Bicycling Empowerment Network
BEN Namibia distributes affordable second-hand bikes from Western charities to disadvantaged rural people in order to improve access to employment, education, healthcare, and social opportunities.
BEN Namibia was founded in 2005 to generate rural employment and strengthen the grassroots response to HIV/AIDS through bicycle distribution in rural areas of the country. BEN Namibia began this effort with the help of organizations like Bikes for the World and Bicycles for Humanity, which supply good quality, used donated bicycles from the United States and Canada to promising efforts overseas.
BEN Namibia soon realized, however, that bicycles were only part of the solution. Without the financial and logistical means to keep the bikes maintained, the program lacked sustainability. Better access to tools, spare parts, and the skills to keep the bikes running was a must. Acknowledging an unemployment rate of over 50% in Namibia led BEN Namibia to the solution: training, employing locals as bike mechanics, and ultimately building individual and community ownership of local bike shops.
And again with the partnership of Bicycles for Humanity, the Bicycle Empowerment Centre (BEC) was born. A BEC is a shipping container packed with around 300 bicycles, spare parts, and tools. BECs are shipped and delivered to community based organizations in partnership with BEN Namibia. Since 2006 the BEC program has grown from one outlet to an extensive network of shops where Namibians can buy affordable bikes and receive repairs.
BEN Namibia provides training in both bicycle repair AND business skills to ensure the success of each BEC. Each project is fully monitored by BEN Namibia. The initial costs are covered by BEN Namibia and then the BEC becomes finanically responsible for its existence through bicycle sales and repairs.
Many beneficiaries are voluteers working in HIV/AIDS home-based care projects. BEN Namibia bikes are often also provided to orphans and vulnerable children support groups with organizations focusing on community development at the grassroots level.
We first brought you the story of Nakashimba Elephant in BENN's Stories of Our People when we learned about his BEC commonly referred to as DRC (Democratically Relocated Community). This is a more recent photo of Mr Elephant standing in front of his bicycle shop on the outskirts of Swakopmund.
A short film from BEN about a typical Bicycle Empowerment Centre in Namibia.