World Bicycle Relief: Improving Education Access With The Humble Two-Wheeler

World Bicycle Relief
Something as simple as a bicycle can ensure distances aren't a barrier to independence and inclusion.

Bicycles are more than just a handy way to get around - they're a vehicle out of poverty. The NGO World Bicycle Relief shows how.

Author Sarah-Indra Jungblut:

Translation Sarah-Indra Jungblut, 12.04.17

Royce is a volunteer nurse. Until recently she had to cover seven kilometres on foot to visit her three patients. Now that she owns a bicycle, she can visit up to 18 patients a day.

Joe is a welder and works with metal. Until now, he’s invested most of his income into transporting raw materials – taking it by bus to the next town and back. Now he has a bicycle – his own means of transportation.

Or Tamara. Her way to school: four kilometres over rough ground. And before she can set off on her long journey, she faces the daily chores. cooking, cleaning, fetching water and washing dishes. Since July, Tamara and 100 other pupils and teachers from the Kabulanga Primary School whizz to school on bikes.

Many rural regions in African countries have little formal infrastructure, and the journey to the next well, school or town is often a long one. In particular people with low incomes have no choice but to cover these distances on foot. Owning a bike can make a huge change, and mean a direct connection to crucial services and education. With a reliable bicycle, distances can be covered that much quicker and products transported from A to B.

World Bicycle Relief – NGO and Social Business

Using bicycles to mobilise as many people as possible, and improving their quality of life – that’s the goal of World Bicycle Relief. And the NGO has developed an innovative organisational structure that combines humanitarian aid programmes with an entrepreneurial approach.

How does it work exactly? They have an innovative approach, “combining philanthropic distributions with social enterprise sales.” The bicycles aren’t just donated to local communities as part of certain programmes – in Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, they are also sold for profit. 100 per cent of all of the money made from sales is invested into the donation programmes, allowing the NGO to increase their effectiveness.

It all started in 2005 after the tsunami in Sri Lanka. Frederick K. Day and his brother, two of the people behind the bicycle-part manufacturer Sram in Chicago, donated – along with others – 24,000 bicycles to villages in the region affected, as a way of helping speed up reconstruction efforts. What was originally planned as a one-off donation has now become a highly successful international aid organisation with its own social business, that – with the expertise of the bicycle industry behind it – has developed a very special cargo bike. Since it was founded in 2005, WBR and its reliable bicycles has mobilised more than 300,000 students, nurses, and small business owners in the rural areas of Africa, South America and South East Asia.

Buffalo Bike: A Reliable Route Out of Poverty

The bikes they distribute aren’t just any old set of wheels. Day and his team have developed a model that is specially designed to suit local needs: the Buffalo Bike is robust (as “strong as a buffalo”), able – thanks to its steel frame – to carry loads, and easy to maintain – being compatible with many replacement parts available in the local area. The bikes are produced in Asia, and assembled in five African countries by mechanics that have been trained as part of WBR’s own training programme. The NGO also provides sets up shops selling replacement parts and offering repairs, throughout the countries where the bikes are present. WBR has trained 1,700 mechanics so far – and the numbers keep on growing.

In their current donation campaign “Together We Rise”, WBR is focusing on education and supplying children – particularly girls – with bicycles in order to improve their chances of graduating. And to ensure that the bicycles really do help their riders on the way to a better education, the Buffalos aren’t just donated, but the students have to agree to take part in a little deal: they’re only allowed to keep the bicycle if they use it to get to school for at least two years.

Does World Bicycle Relief’s approach work? Well, if you look at the numbers, yes! In areas that receive Buffalo Bikes, the attendance rate of school kids increases 28 per cent, nurses can visit 45 per cent more patients and dairy farmers increase their milk deliveries by 25 per cent. And there have been a few interesting side effects too: in areas that have Buffalo Bikes, the vaccination rate of children has also increased. WBR haven’t reinvented the wheel, but they have made sure that a whole lot of them are now rolling in the right direction.

This article is a translation by Marisa Pettit of the original which first appeared on RESET’s German-language site.

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