World Bicycle Relief
In 2018, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for two-thirds of the global population living in extreme poverty. Although the poverty rate across the region decreased by 1.6% from 2015 to 2018, the benefits of improved infrastructure, education and health care have not reached those living in rural areas without safe and easy transport systems to access essential services and opportunities. World Bicycle Relief works to lessen this disadvantage by providing bicycles to members of rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa. Founded in 2005 by F.K. Day and Leah Missbach Day, the organization empowers millions to pull themselves out of poverty.

Gender Equality

World Bicycle Relief places priority on women and girls, with the organization striving for females to account for 70% of bicycle beneficiaries. Girls in sub-Saharan Africa often find that traditional gender expectations for them to take long walks for water and firewood daily, journeys that are sometimes unsafe and increase the risk of assault and harassment, stunt their personal agency. Riding bicycles not only cuts down on time taken for domestic chores but also allows girls to travel to school safely and quickly.

Over the last 10 years, World Bicycle Relief has worked in partnership with the Ministry of Education in Zambia to provide almost 37,000 rural girls with bicycles. A controlled trial found that the bicycles reduced the likelihood of girls dropping out of school by 19%, decreased school absenteeism rates by 28% and reduced school commute times by 33%. Furthermore, experiences of sexual harassment while journeying to school decreased by 22%.

In Kenya, health care workers using World Bicycle Relief-provided bicycles served “88% more patients,” highlighting the importance of effective transport in health and well-being in rural communities.

In a USAID-funded project from 2006-2009, World Bicycle Relief partnered with RAPIDS (Reaching HIV/AIDS Affected People with Integrated Development and Support) to tackle the AIDS crisis in Zambia. The organization gave more than 18,000 bicycles to RAPIDS caregivers, allowing RAPIDS to reach more people and deliver higher quality care due to more frequent visits. Since World Bicycle Relief’s participation in RAPIDS, caregiver retention has risen to 66%, a marked increase from earlier stages.

Rural Economic Development

To ensure that users utilize the bicycles to their best potential, World Bicycle Relief gives each community the responsibility to design and adapt its own bicycle program. The organization’s “field team also helps local leaders establish a Bicycle Supervisory Committee,” which selects each individual bicycle recipient based on factors such as commute time and potential for improved service with a bicycle. Each bicycle recipient “enters into a time-bound term agreement” with the Committee and officially owns the bike upon attainment of specific requirements, such as completing their education, helping to further community development or supplying health or financial services.

In October 2021, USAID announced an allocation of funding of $3.5 million to the Bicycles for Growth Initiative, helping J.E Austin Associates and World Bicycle Relief expand mobility in rural sub-Saharan Africa by facilitating transport through bicycles.

The initiative will support research on “access to bicycles in Ghana, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia,” giving more people the chance to access education, health care services and opportunities for income generation.

– Imogen Scott
Photo: Flickr

Bike Campaign to Help Ukrainian RefugeesThousands of Ukrainians fleeing Ukraine enter the city of Lviv daily, about 40 miles from the Polish border. With 200,000 additional residents due to the influx of Ukrainian refugees, the city of Lviv faces logistical challenges as buses and trains become overcrowded. Bikes4Ukraine is a new bike campaign to help Ukrainian refugees move around the city of Lviv.

The War

Russia attacked and invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. By June 15, 2022, around 5 million Ukrainians had fled to neighboring countries while others faced internal displacement. According to Al Jazeera, by March 2022, more than 10 million Ukrainians faced displacement and hundreds of civilians had lost their lives. The invasion, led by President Vladimir Putin, marks the “biggest war on a European state since World War II.” The invasion of Ukraine has had a global impact —  amid “recovery from the COVID-19 recession,” the world now grapples with further economic downturn. However, in the grips of another world crisis, the international community is stepping up to assist Ukrainians in need.

Helping Those in Need

Due to overcrowding in Lviv as a result of the influx of Ukrainian refugees, individuals are finding it difficult to access public transportation to move around the city. Lviv, now with 200,000 more residents, faces challenges as more people now need living spaces and require transportation to move around the city.

A new bike campaign to help Ukrainian refugees, called Bikes4Ukraine, looks to address these logistical issues. According to Fast Company, Bikes4Ukraine began in May 2022 with the help of Copenhagen-based cycling infrastructure guru Mikael Colville-Andersen, founder of the urban bike consultancy Copenhagenize. In May 2022, Orest Oleskiv, head of the Transport Office in Lviv, reached out to Colville-Andersen to find out how to bring in surplus bikes from Denmark.

Colville-Andersen quickly established the Bikes4Ukraine campaign in response to the need for transportation in Lviv. Bikes4Ukraine will donate bicycles to Lviv from Copenhagen, Denmark, a city famous for having “more bikes than people,” Fast Company reports. Lviv is also addressing logistical issues by adding “more than 12 miles of new bike lanes with protective barriers” to make it easier for those on bikes to get around.

The short-term goal of the bike campaign to help Ukrainian refugees is to get 2,000 bikes in healthy condition for people to ride without complications. Colville-Andersen hopes to see the campaign “grow to 100,000 bikes or even a million,” Fast Company reports.

The Solution

Considering that the war has displaced around 10 million people, bikes are necessary to ease the pressure on existing public transport systems. During the Russia-Ukraine crisis, bikes hold multiple benefits in light of high fuel costs and road infrastructure damage. Bikes can stand as advantageous transport options because they do not require fuel and can travel off-road.

Similar campaigns also look to collect bikes for Ukrainian refugees by involving not just Denmark but also other countries with bike surpluses, like Ireland and Canada. However, Bikes4Ukraine is the first large-scale initiative to also send bike donations to Ukraine itself.

Through the efforts of the international community, Ukrainian refugees can look to a brighter tomorrow.

– Alexis King
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Pedals for Progress
The organization Pedals for Progress (P4P) has an intriguing origin story. In a small town in 1970s Ecuador, a poverty-stricken carpenter dragged 40 pounds of steel hand tools down a dirt road. Each step felt heavier than the last. Moreover, this was the trip back home after hours of work nailing boards together and fastening tables. This man had to carry his tools with him at all times; after all, it was his livelihood. It was too risky to leave them in a workshop. Despite his talent and passion, the man was broke and persistently, unbelievably tired. Without a way out of this painful trek, he felt his body would surely give out before he could retire.

The carpenter knew of a much wealthier man, Cesar Pena. A landlord and fellow carpenter, Cesar owned several strips of land in the jungle along with several farm animals. Missing an eye and multiple fingers, his situation was much worse than the poor man who lived in the same town. Yet others regarded Cesar as an incredibly productive worker despite doing his job just five days a week.

This baffled a young American Peace Corp volunteer staying in the town. The volunteer asked the poor carpenter why he was unable to keep up economically with Cesar Pena. Incredulous, the poor man informed him of Cesar’s bicycle. The bike allowed him to travel several miles on either side of his home.

Pedals for Progress

Decades later, that Peace Corps volunteer, David Schweidenback, is now the founder of Pedals for Progress. Pedals for Progress is one of the largest distributors of used bikes to developing nations. Since 1991, it has operated as a nonprofit organization in New Jersey. It started when Schweidenback noticed that people threw an abundance of bikes into garbage cans in his neighborhood during a bleak financial time while working as a carpenter. Connecting his experience overseas with what U.S. citizens were wasting at home, he chose to make a difference.

As he explained to The Borgen Project, “I decided if I wasn’t doing anything and I’m not making money and I’m just sitting here bored, I’m going to go out and collect a dozen bikes and I’m going to ship them back to Ecuador. Just like a freebie, a one-off freebie, just to help some people out. And that was the beginning of it.” That dozen eventually exceeded over 100,000. Schweidenback’s work has earned him awards from Rolex and Forbes. He even received the title of a 2008 CNN Hero.

How Does Pedals for Progress Work?

P4P operates both internationally and domestically. On the international side, the company teams up with partners based in those countries rather than opening up bike shops around the globe. These international partners provide the shops. In turn, these shops serve to also create jobs in the community whilst selling bicycles at a fraction of the cost they would be in the United States.

Pedals for Progress innovated a new system to keep these shops self-sustaining called a “revolving fund.” First, P4P foots the bill for the first shipment of bicycles. This leads to the domestic side of the operation. Working with organizations like Rotary Club and various churches, it runs collections at a minimum of $10 per bike donation. Other methods to raise money include fundraisers, grants and donations from rich individuals or corporations. With these monetary donations and selling within the impoverished communities at affordable prices, overseas partners can continue to function for years without extra assistance.

Can a Bike Really Make a Difference?

Studies show that the simple introduction of a bicycle can have a lasting impact on the economies and well-being of peoples in developing countries. A 2009 series of studies by three organizations ran quantitative experiments in multiple nations. The purpose was to see if offering bikes to people for transportation as an alternative to walking would financially improve their lives.

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy study in Uganda found that all the households that received bicycles improved regarding cultivation and agriculture. Diversity of time increased, showing that the select Ugandans were more able to perform non-agricultural duties. In addition, the study indicated more trips to the markets and medical centers of their respective regions. Overall, bicycles resulted in a 35% increase in income over the course of the experiment. The other two organizations, Tanzania’s International Labor Office and World Bicycle Relief in Sri Lanka, yielded similar results to varying degrees.

What About Sewing Machines?

In 1999, Schweidenback included sewing machines in his list of items to ship. His reasoning: while riding a bicycle can take one to a job, a sewing machine is a job. However, Pedals for Progress was unable to ship more than 200 per year for a long time. It took until 2015 when he adopted a new brand, Sewing Peace, that he was able to ship out more than 500 bikes each year.

Sending out sewing machines as an alternative to bicycles can reap a few benefits that could not come anywhere else. For one, shipping them costs much less and puts less of a burden on overseas partners that cannot handle a full container of 500 bikes.

Early Setback, Lasting Results

Ironically enough, Schweidenback’s first mission to help Ecuador’s bike shortage never came to fruition in the way he hoped. Before Pedals for Progress was what it is today, he held a meeting with the Ecuadorian Consulate to donate bicycles to those who need them.

Speaking with The Borgen Project, Schweidenback relayed his early challenges shipping bikes to Ecuador. However, despite his early setbacks, his passion for giving the less fortunate a leg up drove him to help over 30 countries around the world.

Zachary Sherry
Photo: Flickr