Mobility is an essential element of development strategies which aim to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The lack of efficient, reliable transportation adversely affects economic and social development in regions where distance is a barrier. World Bicycle Relief’s mission is to (WBR) help communities improve access to healthcare, education and environmentally sustainable economic opportunity by manufacturing and distributing a bicycle that is purpose-built for rugged conditions, heavy loads, and gruelling daily use: the long-lasting and simple-to-maintain Buffalo Bicycle.
WBR mobilizes people through “The Power of Bicycles.”. WBR does this through an innovative for-profit social enterprise (Buffalo Bicycles), which sells to individuals and institutions, and by providing bicycles to the vulnerable who cannot afford them (i.e rural students, 70% of whom are girls, volunteer health workers). Addressing the needs of women and girls are core to their approach.
Partnerships are central to WBR’s model, particularly with local communities who manage the bicycles locally, and with Buffalo Bicycles, ensure a sustainable rural bicycle ecosystem of spare parts and community mechanics.
As of April 2019, WBR has distributed 518,190 bicycles and trained 2,455 bicycle mechanics in 21+ countries, with significant results.
With a bicycle, female students reduced their commutes to school by 33% (35 minutes each way) and absenteeism by 28%, helping to achieve higher academic scores. Girls feel more in control of the decisions affecting their lives, they are more willing to reach out to a friend in need, and they have a more positive self-image. Farmers increased their deliveries and incomes by more than 23%. And village health workers expanded their patient reach by a factor of four and increased patient visits by 88% per month.
WBR also works with several UN entities, including UNFAO, UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, and UNHCR, providing 47,520 bicycles in Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Working with the UNICEF-supported National Case Management System for the Welfare and Protection of Children in Zimbabwe, community case workers received 2,000 bicycles to reach and support vulnerable children. And in Malawi, The Ministry of Health and UNICEF-implemented Health System and Immunization Strengthening programme provided a Buffalo Bicycle for 2,740 health surveillance assistants to improve health service delivery, vaccine coverage, and patient dropouts.
The team from WBR is looking to build on their work with the UN, supporting emerging priorities, such as the growing global refugee crisis, including with UNHCR and local partners in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement, and the current global health crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bicycles can be a tool in response and recovery to COVID-19
Communities where WBR currently operates are extremely vulnerable to global health crises. Healthcare systems are overburdened, water and hygiene are often out of reach, clinics lack adequate equipment, and the distances that patients must travel to reach health facilities are often prohibitive.
With the current global COVID-19 pandemic threatening the fragile health systems of many of the countries where WBR have programmes, they have responded by ramping up their operations and increasing bicycle distributions to health partners. Working with local partners and governments, they are providing bicycles to frontline health workers.
Health workers mobilized with a bicycle play a critical role in response and recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 public health crisis. With limited access to accurate and trustworthy information about COVID-19, health workers are critical when it comes to informing vulnerable families on proper hygiene and preventing the spread of the virus.
Bicycles are necessary to take on more home care patients and cover more ground than ever before. Health workers can also expand home treatment offerings, including pre- and post-natal services, delivery of antiretrovirals and medicines, distribution of food and goods, and transportation of patients using bike ambulances.
And looking ahead to the long-term effects of COVID-19. Mobility of frontline health workers remains critical to addressing the needs of those who are being driven into extreme poverty due to COVID-19, or the many children out of school putting their education, safety, and food security at risk.
Bicycles in the hand of women and girls can change communities
An educated girl has a positive ripple effect on her health, family, community, and society as a whole. Over the past ten years, WBR’s Buffalo Bicycles have helped students, especially girls, who face long, difficult journeys to school. Evidence has shown that with long-lasting, sturdy bicycle women and girls can change their lives. By giving a girl a way to get to school safely she is empowered to stay in school and get her education, breaking the cycle of poverty.
WBR recognizes the value in breaking down barriers for girls by distributing 70% of its Buffalo Bicycles to girls.
The bicycle is an important tool in the fight to protect girls from violence, early marriage and teen pregnancy. In Kenya, for example, WBR’s Bicycles for Educational Empowerment Program is helping to keep girls safe on their way to school while also reducing instances of dropping out due to pregnancy. The bicycle is also helping teen moms return to school to complete their education. It is these kinds of efforts that are going to help turn the Sustainable Development Goals into a reality for women and girls.
There are no limitations to what a girl student can achieve with the extra time and energy a bicycle can afford. Before and after school, she has time to study. With this strong and reliable vehicle, she also has the power to more safely and quickly transport water, fuel, and food and pursue her dreams.
Often overlooked as a development tool, using bicycles, communities can access the services, markets and information to improve their lives. A sustainable bicycle in a developing rural area is a powerful tool that helps men, women, boys and girls to thrive.
- Cycling for the Global Goals
- World Bicycle Relief (WBR)
- Wheels of Change: The Impact of Bicycle Access on Girls’ Education and Empowerment Outcomes in Rural Zambia
- World Bicycle Day
Photo credits © World Bicycle Relief (WBR)