Awards 2002 The Worldaware Award for Not-for-Profit Organisations

The Worldaware Award for Not-for-Profit Organisations

This award is given to a non-profit-making organisation which has promoted sustainable economic development in poor communities in the developing world through the use of commercial best practice.

The winner: Pedals for Progress

Receiving the award

In Ghana's north-eastern corner, a woman of 23 makes foro foro, a ginger drink, and sells it at two markets two hours' walk apart. When she can borrow a bicycle, she can cover the distance in less than half the time. Mobility means a better income. Down towards the coast, 29-year-old Akrofi is disabled by polio and cannot walk, but he has a self-propelled wheelchair modified with bike parts. This means that, instead of being stuck at home, he can work as an electronics repairman.

Both ends of Ghana get bicycles and parts from Pedals for Progress, which has perfected a system for collecting unwanted bicycles on the eastern seaboard of the United States and sending them to organisations worldwide which can repair and sell them. A Ghanaian can buy a repaired PfP bike for, on average, 15 - well below the cost of a new bike from China or India. The bike will also be lighter and higher quality.

It all began with a carpenter and builder from New Jersey called David Schweidenback. He noticed that just about everyone in the town of Sucua, Ecuador, where he was a Peace Corps volunteer, had to walk; but a successful local carpenter rode a bicycle, which enabled him to operate over a six-mile radius. In New Jersey years later, David came across used bicycles on their way to the tip. He collected 140 bicycles, and sent them to Nicaragua.

This informal effort, in 1991, developed into PfP, which David ran at first from his basement. Volunteers at 125 Rotary clubs, churches and other organisations in New Jersey and around Philadelphia and Washington arrange to collect bikes, plus ten dollars a bike to help cover handling. PfP also receives bikes from refuse collectors, and bike parts from manufacturers. It assembles container loads of bikes and parts and sends them to Barbados, Colombia, Eritrea, El Salvador, Fiji, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Moldova, Nicaragua, Panama and Pakistan. The cost works out at 28-30 dollars a bike. Over 60,000 have been sent. David Schweidenback says he wants governments to realise that, in a poor society, the bicycle is the perfect means for economic growth. Overseas community organisations must pay for transport, after the first load. They also pay $1,500 a load of 400-450 bikes towards PfP's expenses. By repairing and selling a load of bikes, they raise the money for the next one. Rodney Grant of Pinelands Creative Workshop in Barbados writes that the workshop has also been able to help people go on educational courses and help parents buy school uniform and books. Tom Ford, founder of Goodwill Industries in Panama, writes: "The bicycles always require working on and this offers people with disabilities the opportunity to work."

All this has been achieved despite Dave Schweidenback being badly hurt when his stationary car was struck from behind while he was ferrying computer equipment for despatch to El Salvador. He now has little use in his left arm.

PfP needs to find each year at least two new customer organisations, able to repair and sell two container loads each, 900 bikes in all. At first, this was hard. It has become easier since Dave won a Rolex Award for Enterprise, in 2000. But few countries are as welcoming as Ghana which lets bikes in tax-free. Senegal charges a 70 per cent import tax. Mexico keeps imports out altogether. PfP has to send the right bikes to customers at the right time, In the Caribbean and Latin America, the right time is Christmas when people get an extra month's wage. In Africa, it's harvest. Collections in the United States are mainly in spring and autumn: work is impossible in winter in the containers where bikes are stored. PfP is raising money for a warehouse to make bike handling easier. Mountain bikes are particularly popular in rural Africa. Narrow-tyred road bikes with drop handlebars must go to urban users, unless organisations can adapt them. The unsung heroine of the story is David Schweidenback's wife, Dina Taiani, a university professor of mathematics. She has supported the family while David worked for PfP, first as a volunteer and later at a modest salary.

The judges say

Pedals for Progress turns one man's rubbish into another man's treasure. By enabling one country to get rid of its unwanted bikes in an environmentally friendly way, David Schweidenback has offered to many in developing countries a lifeline to work. In doing this he has recognised the economic benefit that simple transport choices can bring. Moreover, the emphasis on maintenance is a wonderful message. This is an excellent example of inventing a durable, highly practical business with minimum overheads. The ability to replicate the model in many different countries is proven and real. This is a niche enterprise that is realistic about its competition, and has a sustainable approach. Above all, the creation and success of Pedals for Progress proves that "one man can make a difference".

Pedals for Progress, P.O.Box 312, High Bridge, New Jersey 08829-0312, United States;
Tel: +1 908 638 4811; Fax 4860