June 11, 2024

Two Wheels, Endless Opportunities: World Bicycle Relief

Author National Philanthropic Trust

It takes the average person about 20 minutes to walk a mile. By bicycle, that distance can be traversed in about five minutes. When your livelihood depends upon getting yourself from place to place, those 15 minutes matter. Herein lies the heart of World Bicycle Relief, a global nonprofit dedicated to mobilizing people and empowering communities through bicycles.

World Bicycle Relief, founded in 2005 by F.K. Day and Leah Missbach Day, is responsible for designing and manufacturing their signature Buffalo Bicycle, which serves as the nucleus for the “ecosystem” fostered in the communities where they work.

But what makes these bicycles unique? Simply put: “These bicycles go where roads do not,” says Dawn Moen, Executive Director of Development and Marketing & Communications for World Bicycle Relief. The bike is built with heavy gauge steel tubing, puncture-resistant tires, and a rear rack that can support up to 220 pounds—and is designed to be compatible with locally available spare parts. The spare parts aspect is especially important, as it brings forward the idea of the bicycle’s sustainable ecosystem. World Bicycle Relief both donates bikes and engages in social enterprise with Buffalo Bicycles Ltd., whereby community members can gain employment as bicycle assemblers and mechanics at Buffalo Bicycle shops. The bikes themselves empower riders by providing greater access to varied opportunities, while the assembly, sale and maintenance of the bikes provides further increased economic empowerment to community members.

Results from a recent project supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and led by Land O’Lakes demonstrate the tangible impact of World Bicycle Relief’s work. After receiving Buffalo Bicycles, dairy farmers in Zambia were able to deliver 23% more milk and earn 23% more income than they had previously. But World Bicycle Relief’s impact extends beyond mere financial gains.

To date, the organization has distributed over 785,000 Buffalo bicycles, trained over 3,300 bicycle mechanics and opened 88 Buffalo Bicycle shops. Moen explains that World Bicycle Relief aims to cultivate an ecosystem surrounding the bikes. “The Buffalo bicycle can go anywhere in just about any condition, and it’s not just the individual recipient that benefits,” says Moen. “If a girl receives a bicycle as part of her education to go to and from school, she is the head of household in terms of being able to distribute that bicycle to other members of her family, whereby they can access healthy produce at the market or access religious services or socialization. So, the bicycle is really that key vehicle to everything.”

Providing Buffalo bicycles to students in Zambia and Kenya, for example, has led to a nearly 90% reduction in school absenteeism in Zambia and 81% in Kenya.

The impact on community healthcare is also significant. Because they’ve cut travel time in half, healthcare workers can extend their reach by approximately 88%.

“At World Bicycle Relief, the needs of the community members are being served by the community.” says Moen. For example, healthcare workers typically visit patients at their homes to provide care, making mobility a major factor in a healthcare worker’s reach. “Before the Buffalo bicycle, perhaps the community health worker was only able to make it into one or two homes [in a day], but now, with the power of the bicycle, they’re able to go into ten homes in a given day, so they’re able to treat preventable diseases through immunizations and proactive care in a way they weren’t previously able to.”

Through philanthropic support, World Bicycle Relief’s innovative work is made possible. Moen notes how unrestricted grantmaking allows the organization to apply funds where needed most. “It really shows the utmost trust and respect for all the different accountabilities that we hold ourselves to with our expectations and outcomes. It’s wonderful because there is so much in this philanthropic space that’s unpredictable, unknown factors can have us pivoting in a relatively short order, and having that trust established with the donor is really appreciated.”

Donor-advised funds “play a critical role in our future growth,” says Moen. She points out that DAF donors’ tendency to develop a philanthropic strategy allows potential donors and World Bicycle Relief to connect easily. “If someone is looking for an international mobility solution, or international healthcare, or empowerment to education solution, we can select each other in a relatively short period and work together towards common goals.”

About the Author

Kathryn Lena Kochanowicz is a Content Specialist at National Philanthropic Trust. She graduated from Gettysburg College with a degree in English Literature & Creative Writing, and currently resides in Hatboro, PA.