Reconditioned used bicycles represent an affordable and effective means of transportation in many parts of the developing world, providing essential access to work, school, and social services. All-too-often, a large segment of the population has no alternative to walking long distances, consuming time and reducing productivity. Cars are beyond the reach of more than 90% of the population; public transport is often non-existent or of limited quality. New bicycles are expensive relative to limited incomes (and many new bicycles on the market are of such low quality that they represent a poor investment for productive purposes).
Used bicycles from the United States--if carefully selected to be compatible with the road environment, market, and mechanic skills in the receiving country--create jobs in multiple ways.
First, they are re-assembled and reconditioned in the receiving country. This aspect alone directly generates employment. It also provides scope for training programs, such as Goodwill Industries in Panama, or the Bicycle Empowerment Network in Namibia, thus indirectly generating employment through creating a cadre of small entrepreneurs and mechanics servicing the growing number of bicycles.
Second, the bikes are distributed, with the majority being sold, and in either case, employment is created.
And finally, the use of the bicycle by the individual beneficiary directly contributes to employment, whether it is a service provider, farmer or marketer using the bike to do work, or an employee using the bike to get to work. The sale of a bike (in certain programs) guarantees that it will be used for productive purposes.
Donated used bikes represent capital for microfinance programs. Each container shipped by Bikes for the World holds approximately 500 used bicycles, plus many valuable spare parts, both used and new, and can be worth upwards of US$25,000. Current partners such as Fundacion Integral Campesina (FINCA Costa Rica) convert this resource into capital for itself, and for participating "community investment groups", to reinvest into their respective programs.
The reselling of bikes in the receiving country have multiple benefits, encouraging productive use (mentioned above), promoting sustainability, and enabling the overall bicycle reuse network--the programs receiving bikes overseas, and Bikes for the World itself--to "scale up" and benefit more and more individuals over time. It does us little good to subsidize a hundred individuals for a little while, or a thousand, and ignore the circumstances of millions. Bikes for the World wants to help millions, and to achieve that, beneficiaries need to shoulder a portion of the costs, and incentives for efficiency need to be incorporated at every opportunity.
Bikes for the World provides the power of the bicycle to enable young people to complete their educaiton. An outstanding example of a "cycle-to-school" project is Bikes for the Philippines, which was established to keep children in school through the loan of bicycles. Many students in rural areas travel long distances by foot to attend school, consuming inordinate amounts of time and energy. Pressures to drop out are many--low motivation and achievement in school owing to chronic tiredness, late arrival or absences; conflict with household chores or the need to augment household incomes; and (in the case of girls) physical safety and cultural conservatism. With a bike, however, kids are able to cover more ground safely and in less time, conserving energy, and better able to reconcile conflicting home and school obligations.
In the United States, Bikes for the World partners with youth groups and schools to collect and load bikes for use overseas. Students learn the values of recycling, protecting our environment from waste, and the benefits of a lifetime of giving back to the community through rewarding volunteer opportunities. Classrooms often bring in lessons that incorporate what our overseas partners are doing, in addition to teaching general knowledge of the areas we serve and which they ultimately will be helping.
Community Service in the United States
faith communities, service clubs, Scout troops, schools, youth programs, and alumni associations of all types, from university to the Peace Corps. Activities include collecting, prepping, sorting, and shipping thousands of bicycles for individual and community empowerment around the world.Bikes for the World provides rewarding and educational team-building volunteer opportunities to a wide range of community groups. Examples include
Bikes for the World protects the environment in diverse ways.
Most concretely, we divert thousands of bicycles annually from the U.S. waste stream.
- While many bikes we receive are in good condition and n ot ready for recycling as scrap metal, many would otherwise be heading directly for the waste stream.
- In fact, we work with several local solid waste agencies to rescue usable bikes already deposited at their waste transfer stations. And we work closely with more than a dozen police departments and university security offices to divert abandoned bikes from being brought to the local trash authorities, and entering the waste stream.
What we find from the above is that there is a growing community of individuals and institutions that--if given the opportunity to reuse and recycle--will do so gladly.
Therefore, we perceive an opportunity and a need more broadly to promote an environmental ethic globally through sharing our reuse mission, the way we work, and the environmental symbolism and reality of the bicycle--a truly economical and environmentally-sustainable mode of transportation, and one that can enhance the productivity of low-income people affordably and quickly.