Link to teaching case: 


This case affords students of strategic management a rare inside look at the consequential political and logistical choices that international relief agencies must often make, at high speed, when responding to a humanitarian crisis. It traces the efforts of AmeriCares to find an effective way—in the midst of a tense international standoff —to work with the embattled and resistant military government of Myanmar in order to bring help to the country’s Ayeyarwady Delta in May 2008, when the region was struck by one of the deadliest cyclones ever recorded. Through the story of a relatively junior relief coordinator on the ground in Yangon, this case tells the unfolding tale of AmeriCares’ effort to bring a $1 million, 15-ton shipment of pharmaceuticals and supplies into the country and then get it into the hands of effective on-the-ground relief agencies. While some relief organizations challenged the government, or tried to work around it, AmeriCares devoted itself to working within the system. At every step, however, the organization faced strategic choices and dilemmas and, in the end, had to decide what to do when, hours before its air shipment was due to land, the Myanmar government suddenly adopted a new policy requiring all relief shipments to be impounded for inspection by the government on arrival. The case is structured as a cliff-hanger, to allow students to bring a critical, appraising eye to the different facets of AmeriCares’ approach before they learn whether or not it was a success. A brief sequel, revealing what happened, may either be summarized in class or handed out at the end of class.



Pamela Varley


Harvard Kennedy School

Pub date: 

Thursday, May 9, 2013