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Pedaling Change: World Bicycle Relief

June 22nd, 2011

There’s no question that bikes can provide independence and livelihood, especially in the developing world. World Bicycle Relief was founded on that exact idea, using bicycles to assist in poverty relief and disaster recovery initiatives.

Founded in 2005, WBR has an enormous amount of industry support, and for good reason: since its inception, the organization has distributed over 75,000 bicycles and trained over 700 field mechanics.

After seeing their efforts highlighted in With My Own Two Wheels, a film that we recently saw at Mountainfilm, there’s no doubt that WBR is doing amazing work.

We caught up with Matt Pierce to learn about WBR and the organization’s work.

What inspired the launch of World Bicycle Relief?

World Bicycle Relief was founded in January, 2005 in response to The Indian Ocean Tsunami. Cofounders F.K. Day and wife Leah Missbach Day traveled to Sri Lanka and found an acute need for basic transportation amongst those individuals struggling to rebuild their homes and their lives.

Why bikes?

The need was for simple, sustainable transportation. At the time, F.K. Day had nearly 20 years of experience as head of product development at SRAM Corporation and connections with some the worlds brightest minds in bicycle engineering. World Bicycle Relief was founded by SRAM Corporation and industry leaders to address this need.

How do you quantify the impact that a bike can have in the places WBR works?

The simplest impact that we see bicycles providing in the developing world is increased distance traveled, time saved, and the increase in carrying capacity.

In comparison to walking:

  • Riding a bicycle increases an individual’s carrying capacity by 5 times.
  • Riding a bicycle increases the distance an individual can travel by 4 times.
  • Riding a bicycle decreases travel time up to 4 times.

The most dramatic impact we see is lives changed for not only individuals whom receive our bicycles, but their families, communities and entire economies. We estimate that on average every 1 bicycle distributed positively affects 12 people.


How many bicycles have you provided since you started? What is your goal in the next 5-10 years?

To date World Bicycle Relief has distributed over 80,000 bicycles worldwide. Our goal for 2011 is to see 100,000 specially designed, locally assembled bicycles on the ground and in use to access healthcare, education and economic development. We will continue to expand to regions of Africa and the rest of the world where bicycles can make a dramatic impact, but it’s also very important to establish an infrastructure with local partnerships in the areas we choose to work.

Tell us a little bit about your latest initiatives.

Our current project is the Bicycles for Educational Empowerment Project which aims to provide 50,000 bicycles to students (70% girls), teachers and educational workers in rural Zambia. To date we have distributed 12,000 bicycles through this education initiative and trained a total of 800 field mechanics.

How do you get the cycling community engaged in your cause?

We engage the cycling community by communicating the impact that bicycles have in our programs and showing cyclists that, through their own passion for the sport, they can be a part of this impressive change. It’s amazing to see competitive barriers turn into bridges when it comes to the depth of the cycling community’s support for our work. Quite literally, we could not do this work without the amazing contributions of our fellow cyclists and industry partners.

You recently launched a “grassroots kit” to help your supporters around the world further your cause. What role does grassroots advocacy play at WBR? Do you think the cycling community is particularly poised to take action in this way?

The numbers speak for themselves: Since 2008 our 10,000 grassroots fundraisers have raised $800,000, which translates to 6,000 bicycles distributed. Yes, the cycling community is definitely poised to take action. It costs $134 to put one bike in the field and to train a local field mechanic. This number resonates with the cycling community. Many of our supporters can easily spend that same amount on pedals but they want to ensure they are giving back with something that has given them so much joy. From the local shop, to the daily commuter and all the way up to some of the world’s top frame builders like Specialized and Trek, our grassroots supporters continue to make us love our work. We certainly feel honored to be welcomed in as part of this community.

Can bikes change the world?

Without a doubt… they already are.

Thanks!

Images: World Bicycle Relief

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