Bikes without Borders - Community Development - Providing the Right Support rather than the Right Answer

Jun 30, 2010 3:15 PM ET

The Acacia Group Socially Respnsible Leadership

As I was doing my weekend thing this Saturday (groceries, kid stuff, Father’s Day shopping) I tuned into CBC Radio One’s Definitely Not the Opera (DNTO). This week’s program was dedicated to bikes and stories about bikes. I enjoyed snippets as I did my errands but I was captivated by a story about a Canadian non-profit organization called Bikes without Borders (    DNTO interviewed its founder, Mike Brcic, and heard his compelling story. What really struck me was how they moved from identifying a need to the development of an organization that is impacting hundreds of HIV/Aids victims, and is providing sustainable employment for communities in Malawi.  

Mike was in Nicaragua with the Canadian NGO, Casa Canadiense, when he met a small girl buying supplies for her family in a local village. Mike describes this as a “defining moment”. In conversation with this girl he learned that she had to walk for two hours a day just to get to school. He immediately recognized that her ten hour days were exhausting and that it was likely to impact her ability to finish school. As he reflected on her story, he was reminded of his childhood in Toronto, where the best ten minutes of his day were the ones he spent riding his bike to school. It was in that moment that Bikes without Borders (BWB) was conceived.     BWB uses bikes and bike-related solutions as a tool for development in marginalized communities. The initiative under discussion on DNTO was Pedal Powered Hope for Malawi. Each bike is used by community health workers who pedal out to rural communities and dispense anti retroviral drugs, take blood samples, and give guidance on medication. In addition, they provide education to the communities as well as support for orphans and palliative care. Amazing stuff...but back to the bikes.   BWB works with an engineer who designed the bike ambulances which are then solidly built by Malawians.  This venture has created sustainable work for Malawi, support for a community model of healthcare, as well as bringing needed medication, education, and practical support to HIV/Aids victims. We are encouraged to participate by buying a bike ($100) or a bike ambulance ($400). For more a more complete picture of this amazing social enterprise please visit their website.   In deconstructing why this story impacted me so profoundly I realized that often our impulse to be good and to do good in the world is hampered by our lack of understanding of community. It seems like a win/win to collect our old bikes and to send them to the developing world...this, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, it’s just not enough. What Bikes without Borders demonstrates so beautifully is the building of community through understanding the need and providing the right support rather than the right answer.       The Acacia Group’s mission is to offer transformative and unique leadership development for organizations and individuals seeking to live out their global citizenship. To do this we blend knowledge from Corporate Social Responsibility, Community Development and Leadership Development and Learning to emerge new opportunities for excellence for our clients.