is upwards

Eric Peck: Swoop Aero is en-route to DR Congo

1 October 2020
Author: Eric Peck, CEO, Swoop Aero

Eric Peck: Swoop Aero is en-route to DR Congo amid a global pandemic

In 2009, Simon Sinek presented a TEDX talk “How great leaders inspire action” in which he presented a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership — starting with a golden circle and the question: “Why?”.

The golden circle referred to three points; What, How and Why. By “why,” Sinek meant “What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?” He went on to say, “The way we think, we act, the way we communicate is from the outside – inside. The inspired leaders and the inspired organizations — regardless of their size, regardless of their industry — all think, act and communicate from the inside out; communicating why they work and then addressing the how and what of the organisation’s mission”.

The question of why is a really important one, and has continued to play on my mind throughout this chaotic and dark period of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like the rest of the world, my team at Swoop Aero was thrust into a period of uncertainty as we worked towards unknown deadlines and were fundamentally restricted by the travel limitations placed on Australia. With a year planned of exciting, momentous projects, we had to stop and think creatively about how we worked to remain true to our mission.

The question of ‘why’ serves the reason for why we have been working hard throughout the pandemic; to ensure our goal of universal healthcare access is met and that 100 million people are reached with a sustainable drone logistics solution by 2025. As CEO and co-founder of Swoop Aero, I am responsible for instilling the question of “why” within my team and fostering passion, creativity and innovation to make this goal a reality.

Our hard work has finally paid off. We are departing for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) today amidst a global pandemic to assist the DRC government to re-launch operations alongside our not-for-profit partner, VillageReach, so as to improve the availability and accessibility of basic vaccinations for communities at the ‘last mile’. I will travel to DRC to assist with the roll-out of training and education activities in the Equateur province.

The expansion of the medical drone logistics platform will see the integration of autonomous  drones into the existing health supply chain. The drone operations will enable the delivery of health products to hard-to-reach health facilities; streamlining the public health supply chain, and consequently, improving immunisation rates, which have steadily declined in recent months due to the onset of COVID-19 and reallocation of resources to accommodate the government’s rapid pandemic response.

The question of why our organisation exists has never been more clear, and the key to our success? Great leaders.

But what makes a true leader? I think three qualities make an inspiring and successful leader and they are taken from some of Bill Gates’ lessons:

  1. Change the world, or go home
  2. Make an impact
  3. Divide and conquer the problem

Leading from the front

I have always sought to inspire and lead my team by leading from the front; getting involved on the ground and working hard to make the vision of Swoop Aero a reality. As I depart for DR Congo, this is the message I have sought to convey to the team.

I have always believed a leader gets in there and ‘rolls his sleeves up’ because success is not just about thinking up a good idea. Leadership requires action and the passion to put the effort in so to turn that good idea into a sustainable and effective business model. That’s why I felt so strongly about travelling to DR Congo to be on the ground with our teams and work tirelessly to ensure our goal is made a reality. Since its founding, Swoop Aero has sought to transform the way the world moves essential supplies by making access to the air seamless – and we have not let the pandemic quash our mission to assist the DR Congo Government strengthen the health supply chain through the integration of sustainable, reliable and scalable medical drone logistics. It has been a long and protracted road to get to this point, but it is all worth it to see first hand the impact and value I think our service generates.

Make an impact

Swoop Aero identified a core challenge within the global healthcare sector; the cost, quality and provision of healthcare has traditionally been dependent on the effectiveness of the health supply chain to overcome logistical barriers, such as challenging geographical terrain, poor transportation networks, weak infrastructure and unpredictable waterways. In DR Congo, the transportation of basic vaccinations could take up to 2 days to reach local villages. Often, vaccinations were transported by boat, bike or on foot, which represented a huge financial and human cost, as well as running the risk of expensive vaccines spoiling along the way. This isn’t unique to DR Congo, and is the same challenge I’ve witnessed in Vanuatu, Malawi, Mozambique, regional Australia, regional New Zealand, and many of the countries I’ve visited while in the Australian Air Force throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

As we head over to DR Congo, our activities will focus mainly on community engagement, education and engagement as well as training up new Congolese team members to run the network. Community engagement represents an important pillar of our organisation. In all contexts within which the service is operational, the service generates employment opportunities, contributes to developing transferable  technology skills, and by upskilling our local workforce we can both directly and indirectly benefit everyone who works alongside Swoop Aero.

At Swoop Aero, we foster inclusiveness and aim to create a true sense of purpose that everyone shares in the process of creating our impact.  I have always believed leadership should also be elevational, instilling the sense that participants are better for having been involved in the fulfillment of a goal or task. Everyone has a stake in global health and we are providing the tools to help local and global organisations attain universal access to healthcare.

Divide and conquer the problem

No one could have foreseen the events of 2020.

Every leader’s role, including mine,  right now involves proactively responding daily to the challenges facing their people and devising innovative solutions to ensure your team feels prepared, confident, and ready to tackle anything that may come their way. I say people specifically, because the impact of leadership goes beyond your team; it impacts their friends, families, and all the people around them. Keeping that perspective is essential, and the goal is to look forward and build on the question of “why are we doing this” and remain unfazed and prepared to respond to any and all challenges that may cross your path during this time.  From working hundreds of hours per week to build the technology that underpins our impact, to piloting the first aircraft from outside the country of origin, to training, to launching operations in the midst of a global pandemic, my team has remained responsive, agile and adaptive to divide and conquer any challenges that have arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am proud to be given the privilege to lead such an inspiring team, and look forward to facing our next challenges alongside them.