7 Organizations Changing the World One Bike at a Time

These seven organizations offer innovative programs that harness the power of bicycles to achieve tangible social change.

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An efficient, economical, and reliable machine, a bicycle can mean the difference between struggling and succeeding for many people worldwide.

Bicycles offer individuals in developing economies a sustainable, affordable mode of transportation. A person traveling by bike can cover 4 times the distance as someone walking in the same amount of time, and carry 5 times the amount of cargo. Students can access better educational opportunities, entrepreneurs can travel further and carry more goods, and healthcare workers can reach more patients in less time.

But the impact of a bicycle is not limited to travel, and its ability to effect change does not take place only in the global south. The bicycle economy provides jobs, skills development, and restorative therapy to underserved communities both locally and abroad.

These seven organizations offer innovative programs that harness the power of bicycles to achieve tangible social change.


  • Used bicycles are an under-utilized resource for human development, local or internationally. The challenge especially for international programs is to establish an efficient business model to collect and ship them. Mark (below) is right to be concerned about efficiency, and many amateur efforts in the global “North” do inefficiently send a disparate, low-quality mix of used bikes to countries in the “South”. I’m less worried about their cost than their quality. (Generally they are paid for by the senders, so their “cost” to recipients is generally low.)
    However, there are serious professional organizations which efficiently collect bikes, professionally sort them, and efficiently pack and dispatch decent-quality bikes (500 in a 40′ container) along with thousands of dollars of used and new spare parts, and they get bikes on a unit basis to Africa at a fraction of a new bike. The biggest and best is Bikes for the World (USA) which ships 15,000-20,000 bikes annually, together with thousands of dollars in used but still-usable spare parts from major bike share programs and some new stuff from industry partners, others include Re-Cycle (UK), Pedals for Progress (USA), Bikes Not Bombs (USA). If the bike is reasonably good quality and in repairable condition or better, it can be serviced (and generate employment) in the receiving country and kept running far longer than the cheap stuff generally available on the local market. All these groups have a business model which recruits community groups in scattered communities to collect bikes from the public, bulking them in one spot and compacting them with inexpensive volunteer labor–a rewarding community service project. And then the non-profit collects them and, with volunteers, dispatches them in shipping containers.
    So don’t drink the “bikes designed for Africa” Kool-Aid, or allegations of used bikes being inferior, make you overlook other possibilities. We all know there is enough need for bikes to go around. Quality used bikes can be delivered overseas, at competitive prices, and reach far-poorer households than an expensive new bike.

  • Jim

    The Trips for Kids (TFK) chapter in Charlotte is an amazing organization, mentoring young people on the essentials of becoming effective bicyclists.

  • Mark

    These are some great organizations. However, I would encourage donors to be cautious about programs which ship used bicycles from developed countries to developing countries. Often the cost of shipping can be close to the cost of a new bicycle purchase in the intended country. Not only does it support the local economy, but it ensures that the bikes are spec’ed for the local conditions. World Bicycle Relief, for example, builds bikes designed for east African conditions in east Africa. The end result is a productive economic tool.

    If you have a used bike to donate and you live in a western country, I recommend keeping it local and donating it to a program like Recycle-a-Bicycle.

  • Nicole | Bonjour Bicycle

    More examples of how bicycles can make a difference. And great to post this when many people are thinking about their holiday giving.

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