For about 80% of the population in southern Africa, mainly in rural areas, walking is the most frequently used travelling option. The main objective of Velafrica is to help reduce poverty by providing access to bicycles and vocational training. Bicycles grant improved access to schools, health centres and hospitals and create income opportunities. Particularly for women, who need to cover long distances every day to collect water or firewood, bicycles offer a tremendous relief.
Velafrica has been operating in Burkina Faso since 1999. Demand for bicycles in this country is increasing continuously but the current structures and competences are no longer sufficient. Responding to the growing demand for qualitatively sound bicycles with a social enterprise approach that includes vocational training is the answer. That is why the bicycle hub in Burkina Faso aims to establish an innovative model combining business and social goals. Velafrica and the local organisational unit have the common goal to build a bicycle hub as a financially independent social enterprise. The hub will serve as a sales and distribution point, a production facility and service provider. As a competence centre for bicycle mobility, it will help to strengthen vocational training for bicycle mechanics and offer places for apprenticeships. The goal is to enhance the employment prospects of young adults by way of basic mechanical training with additional modules (eg French, accounting or IT). It will also seek to cooperate with the authorities and existing educational approaches.
We challenged Swiss Re employees and their friends and families to walk, run or cycle 40 000 kilometres – that’s one trip around the globe – in 40 days or less. In return, we pledged to give USD 40 000 to Velafrica to open a new training centre in Burkina Faso.
With the theme “fast legs for smart youth,” the challenge literally mobilised 1 530 Swiss Re employees from 36 offices in 19 countries. Participants found creative ways to spur one another on, for instance, by holding work meetings on the go and organising themselves into more than 300 local and international teams. Nearly 1 000 of them also shared their experiences by posting updates and “sweaty” selfies of themselves moving toward their shared goal.
Since the original target of 40 000 kilometres was reached in just 13 days, the Foundation topped up the originally promised grant with another USD 10 000 – enough to pay for 500 refurbished bikes. By the 40-day mark, an eyepopping total of 113 957 kilometres had been travelled. Along the way, participants improved not only their fitness but the prospects of 500 young people who now have their very own bikes, and of future learners at Velafrica’s new training centre.
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