As the end of 2020 draws near, World Bicycle Relief not only celebrates its 15th anniversary, but also looks back on a year of increased activity to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
To mark its 15-year milestone, the non-profit organisation is organising a series of activities and events including the launch of a new initiative: Mobilized Communities.
Since its beginnings in 2005, World Bicycle Relief has worked as a catalyst for change, helping vulnerable people conquer the challenge of distance so they can achieve independence and thrive. World Bicycle Relief’s Buffalo Bicycles and development programmes have been life-changing for more than 535,000 students, health workers and entrepreneurs in 21 developing countries around the world. These bicycles are assembled by locally trained mechanics and specially designed for heavy loads and the rugged conditions of developing regions.
From the tsunami in 2005 to the world health crisis in 2020
The idea to empower people with bicycles was born in Sri Lanka in 2005 as a disaster relief initiative after the tsunami hit Southeast Asia. Bicycles for people in need of transportation became a simple solution when there was no infrastructure and no means of transport.
Fifteen years later, during this year’s pandemic, bicycles are being used as a safe and reliable form of mobility around the world. The demand is greater than ever before.
In March, World Bicycle Relief ramped up their healthcare programme, distributing Buffalo Bicycles to health workers and volunteers through a number of new and existing health partnerships in their five countries of operation. There was an urgent need to disseminate accurate information to avoid the spread of false information and stigmas around the virus. Health volunteers are often the only reliable medical providers for families in need, traveling long distances to provide information, prevention and treatment.
But above all, it is the devastating economic effects of the global pandemic that hit the poorest countries in the world the most. Especially in rural developing regions, bicycles are more valuable than ever before: They keep businesses going, provide access to water and food, connect people to health care centres, markets and jobs. And they will hopefully bring children back to school when these will reopen.
“The events of the past year have made it clear that, more than ever, bicycles and community-led programming play a vital role in promoting sustainable change to address transportation needs,” says World Bicycle Relief CEO Dave Neiswander. “To commemorate our 15th anniversary, we are proud to launch Mobilized Communities, an innovative, holistic programme that is the evolution of years of learnings.”
Mobilized Communities put local communities at the centre of their own bicycle programming across sectors. Paired with a market approach to open bike shops, train mechanics and make spare parts available, this will create sustainable bicycle ecosystems, which empower entire communities to improve livelihoods, health and well-being - and help break the cycle of poverty for generations to come.
Women like Malawi dairy farmer Alinesi become more productive, confident and independent thanks to her bicycle. Alinesi uses the bike to transport milk to the collection centre. With the bicycle she can carry more milk and can go twice a day compared to once a day when walking. “The gift of the bicycle is a gift of time,” Alinesi says.
Alinesi’s story and others can be found in “Faces of Change”, which aims to support global fundraising efforts by exploring the stories of 15 inspiring people from World Bicycle Relief’s journey and to show how supporters can help create more impact over the next 15 years and beyond.