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ORSSA/AFROS conference 2021 – African OR in the spotlight!

Updated: Apr 5

by Sue Merchant

President of AFROS (Hatem Masri) and President of ORSSA (Dave Evans) virtually celebrating the end of a great event!

For ORSSA members who didn't attend our conference a couple of weeks ago, the following is the summary put together for the IFORS Newsletter.

After much hard work by the organizing team, led by Marius Smuts from ORSSA, our 50th conference was held jointly in collaboration with AFROS (the African Federation of OR Societies) from 12th to 15th September 2021, attracting some 150 delegates/speakers. We're delighted to report that many of the delegates from AFROS’ chapters and working groups had their registration fees paid for by the ORS, EURO and IFORS: their generosity was greatly appreciated by the recipients. In addition, nine companies and universities from South Africa provided conference sponsorship and INFORMS provided invaluable advice in the choice of a suitable virtual platform (REMO). The South African sponsors included: Blue Stallion Technologies; Spatial Edge; The North-West University (NWU); The NWU Centre for BMI; The NWU Department of Statistics; The NWU Focus Area for Pure and Applied Analytics; The NWU School for Industrial Engineering; The Department of Statistical Sciences at the University of Cape Town; and The Department of Industrial Engineering at Stellenbosch University.

The organisers and society presidents were delighted with the support received and put on record our thanks to all the sponsors, and indeed to the most enthusiastic participants, for helping to make the conference viable, vibrant and very successful!

The African countries taking part included: Algeria, Benin, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe and a number of African delegates currently based abroad in Singapore and Canada also participated. There were many interesting talks (93 in all) – far too many to cover here - but ranged from technical OR talks to ones on tackling African problems: several practical talks were particularly fascinating, e.g. prediction of de-forestation, fair pricing of coffee (see screenshots below), and most of the papers in the healthcare stream. More details of talks can be found on the programme on the conference website:

From the talk by Stuart McMaster (Stellenbosch University, South Africa) on predicting levels of de-forestation.

From the talk on coffee production supply chain challenges in Kenya by Rose Karimi Kiwanuka (International Cooperative Alliance-Africa, and member of AFROS working group on Agri-food Supply Chain Management) See: Shi, J., Zhao, Y., Kiwanuka,R.B.K.,& Chang, J. (2019). Optimal selling policies for farmer cooperatives. Production and Operations Management, 28(12), 3060-3080.

The conference boasted a great range of invited speakers who brought many new ideas to the table. These included: Prof Gerda Claeskens from KU Leuven in Belgium (“Confidence distributions for most powerful inference after model selection”), Prof Roelof Coetzer of North-West University (“Continuous improvement and optimization of an ore processing value chain through application of Data Science technologies”), and Kim Rozwadoski Triegaardt, who gave a wonderful presentation on her uncle, Tom Rozwadowski, a founder member of ORSSA, and after whom the Society’s premier recognition award is given. There were also a number of excellent invited speakers: Professor Elise Miller-Hooks (“Investing for sustainable and resilient roadway infrastructure”); Professor Laura Albert (“Operations research with impact: a journey in public sector operational research”); Emma Gibson (“Redesigning sample transportation in Malawi through improved data sharing and daily route optimization”); Professor Jorge Samayoa (“The value of data science”); and Professor Hatem Masri , who gave an inspiring talk about the future of AFROS – see two samples of his slides as shown by the two pictures below.

REMO had several useful facilities: the main auditorium of the conference was pictured on screen along with different tables for delegates to sit around (virtually, of course) and move between to meet friends and new contacts, and exchange ideas on the talks given.

Clearly a huge amount of effort had been put into to make the conference successful – this was much appreciated by delegates. Thanks to all those who made the event fly, and to all participants for preparing their talks so well. We look forward to the next edition! Note that a fuller version of this article will be available in the December edition of the IFORS News.

ORSSA/AFROS 2021: Two key slides from Dr Hatem Masri’s presentation. He stressed the need to continue dreaming and never give up the fight to make AFROS a thriving and vibrant organization.

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