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The Short Version: World Bicycle Relief (WBR) is a global nonprofit and social enterprise that has provided more than 400,000 bicycles to students, health care workers, farmers and entrepreneurs in Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. The organization attracts supporters from all over the world who are passionate about bicycles and helping people create better lives for themselves and their families. WBR relies on the support of people worldwide to raise funds and spread the word about the power of the bicycle as a life-changing tool.
When I decided to sell my car and start traveling, I grew very fond of my bicycle. It added a sense of freedom while I was living in New Zealand, Argentina, and Malaysia.
In each city I was in, I could hop on the bike and ride to the market to pick up fruits and vegetables for the next few days. I’d pay bills, visit the post office, and pedal over to the bank to take out some cash. Sometimes I just rode my bicycle over to the nearby park and met some friends or went on a date.
I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish as much as I did each day without a bike — from running errands to lugging home groceries on my handlebars.
But to a student, health care worker, or entrepreneur living in Africa, South America, or Southeast Asia, a bicycle can be transformative. For many, their day is a race against the sun as they spend hours walking to get from point A to point B.
It’s easy for people in car-centric societies to take our many transportation options for granted, but in rural developing countries, a simple bicycle can have a huge impact. That’s why World Bicycle Relief (WBR), a global nonprofit and social enterprise, provides specially-designed Buffalo bicycles to people in areas where distance is a barrier to education, healthcare or economic opportunity.
“World Bicycle Relief has a passion for mobilizing people and we want others to experience the freedom that one gets from riding a bicycle. We realize what kinds of opportunities that can create,” said Claire Geiger, US Partnerships and Fundraising Manager for World Bicycle Relief.
WBR was founded in 2005 by FK Day and Leah Missbach Day. FK is also the co-founder of a major bicycle components company called SRAM and Leah is a documentary photographer. Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, they witnessed a great need for transportation and took action. The organization’s mission is to mobilize people through the power of bicycles.
“Our work is focused on developing regions of the world, primarily in rural Africa, and we focus on a wide variety of age ranges, from students to adults, including health care workers and entrepreneurs,” Claire said. “For me, working for such a worthy cause is a great way to connect with others who care.”
You don’t have to be a cyclist yourself to get involved in the organization and your location isn’t a factor. WBR ambassadors are found all over the world, and the organization is always looking for more volunteers.
“It’s cool to see how people can get involved with something they’re passionate about — whether it’s cycling or philanthropy — and make a difference by coming together,” Claire said. “When you share something in common with someone, it’s really easy to form a connection, and it becomes effortless to find something to talk about. We’re surrounded by people who love bikes and also love giving back.”
When people work together for a common cause, they can form a strong bond that lasts a lifetime. Together, you can organize fundraising rides, attend special events, or just help spread the word about the mission of WBR.
“People who are involved in our work become part of the World Bicycle Relief family. They have opportunities to participate in events and also be a part of something bigger,” Claire said. “Everyone feels connected to the people who are benefitting from the bicycles we provide. Sharing that is something we all have in common. It’s a great bonding opportunity.”
WBR is especially dedicated to helping students in rural developing countries where distance is a common and significant barrier to accessing education. In 2017, almost 25,000 bicycles were given to students with 70% of those allocated to girl students, who are also required to perform hours of domestic chores in the morning, making a long walk even more challenging.
Students often arrive late and tired and academic performances suffer if they manage to stay in school at all. A high-quality bicycle can remove these barriers, keep girls in school and keep them safe as they travel to school. WBR is committed to helping these girls achieve their educational goals and become change-makers within their communities and around the world.
“By foot, they might arrive late or too tired to focus in class,” Claire said. “With a bicycle, they can attend more regularly and simply have more time in their day to complete their chores and still have time for homework.”
Studies show attendance increases with bicycle ownership and attendance positively impacts performance in class. That means the simple act of providing a child with a bicycle makes it more likely that he or she will graduate from school.
Claire shared the story of a 16-year-old girl named Dianah from Kenya, who received a Buffalo Bicycle from WBR and wrote a poem about how education is the great equalizer.
“In it, she writes, ‘It is only education that equalizes a rich man’s daughter and a poor man’s daughter,’” Claire said. “That hit home for me. For many individuals we serve, education is truly a path forward.”
World Bicycle Relief partners with several events and organizations throughout the year, including the CycloFemme ride on Mother’s Day weekend, where supporters can join group rides in hundreds of countries across the globe and fundraise for WBR. Information on events and other opportunities to get involved throughout the year is available on the WBR website.
“My goal is to offer consistent opportunities for people to get involved and participate in a hands-on way. CycloFemme is all about empowering women,” Claire said. “So it can be a super-casual ride including people from all walks of life. Moms, daughters, and grandmas — and men support it, too. It’s important to be supportive of each other and empower people through mobility.”
The team at World Bicycle Relief consists of dedicated professionals and volunteers from all over the world, and it’s made up of all kinds of people — from those who enjoy a simple bike ride in the park to those who race competitively. They all have one thing in common, but it isn’t a love of bicycles.
“A lot of people think World Bicycle Relief is made up of solely of cyclists, but what we have in common is the passion for the work we do and the impact that a bicycle can have on a person’s life,” Claire said. “It’s a fun work environment because every day feels rewarding, and we’re doing something that makes a big difference.”