Week #2 of Unreasonable Propositions: Biking into Tanzania’s Future

The beauty of a truly simple idea is that you think – hey, what an obvious solution. I could have come up with that!  But that’s like watching somebody who’s really good at gymnastics. You think, hey a back flip! That looks pretty easy. And then you’re taken off to the hospital.  Jodie Wu’s Global Cycle Solutions is producing ideas so simply beautiful that it’s small wonder she’s a finalist in the Unreasonable Institute Marketplace (but it’s likewise probably wise not to try to replicate her engineering genius at home).

The concept behind Global Cycle Solutions is to take the 1 billion bicycles in the world and put them to work for something besides pedaling around. Started in Cambridge, Massachusetts  by a group of MIT engineers and brainiacs, GCS’s blinding flash of brilliance was to design a universal adaptor that allows bikes to do anything from processing agricultural food to running home appliances to charging batteries.

Installing the GCS adaptor

In short, the adaptors turn the bikes into a clean, sustainable, renewable (as long as you have the strength to pedal) source of energy for the developing world. They’ll still act as bikes when they’re needed for transportation, but when they’re just sitting around on their kickstands, the GCS adaptor transforms them into income-generating machines – like maize shellers, grain grinders, and battery chargers.

Demo of the GCS Maize Sheller

Here’s how it’s working on the ground today in Arusha, Tanzania, where Jodie Wu is based. 80% of Tanzanian farmers still beat their maize with a stick to remove the kernels from the cob. The bike-powered maize sheller can do the job 10 times faster. That means people who buy the sheller can pay for the device in a week and earn extra income, farmers can get their maize shelled far faster for less, and dealers who are selling bikes and adaptors will get more business. Even in the midst of the worst drought in 50 years, Tanzanian farmers lauded the GCS device as one of the favorite products of the year at the Nane Nane Agricultural Fair this year.

But Global Cycle Solutions has far bigger aspirations  for its bike works. Jodie Wu believes that with 550 million smallholder farmers who are the backbone of local economies around the world and need simple machines to reduce their physical and financial burdens, GCS has the potential to cruise into 10 countries, on three continents, and better the lives of 100 million people.

It won’t be simple. But quite possibly Jodie Wu will make it look that way — while balancing the values of community co-creation, international development, and local entrepreneurial capacity.
And just for that alone, my $100 today goes to Global Cycle Solutions.