Bicycles Against Poverty is an organization that we’ve worked with for a long time, printing outreach material and business stationery. We spoke to Executive Director Molly Burke to talk about their mission of distributing bicycles to rural African communities.
For those unfamiliar with you, give us a brief introduction to who you are and what you do.
Bicycles Against Poverty (BAP) works in the most rural parts of Northern Uganda to get bicycles into the hands of Ugandans, so that they can access basic life needs. The average BAP participant lives several miles from clean water, health clinics, and markets for trading. This translates into hours of walking, just to fulfill daily tasks. BAP works with individuals by providing new bicycles on a lease-to-own basis so that they back in small installments over 6-10 months.
Bicycles have major impact for rural Ugandans. Once getting a bicycle, Ugandans triple market attendance and increase income by 35% (ITDP). And each bicycle impacts at least five Ugandans on a weekly basis because they’re frequently shared.
We’re currently distributing over 75-100 new bicycles per month.
What prompted the founding of the organization? What was the appeal of making loans for bicycles?
Our Founder, Muyambi Muyambi, grew up in a very remote village in rural Uganda where the nearest health center and markets were hours away by foot. No one in his family could afford a bicycle, so they had to walk everywhere. He remembers waking up on the back of a neighbor’s bicycle, being pushed to the health center to get treated for malaria. A similar thing would happen when his mother would get sick. His family relied on the generosity of their neighbors to get treatment for an illness, or even to trade their goods at the market.
Muyambi wanted to complement traditional aid and offer something that people could pay off over time. He knew that people could afford the bike if they were able to get their hands on it, start earning money, and then have time to pay it off.
Are the bikes brand new or are they donated and refurbished?
Brand new. Because we have our participants pay for them, we want to make sure they are top quality. Our bicycles are the same type of bikes that our participants have been exposed to throughout the year. They’re single-speeds, rugged for the terrain, and have a robust carrier on the back.
What sorts of achievements have you made in the time the organization has been around?
To date, we’ve distributed close to 2,500 bicycles! Most of our growth has been over the past 2-3 years and we’ve reached over 40 communities in the process.
The bicycles are huge for market access: they help our participants (who are mostly farmers) carry five times the amount of goods, go four times the distance, and reach better markets and health clinics. In addition to the 35% income increase, we’ve also seen that our participants increase access to health clinics by close to 40%.
Do you work primarily in Uganda or are you more international? Are there other organizations or projects that focus on other geographic areas?
We only work in Uganda. Our ultimate goal is to expand throughout East Africa, but right now we’re laser-focused on Uganda. There are other organizations that distribute bicycles throughout the world at no cost, but no other organization finances bicycles.
How do you use print for the work that you do?
Print helps bring Uganda and our participants to our donors! It allows us to tell the stories behind the numbers in a real way. The Internet, social media, etc. is great in one sense, because it allows for cheap, easy access to our supporters. But people get inundated with the constant pings. Print calls attention to our donors and allows us to rise above the noise. We use print for postcard mailer updates (people love them!), event invitations, and of course our year-end annual campaign, which raises about half of our fundraising revenue for the year. Without print we wouldn’t be as connected with our supporters—it’s unbelievably critical.
What do you think the role of the bicycle is, going forward?
Bicycles are such a staple in life, all throughout the world. They are pure and simple, and yet unbelievably powerful as well. Technological advances help in so many ways, but so do the tried-and-true simple technologies, such as bicycles. Going forward, I think that bicycles will keep us grounded in the reality that sometimes the best solutions have already been invented and can complement other product advances.
Community Spotlight is a blog series that seeks to connect people power with print power. Each post will feature a person or organization using print and design to do great work in their community and fight for a more just world. Subscribe today and let’s start building together.