26 June 2008

Bold, Brilliant Baisikeli

So often it's the simplest of ideas that are the most brilliant. Here's the very basic equation:

The Baisikeli Equation

Baisikeli means 'bicycle' in Swahili and it is a dynamic, visionary Danish initiative started by Niels Bonefeld and Henrik Smedegaard Mortensen.

Henrik Smedegaard Mortensen & Niels Bonefeld from Baisikeli outside their rental shop.
Their philosophy is brilliant:
"Our philosophical starting point is social innovation: to make a difference for people and to give them the possibility of developing themselves professionally and socially. It is based on the belief that the best foreign aid is based on regular commercial market. A purely subsidized development project will make the African partners completely dependent of donations from other countries."

How it works
In Denmark when a bike gets stolen or lost, you get compensation from your insurance company. If the bike is later retrieved, the insurance company then owns the bike. Denmark has a serial number system for bikes so that every bike has a number engraved on the frame. The retrieved bikes are often scrapped. Baisikeli has an arrangement with several Danish insurance companies and they are given heaps of bikes.

There are other bike charity programmes out there. Through UNICEF you can buy a bike for the third-world as a Christmas present. There are big bike corporations that have a 'bike relief' programme as icing on their profit cake. Baisikeli, however, isn't about driving a truck into a village and dumping out a pile of bikes for the locals. It's about creating a dynamic circle

Baisikeli has set up three projects in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. The bikes are shipped to their bicycle workshops in these countries, where they are repaired by local mechanics and sold to local distributors, who in turn sell them to the local population.

Workshop in Africa fixing up Danish bikes and converting them to work bikes.

The project is geared to reverse the flow of bicycles back to the first-world from the African workshops. They are developing a Baisikeli bike that will be built in Africa and returned to Europe, where the bike rental shop, from next year, will rent out these Fair Trade bikes to tourists.

Financing the project
Simple ideas are fantastic, but making them happen quite another. Henrik and Niels have that all figured out. They take the best bikes out of the batch and rent them to tourists in Copenhagen in the peak summer months and lease them to foreign students and companies year-round. In addition, they provide bikes for participants at green conferences around the country.

A Baisikeli customer returns his bike and tells Henrik about his bike lane journey.
They work in tandem with the Københavns Genbrug Compagni - Copenhagen Recycling Company [KGC] - a workshop that takes in unemployed citizens and trains them to fix bikes, giving them a trade and a chance to get a job afterwards. The KGC fixes up the bikes for the rental shop.

The money Baisikeli makes off of renting and leasing is used to ship containers filled with Danish bikes to Africa. One third of the profit goes directly to the development project and two-thirds is invested in developing the workshops.

From next year, the Baisikeli bikes being produced in Africa will instead be used to rent out to tourists, completing the loop.

Work Bikes for Africa
In addition to the Danish bikes now rolling across the African landscape, Baisikeli helps the workshops convert bikes in much-needed work bikes for carrying cargo like water or food or firewood. As well as bikes with a stretcher to act as an ambulance.

A bike converted into a water carrying workbike in Tanzania.

An ambulance bike in Tanzania.

In addition, in the Ghana part of the project, Baisikeli provides bikes for children in outlying areas in order for them to get to school. In Sierra Leone, a workshop is located on the premises of a hospital, providing bikes for the locals and converting the bikes into various work bikes.

If you ever come to Copenhagen, you'll need a bike to get around. And we recommend you head straight for Baisikeli. You can choose between many different styles and find the one that suits you best. You can ride around the city and know that you're directly helping African communities in the process. Can't beat that.

And if you're a Copenhagener with a bike you don't need, ride it down to the shop and donate it!

- Baisikeli - Copenhagen Bike Rental - with maps of their location and much more about their project.
- Cool Youtube film about the project.
- Smarty Hardy - workshop in Tanzania.
- Baisikeli.dk - Danish site about the project.