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Grassroots Innovation | Alleviating poverty ~ one bike at a time

By Dian Hasan | October 10, 2010

Innovation that brings good to the people and makes a measurable and quantifiable difference always fascinate me. So without further ado, I’ve chosen to zoom in and share stories from around the world of innovative ideas and initiatives that help alleviate global poverty.

And although on the surface this may seem like a tall order, the stories bring forth some very unusual and random ideas that seek to attack the problem at the root.  My hope is that the stories will be inspiring that we can all make a difference.

Here’s a look at what is being done in RWANDA, AFRICA. And the tool of choice: BICYCLE.

The cargo bike that will replace the wooden bike and help any coffee farmer tremendously. Project Rwanda is helping establish a program of bike ownership.

The functional but unreliable wooden bike that will be replaced by the cargo bike.

The “Wooden Bike Classic” race, an event initiated by Project Rwanda to sustain the tradition of handcrafted bikes and create an ecotourism event.


US-initiated Moss Landing, California-based PROJECT RWANDA. Founder: Tom Ritchey


  • the bicycle can be an important tool in rebuilding a country, building national pride and addressing local issues facing Rwanda and other African nations.


  • furthering the economic development of Rwanda through initiatives based on the bicycle as a tool and symbol of hope.
  • use the bike to help boost the Rwandan economy as well as re-brand Rwanda as an attractive and safe business and ecotourism destination.
  • provide a program to replace traditional wooden bicycles with better-performing modern bicycles, while concurrently sustain the traditions of the handcrafted wooden bicycles.


Coffee-Bike Program: cargo bicycles can solve the transport problem if a program could make the bikes available to coffee farmers for a reasonable price on credit and where quality premiums would cover the bike’s cost.

The Rwandan coffee sector has enormous potential to create a dynamic and prosperous rural economy through the pursuit of extreme-quality specialty coffee for the U.S. and European markets. This will drive the Rwanda’s rural economy, empower the population, create employment and generate increased revenues.

Cargo bikes are provided through a collaborative venture between Project RwandaRitchey Design, and Rwanda Smallholders Specialty Coffee Company (RWASHOSCCO).

Our world is home to some bittersweet realities: the paradox that poverty still exists, amid an interconnected world that continues to move for ward, bringing betterment to all corners of the world, regardless of continent.

As the global economy moves forward, we have witnessed many exemplary success stories of countries that have made the leap from developing to developed nation-status, transforming their economies through industrialization and international trade in less than a generation.

And then there are others in the midst of economic transformation, emerging nations with above-average growth rates, creating large middle class consumers whose children are guaranteed better education and quality of life than their parents’ generation could ever dream of. We have heard all the monikers of the past; Asian Tigers, BRIC, the rise of China and IndiaChIndonesia, to the more recent CIVETS.

And yet, for all the success stories, we still have much work to do in poverty alleviation. Any reliable source will point to approximately 1.4 billion people still living on less then US$1.25 per day.

I deliberately avoid using the word “eradication”, as realistically I am not convinced it is achievable. What is doable, however, is a collaborative effort in finding innovative solutions to reduce the age-old problem of global poverty.

In the past, Governments were expected to handle this matter exclusively, with very little help from the private sector (read: Non-Government, the Corporate World, and individual efforts). We all know, however, that poverty is everyone’s problem and it impacts all of us. It is a multifaceted challenge that affects developing and developed countries alike. Hurricane Katrina, was not only the worst natural disaster in the modern history of the US, but more than anything – it was America’s wake up call to the ugly and embarrassing reality of poverty in Louisiana.

The classic question of whether to give “the fish” or “the fishing pole” continues to be a futile argument. And mere handouts, in the form of government aid and grants have proven to be not only ineffective but have deepened the poverty problem even further.

Of late, we’ve seen more active participation from the private sector, with initiatives that range from microloans pioneered by Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank, to poverty thought leaders like Jeffrey Sachs, C.K. PralahadEsther Duflo, Bunker Roy and and to fund raising efforts and campaigns to raise awareness from celebrities like Oprah, Bono, George Clooney, Bill Gates, Sting, and Hollywood gliterratis like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and many others. While CNN does its part through its “CNN Heroes” awards program, celebrating global heroes and their life-changing world who would have otherwise been invisible.

Countries and development agencies have joined hands in achieving the UN-led Millennium Development Goals which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, by 2015.

In the corporate world, there already is a slew of humanitarians behind brands like TOMS Shoes, Room to Read, The Body Shop, Architecture for Humanity, SEVEN FundCamfed and many other less visible names.

And in the advent of Social Media explosion, the average joe has the right tool at his/her disposal to do their part in spreading the word, raising the awareness level down to a grassroots level. There’s an army of exemplary individuals who are doing their part in all corners of the world.

Which brings me to the subject matter: to simply bring the spotlight on people and organizations that are doing their part – no matter how small or insignificant.


2 responses

  1. Pingback: Quote of the Day | On grassroots innovation in poverty alleviation « Endangered Eden

  2. Pingback: Quote of the Day | On poverty alleviation ~ Gro Brundtland « F R A N G I A

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