For many bike charities, getting donated bikes is the easy part. Successful and sustainable distribution is where the rubber meets the road.
Sue Knaup, executive director of the nonprofit One Street, has been working to get bikes to people in need around the world as an affordable and healthy means of travel, and has shared what works and what doesn’t for others in similar nonprofit programs in a recently published book. Defying Poverty with Bicycles: How to Succeed with Your Own Social Bike Business Program taps the best concepts from volunteer-run programs to corporate-funded charity grants, and remolds these into a social enterprise model.
The key concept remains that many parts of the world a bike remains something that can truly change a life.
“Absolutely. Riding a bicycle is six times faster than walking at their normal speeds – 12mph vs. 2mph. respectively – and can save even more time with very little exertion,” said Knaup. “Bicycles can also carry loads well beyond a walking person’s capacity and choosing to ride instead of drive or take public transit can save thousands of dollars per year.”
The issue that remains of course is how to get the bicycles to those who need it. This involves far more than just gathering parts locally and dropping them off for someone else to ship to places such as Africa and Asia.
“A social bike business program is much larger than a bike giveaway program,” said Knaup. “In order to fit this model, a program must revolve around a bicycle community center that is conveniently located for most of the community’s disadvantaged residents.”
The easy part might be actually getting the bikes, but this is hardly the first step.
“Obtaining bikes comes after the organization and center are established; tapping the networks they’ve connected to during the early stages,” Knaup told BikeRadar. “A later chapter in the book delves into local manufacture of bicycles, but refurbished bikes are likely the way that most programs will start.”
Instead, as Knaup outlines in her book it is necessary to work with local leaders who are committed to providing disadvantaged people with affordable, quality transportation bicycles—refurbished and even manufactured locally through the program—and job training that opens their path out of poverty.
In many ways this become analogous to the proverb that if you give a man a fish he’ll eat for a day; but give the man a fishing pole and he’ll never go hungry again. The key thus isn’t just giving bikes to those in need, but developing a cohesive bicycle infrastructure for the developing world.
“The program is comprehensive and is much larger than bike giveaways projects,” she noted. “Yes, some of the people who tap into social bike business programs will only come away with a bike. But the much larger purpose of the program is to create places in these communities where the most disadvantage residents can tap into many bicycle transportation resources as well as career training and jobs that will guide them out of poverty.”