Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The road international development, on a bike

With energy prices rising and the obesity epidemic growing, more and more Americans are getting out of their cars and onto their bicycles. The convenience and affordability of bicycles attracts everybody from college students to CEOs. Ironically, in the US where automobiles were conceived, the population is beginning to embrace the “less developed” form of transportation. And while bicycle popularity is growing in the states, it’s also growing abroad, perhaps even in tandem. The number of international development organizations who focus their work around this two-wheeled locomotive is rising, and rightly so.

CGP recently had one of its interns research the number of bicycle oriented international development organizations. The multitude of these organizations was surprising. Just from a quick search, the intern found nearly 30 non-profits who base their international development work on distributing this method of transportation. Organizations such as the
Village Bicycle Project, Bikes without Borders, and Bikes of the World are not only alike in their bicycle oriented development projects, but also these non-profits are largely surviving on donations and volunteer work. The model is quite similar across the board, the organizations collect donated bikes, bike parts and other useful bike related materials, and send them overseas to underserved populations in developing countries. The organizations who collect the bicycles in the U.S. often partner with local non-profits in developing countries to distribute the bikes to populations in need. Depending on the organization, bicycles are either donated to their recipient, or better yet sold at a low cost. Selling the bicycles not only creates sustainability of the programs, but also ownership of the bikes. Some organizations, such as Pedals for Progress partner with local microfinance organizations to sell bikes and link them with business development, while organizations such as Bamboosero have launched entire bicycle based businesses in developing countries by promoting the production and sale of bamboo bikes. Another organization, Pepy Ride, not only provides bicycles for children to ride to school, but is supported through the bicycle tours it gives to tourists in Cambodia, where the organization operates. The bikes provided by all these organizations not only allow kids to go to school and parents to get to work, but some even serve as taxis, ambulances, and cargo transportation.

CGP focuses on promoting best practices in international development, and oddly enough most bicycle related non-profits serve as a good models for such practices. The works of these organizations rely on volunteers, donations, and have low-overhead costs. The organizations in the US form partnerships with local organizations in developing countries. The programs are efficient, environmentally friendly, and promote entrepreneurship. While bikes maybe the answer to the developed world’s obesity problem, they are certainly one of the keys to sustainable economic growth in the developing world.

-Yulya Spantchak
Research Associate
Center for Global Prosperity

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