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Development Done Right—How a Donated Bicycle in Africa Led to a Thriving Business Africa Needs

Checking Buffalo bicycle inventory at an African distribution site.

Think supporting development means giving hand outs?  Think again.  Done right, development means giving a hand up. One of the best examples is World Bicycle Relief’s recently established Buffalo Bikes Ltd.  This social enterprise business grew out of the rising demand within development organizations like Care and UNICEF to use World Bicycle Relief’s Buffalo bikes in their own development work.  They need World Bicycle Relief’s bicycles to help healthcare providers reach out-of-the-way villages, children get safely to school, and farmers take their crops to markets.

Buffalo bikes—named after the 1500-pound (700 kilo) African buffalo—are sturdy vehicles designed, tested, and built for Africa’s tough terrain.  They have easy-to-replace parts, can carry up to 220 pounds (100 kilos), and are guaranteed to last for five years. 

A Buffalo bikes is tough! It’s made with heavy-gage steel tubing, spokes, and rims. It has high-impact pedals with forged axles and a rear rack that can hold up to 220 pounds (100 kilos).

Why create a business entity in Africa to produce these bikes?  Because bicycle sales help World Bicycle Relief reach more people with affordable, reliable transportation than it could through donations alone. Sales also help reduce program expenses by spreading shared costs such as shipping, assembly, and facility space over a larger number of bicycles.

These bicycles also mean jobs.  Until recently the bicycle components were manufactured in Asia and assembled in Africa by more than 60 trained local staff.  Now, a growing number of bicycle components are made in Africa, which has let to 100 manufacturing jobs.  A recent article in The Economist suggests that this is likely to grow.  Add in the 850+ field mechanics trained in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, and it is clear that World Bicycle Relief’s Buffalo bike is a hand up, not a hand out, providing a made-in-Africa solution to a number of development needs.

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