework in the UK, in how they're helping to further these connections?

DL: Yes, certainly, I think one of the things is that there is the myth that academic theory and practitioner application are not natural partners. But, actually, they are because it's a bit like the circular economy, it's a bit like the circular piece of knowledge, which is that the work that's done by academics and practitioners must in, by definition, connect with the two. 

It's interesting when we think about the fact that, in a recent quote that I picked up, which was “academic knowledge needs translation, because academics and practitioners pursue fundamentally different forms of knowledge.” And what they mean by that is that whereby academics must pursue the more generalizable knowledge, practitioners tend to pursue content specific and actionable knowledge. Therefore, there is a relationship between the two, but obviously, academics then think about how can this be applied somewhere else? How can I share this knowledge somewhere else, because once you might learn something in a particular sector or a particular field, particular instance, the ability to be able to make sense and translate that across a broader audience is critically important for academics. And, equally so, the way in which then that theory and that academic knowledge can be translated, and applied in the practical world. And so I think that this symbiotic relationship is quite important. And continuously shaping it, challenging it, understanding how it can be applied, understanding how it can be refined, modified, improved. 

But also as thinkers, the whole COVID, Brexit, the Ukraine-Russian war, all sorts of things like Suez Canal, you keep naming them, but all of these things, all these incidents, in some ways, whilst they can be quite disruptive, they do drive a certain degree of resilience, because moving out of this very stable period that we've had, it then gets us to start to think about how more effective we need to be in terms of managing that disruption and that resilience, and therefore creating systems and ways of working that are, something like, the shock absorbers for business. It's about the ability to be able to absorb those, but at the same time still manage to deliver a product or a service. And of course, in terms of research impact, it's hugely important to develop that relationship whereby they can share and challenge and create the knowledge and information for others then to go Ah, right. Okay, now I understand maybe I can apply this now into my sector or into my business or into this other particular problem that has a parallel set of scenarios or circumstances, that allows me then to think about how I might apply it somewhere else. And of course, that's the whole essence of being able to generate knowledge that's actionable.

RT: There’s so much emphasis now on research impact and systems like the research excellent framework. They've got a whole section on impact. And I suppose marrying the two together, where you do have some actionable results. So, it's not just that theory piece, I suppose it really encourages more co-creation then. In terms of sort of the topics that the co-creation teams look at, what do you think they should be looking at right now? In light of all these issues, and the challenges or the opportunities that exist now with new technologies?

DL: I think there are many things that where this can get applied. And I think simply thinking that it only gets applied to policy or something like that is a very simplistic way of looking at it. And of course, we can think about it in terms of standards, we can think about it in terms of how that might shape the way in which the professional bodies then disseminate practice and information and standards. We might think about it in terms of how we might construct, for instance, that the UK is very good at producing in the construction playbook, the innovation playbook, and can demonstrate that with case studies. 

Of course, the ability to be able to disseminate that knowledge in different ways for different audiences, because we all consume knowledge in different ways, it’s hugely important. And of course, our ability is to say this was the situation before we did something. So, we can bench more, the categoric difference that and the impact that we've made by doing something different, and that can go for changing the way in which we approve a vaccine, you think about the thing that we've gone through with COVID, the typical route of approving a vaccine might take several years. Well, we did that in a matter of weeks. So, changing the way that works. I mean, we had a situation in Rolls Royce, where we were set the challenge, and it down through into my department, which was, oh, by the way, we need 5000 ventilators in 12 weeks. The typical procurement process for doing something like that might be 18 months, we needed to produce the 5000 ventilators in 12 weeks. So that says to you that you've got to do something fundamentally different. And of course, that's the impact of looking and doing things in a very, very different way. Chee, what are your thoughts?

CYW: Yeah, I think there are many topics we can co-create together with practitioners. Because many companies, for example, do not have some specific technical knowledge, like data analytics, and previously usually have more capacity and resources to do so. So, we can help them a lot to develop this kind of new capacity. We also need to work with a lot of companies to answer questions for the future, because everyone wants to become more circular, more resilient, more sustainable, but do not have a full answer to what it is and how to get there. 

The other thing I want to follow up with David is that when you mentioned actionable knowledge that managers use. Many of these actions taken by managers are hidden in their mind because they don't have time to write down what they have gone through, what they have learned. And it's our role as academics to co-create this knowledge with them. So that we can make perhaps more generalizable knowledge and transfer it and disseminate it to other companies and organizations. Having said that, many of the literatures fail to elaborate how managers utilize and develop their impressive knowledge and actionable knowledge. That is because it is hard to capture them. That is also because we can only create that knowledge if we work together with them at the same time, because the knowledge is created here and now when they solve problems together. And by doing co-creations with companies, this kind of knowledge can make more transparent or explicit or we can elaborate them in much more detail. Because many of the solutions that we need to implement in different organizations we have to conceptualize. The conceptualization is the way in which companies apply something they heard about or something they see into the context in which they face in the organization. And that is the kind of knowledge creation process that is usually not as explicit in the literature, and that is how cooperation could help, because changes would have to be made in different contexts.

RT: Thank you, it's such an insight and hearing the complexity of how you co-create and the outcomes and how you implement those. I think there's so much that needs still needs to be done. And I know this sales supply chain field is relatively a young one. 

Obviously, you've got loads and loads of experience between the two of you, when we look at the advice that you would give to practitioners and academics. What would you say in terms of how could they work together? Is there any advice from your learnings that you could share in terms of how they could get involved in co-creation projects and bringing those two teams together, and actually having those practical outcomes that will make a difference?

DL: I think the first the first thing is the kind of the mindset, or the culture of the organizations and the individuals who want to effectively collaborate because it's a collaboration, it's not a one party knows more or less than the other. And so, I think if the partnership is entered into on the basis that everyone has something to share, everyone has something to contribute, and everyone is valued in that exercise of engagement, collaboration and co-creation, that has to be part and parcel of the setting the right environment for really effective knowledge transfer between the parties. 

And I think this is where having mutual respect, having the ability to communicate, and let's be honest, academics do communicate in one language and practitioners sometimes transcribe in a different language, for different reasons. And I think that you will often find that, in the middle of all this, you may well have a person that is the classic bridge banner, or the person that is effectively translating between the two parties. So, there are various ways of doing this, there isn't a one size fits all formula. I think it is about having an open mind, creating the right culture. And I remember looking at the whole concept of active listening, and the whole process of active listening is that you go in there to listen, not to formulate the response before the person is even finished speaking. So, it's about making sure that you are receptive and open and ready to receive whatever information is going to come from one party or the other, and be able to then understand and work with that. But then ask the right questions. And sometimes this means reframing the information in a different way, in order to make sure that the understanding is truly there between the two parties. 

And so I think this is where you've got the whole recognition that - and again I've worked with people who are super knowledgeable about coding and developers and are way smarter than me on any day of the week, but equally, what they then don't possess is other skills that we can bring - and so it is about that recognition that each party has got something to contribute. And sometimes it's even that stepping back piece that says -it’s like baking a cake - what constituents do we need in order to create the best possible cake or, in this case, knowledge that we can possibly make? And I think it's about making sure that you've got all of those constituents as part of that cross functional team. And I think it's about having that open agenda, not a closed agenda, is hugely important right from the outset.

RT: Fantastic. That's so interesting. I mean, talking about open mindedness, creating the right culture, active listening, reframing the questions, and having an open agenda. I think it's really, really interesting. 

I don't know if, Chee, there's anything you wanted to add to that, in your experience, what have you seen in terms of what's worked for bringing those two different mindsets together?

CYW: Like David, I agree, in many cases which I see, innovations come from the way we combined knowledge from different sources, being open to new ideas from unfamiliar sources, is a very important first step. If you don't do that, then you are closing your doors to many different new ideas. And sometimes by asking questions to each other, by explaining to each other what they want to achieve, how they try to achieve these new ideas, you can actually get new thinking and reframing of the strategic goals, and also new ideas on how to achieve the goals through these conversations, so I have, through my different projects, knowledge transfer projects with different companies gone through this kind of interaction, where companies recognize what they actually wanted, or companies become more aware of the different alternatives in terms of the risk and how they can achieve those different options. Through this interaction process, this is how new ideas are created, new perspectives are created. So, I think it is important for us to make sure that we are open to this new possibility and spend a bit of the effort on questions and answers with different parties in order to learn from each other.

RT: I just want to take it to your roles as editors on various journals. You both work on the International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management. And we're just wondering, from that perspective, how do you encourage that co-creation between academics and practitioners?

I don't know if there's anything specific the journal does, or if it's that you've had examples of this kind of co-creation work, and then that's more of a help to other people to see how it can be done. 

CYW: Well, maybe I can talk about the International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management, in short IJPDLM. Like many other journals, we are empirical, that means it involves a lot of data collection from organizations. 

However, data collectors are not necessarily in-depth engagements and exchange of ideas. And what we want to encourage is the more in-depth exchange of ideas, or doing things together. Because that is actually the way in which academics can create useful knowledge that the industry can learn from. So, we encourage and support authors in doing this kind of cooperative research, we even provide services and help them to translate research articles, from very long research articles into shorter articles that can be understood by practitioners. We then can help to achieve the goal of the journal because our goal is to facilitate the exchange of new ideas between academic research and practitioners.

DL: I think the things that I would certainly echo what Chee has just said in terms of the translations. I've done some myself where you do translation of an academic paper and reduce it down to two or three pages that really has the more punchy but more appealing language to practitioners. 

There are other things that we've done in the journal. Such as introducing special issues so that we can address very sort of topical pieces of research or activity that we're witnessing in the marketplace, and particularly driven sometimes by, for instance, a good example was there were lots of calls for additional research in the initial phases of COVID. Because that was the trigger of disruption. But, of course, we've seen an enduring wave of different types of disruption. And I think it's incumbent upon us to recognize very current events and be able to seek to capture knowledge and new ways of thinking from that. So, I think they're the kinds of things that we hope to be able to do and keep pace with.

RT: You've just mentioned various ways that you can achieve that. And one of them was the translations. Have you seen what difference it's made just to being able to distill a research paper into those two or three pages. What are you able to do with that tool, what differences can it make?

DL: I think what it does is, as we were talking earlier, about how academics and practitioners engage. And I think what it's doing is it's creating a doorway for practitioners to come and engage with academics and recognize that there are different ways of working. And leveraging, or continuing to leverage, the knowledge that's created, and make it accessible to broader and bigger audiences. And more often than not this is picked up by quite a number of channels, from different media channels, professional bodies, etc, will pick up this literature and translation, which I think helps show that there is an open door for people to come in and engage with the academic process. And it's not a perhaps the stereotypical closed shop. It's just purely the reserve of academics because academia can't operate on its own, it is wholly dependent upon engaging effectively with real world activity. And that's hugely important.

CYW: IJPDLM has created a new initiative to allow both academics and practitioners to publish their ideas in a special section called “Innovators and transformers”. It is a section that allows people to write shorter articles, not the typical research articles of 10,000 words, but it's short articles of 4000-5000 words that disseminates new ideas about transformations or innovations in the supply chain. 

This can also be a piece of work co-created by an academic and a practitioner. But a practitioner can also write about this in our special section because it will encourage new ways of thinking or new research that will then further elaborate.

RT: So, is that open to anyone to come to you and put that idea across then? Or is it something that you say we want to have something in the journal about this particular topic?

CYW: Well, it is open to anyone who wants to disseminate new ideas into the academic audience as well as practitioners. We also plan to create a special issue where we call for particular topics to be discussed in the special section.

RT: Thank you, I look forward to having a look at that and seeing what's coming out. To wrap things up, it'd be really interesting just to see what you think will happen in the future in terms of how co-creation between academics and practitioners will play out, if there’s a trend and see how it’s going. But, I mean, maybe something about what you think will happen and where you would like to see this yourself.

DL: Yeah, I think what we're witnessing. I'm part of almost like a new breed of professor, which is professor of research impact. And it's interesting because Leeds University Business School appointed four professors of research impact, but it's quite interesting that we're already getting approaches from other universities and other parts of the university saying, That's very interesting. So, how can we do some of that? And what about this? And how can you help us with this and it's interesting, literally over a pattern of six months or more worth of activity, I think it's probably fair to say that we've all now got more work than we know what to do with really because the demand is coming thick and fast. 

So, clearly, there is a demand and I think there's a realization that actually to be able to simultaneously deliver theory and impact is actually a really more exciting and more progressive way of doing things and certainly gets the attention, as well as the engagement of, different audiences. So, it's almost like what not to like about it really.

RT: Thank you. Chee, I didn't know what your thoughts are on the future of co-creation?

CYW: Many universities place themselves in the heart of a society. We are supposed to contribute to the society. So, it is actually very important for us to recognize that, as an academic, that co-creation with practitioners is important part of our job. Because we want to create meaningful knowledge, we want to create impact in the real world. We can also see universities putting a lot more emphasis on this, universities putting resources into this, including appointments of impact professors, including creating new support organizations, and staff supporting me and my other colleagues to create impacts, including giving us money and funding to do this kind of engagement activities. 

The transition from more ivory tower research to more engagement kind of research, of course, will take time because we still have another pressure, which is very prominent to the academic is to publish in high quality journals and that is changing the way people prioritize. However, I can see strain, and also the increased pressure and expectations that we academics engage closely with organizations to create real world impact. 

So, I will say that this is the best chance for us to create better relationships with different organizations, whom we study and whom we work together, and then that is the way we can create and generate new ideas. And somehow, many other academic journals also started to put more emphasis in how relevant is our research, and asking questions like who is going to learn from your research article? In what way, in a specific manner, how this can change the way we manage supply chains, and so on. So, I will say, yes, everybody should take this as a positive change, and contribute to this.

RT: Thank you very much. And for anyone that's listening to this podcast right now, if there was just one piece of advice that you would give them in terms of encouraging co-creation or finding co-creation opportunities, what would you say to those people?

DL: I think I would just simply say if you don't start asking some questions, then you'll never know. So, I think it's a question of just simply just speaking up, putting your hand up, asking a question, in whatever form or through whatever channel that is appropriate. And, again, we all know that there are many social media channels. And I think that there are a lot of academics and practitioners who are willing to engage in the debate for those that are more novice in this space and say, Yeah, I'll give you some advice, I'll point you in the right direction, I'll suggest some names of people you can go talk to. So, I do think that there is a culture to engage very openly in that and to want to help and support. So, I think I would just simply say, go ask the questions. And, and don't be shy. Just go out there and ask the question.

RT: Wonderful. Thank you. Chee, any insights from you or anything that you would suggest?

DL: Yeah, if I speak to academics who have been challenged by editors that their ideas are nowhere near enough and their research has limited implication to practice and so on. The best way to confront this is to go work with a practitioner because new ideas come from an exchange of ideas. New ideas come from exposing to new ways of thinking. We might think what managers might be doing from our office, but in the real world, when you interact with them, you can understand much better in terms of the way they think about the problem they're confronted with and the way to solve real world problems. And in many ways, new understanding comes from this interaction. And therefore, it could also help us to publish a novel idea in journals.

RT: Well, I love your enthusiasm both of you, I can see really see the passion and the excitement in both of you in terms of, like, this is a growing field and there's so many opportunities to be had. And I wish you all success in everything you do. And I hope that we get to find out how some of those projects have evolved over time and how people are working with each other from different industries and sectors. 

And thank you very, very much for your time and for everything you shared today. 

Thank you for listening to today's episode. You can find more information about our guests and a transcript on our website. I'd like to thank my guests for joining me and sharing their insights, along with Podcast Producer Daniel Ridge and the studio, This is Distorted.

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