Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered daily life for all of us. Lockdowns, reduced public transportation and increased demand for bicycles was not just a phenomena in Asia, Europe and North America, but in the developing regions of the world where World Bicycle Relief works.
With schools closed for the majority of the year, we worked closely with governments and development partners on the ground to donate bicycles to support the expanded role of frontline health workers, the food security supply chain, and the new needs of daily commuters.
As COVID-19 spread, day-to-day life changed in the communities we serve. Bus fares increased as fewer people took public transport and government regulations limited available options. Road closures and lockdowns restricted movement around the world. Large markets closed, forcing entrepreneurs to adapt by making door-to-door sales. Never before has the Power of Bicycles been so apparent. Interest in cycling surged worldwide in both rural and urban settings as cycling moved beyond its leisure sport status to become the safest and most reliable way to travel.
Fifteen years of learnings and insights have evolved our sector-specific approach to a holistic multi-year approach in defined geographies, with community-led programming encompassing education, healthcare, livelihoods, and conservation. This Mobilized Communities model promotes long-term bicycle use through a sustainable bicycle ecosystem with our assembly and distribution facilities, spare parts supply chain, trained local mechanics, and social enterprise retail outlets supporting community-led and managed programming.
We believe all answers are found in the field and that no one is better equipped to identify the needs of a community than the community members themselves.
Throughout developing regions, women and girls still face cultural obstacles that limit their access to quality education, markets, well-paid employment, quality reproductive healthcare, and property rights. Barriers to education, including gender and social norms, household responsibilities, safety concerns, and long distances to school, disproportionately impact girls and result in poorer educational outcomes that negatively impact girls’ entire futures.
Our programming has shown that a high-quality bicycle is a powerful, cross-cutting intervention that can help women and girls access education and healthcare, improve their standing in their household and community, improve safety and confidence, and increase earning potential. Empowering women and girls in these ways creates a cascading impact on the whole community, improving outcomes for everyone to a greater degree than can be achieved by mobilizing men alone.
In early 2020, 132 million girls worldwide were already out of school. The Brookings Institute reports that the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the physical and cultural barriers standing in the way of girls’ education. Today, it is more crucial than ever that we support girls in pursuit of an education, as educated girls grow up to have higher wages, healthier families, and play a vital role in lifting their communities out of poverty. The mobility that bicycles provide can be key to keeping girls in school.
Climate change presents increasing challenges to the communities we serve. Girls travel farther to collect water; farmers face reductions in crop yields and the need to shift to new crop varieties to continue feeding their families. To stay effective in a changing world, our programming and partnerships must address the need for mobility to combat these climate-related challenges.
When it comes to transportation, bicycles are one of the most sustainable, green mobility solutions available, which makes them an appealing choice for organizations with environmentally-focused missions. In 2020, we increased our sales to conservation organizations in Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. In the years ahead, we look forward to increasing our efforts to put the environment at the center of our operations and integrating environmentally focused solutions more holistically across our strategy, exploring practices that ensure a more sustainable future for all.