In honor of National Bike Month, we’re spotlighting how bicycles are tools for personal empowerment, social justice and community development in our with our “Where the Ride Takes Us” web series. Today’s post features the work of World Bicycle Relief — and their new partner, Po Campo.

world_bicycle_reliefWe were about halfway through our tour of SRAM headquarters in Chicago, when we heard a strange sound coming from a small work room and caught the sight of F.K. Day.

One of the founders of the leading bicycle components manufacturer, Day was hunched over a bulky black bike next to a bucket of… corn. Attached to the side of the bicycle, operated by the spinning wheel, was a grinder that shucked the kernels right off the cob.

For F.K. and wife, Leah Misbach Day, driving innovation is more than providing the revolutionary components for the ultimate ride. It’s also about turning bikes into a flour grinder — and transforming the lives of residents in small villages in Africa.

In the wake of the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, F.K. and Leah founded the global non-profit World Bicycle Relief. In the two years following the disaster, WBR provided 24,000 bicycles to the residents of Sri Lanka, supplying a key resource to citizens in rebuilding their lives. In partnership with local aid organizations, World Bicycle Relief shifted its efforts to Africa in 2006, providing 23,000 specially designed, locally assembled, rugged bicycles to healthcare workers treating HIV/AIDS patients. And they continued to expand their efforts.

Leah Misbach Day

Leah Misbach Day

To date, WBR has supplied more than 125,000 bicycles through programs in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

At the National Women’s Bicycling Summit in September, we got a chance to see one of those amazing bikes in person — and hear from Leah about the amazing impact of WBR’s work in Africa. “When addressing global development challenges, a single-speed bicycle can improve the dignity and quality of life for women,” she says. “Entrepreneurs can get their goods to market; mothers gain access to life-saving medical clinics; girls are able to attend — and stay in — school.”

After all, compared to walking, an individual can ride four times the distance on a bicycle — and can carry five times the amount of cargo. But, like SRAM, WBR is continuing to innovate, continuing to re-imagine how a bicycle can be a tool for more than transportation. As I saw firsthand, a simple metal device can turn a bike into a mill, eliminating the need to haul raw materials long distances and turn corn into meal in local villages.

And WBR’s reach is growing, too.

Maria Boustead, owner of Po Campo, was also a presenter at the Women’s Summit in September. Inspired by Leah’s presentation, the stylish bag maker is now a WBR partner — for every 25 bags sold, Po Campo is donating the funds for one new bike.

“WBR shares our passion for supporting girls in realizing their dreams as well as recognizing the bicycle as the perfect tool for gaining access to new opportunities,” Boustead said in the announcement this week. “By working with WBR, we are delighted to play an active role in equipping the female leaders of tomorrow with the tools they need to change the world for the better.”

Learn more about WBR here.


My Signature

Carolyn Szczepanski
Communications Director

Carolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League’s blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women’s Bicycling Summit and launched the League’s newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.

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