Two wheels of fortune for Africa.

How far can a bike go to transform an underdeveloped community? Well, as it turns out, pretty darn far when it’s in the hands of a true bike believer like Michael Linke.

The daily commute goes faster on wheels.

In 2005, Aussie Linke and his wife Clarisse started the Bicycle Empowerment Network to get the population of Namibia on the road to positive change. Bikes can carry five times more weight than a single person and go five times as far, five times as fast as walking – which means that with a bike, rural poor people can be about ten times more productive. They can ride to school, get access to health care, transport goods, or zip back and forth to work quickly and easily.

BEN bike shops are a brisk business. (Recognize the container?)

But Linke quickly discovered that even the process of getting bikes into the hands of people created a virtuous cycle of progress. When BEN started its bicycle distribution program of second hand bikes that had been donated from other countries through international partner Bicycles for Humanity, Linke realized that every container of bikes could literally become a bicycle shop. And he started pedaling that idea far and wide.

I can fix that flat!

For about $25,000, communities in Canada, Australia and America will send a container filled with hundreds of donated bikes, tools, spare parts, and even soccer balls and school supplies to Namibia – and the container itself can then be transformed into a bike shop that brings employment and economic opportunity to small towns in the countryside. BEN technicians train village women and men to maintain, sell, and repair the bikes, creating Bicycle Empowerment Centres. Since 2005, 25 BECs have opened in rural towns in Namibia and one in Zambia, employing 100 men and women and providing 17,477 bikes to those who want to put mettle to the pedal.

Bike ambulances -- not cushy, but they get you there!

But bikes are more than an economic stimulus package, they’re also a health care plan. By outfitting bicycles with steel frames and stretchers, BEN Namibia has created 70 bicycle ambulances for rural communities where emergency transportation does not exist. Bikes are also used by hundreds of Namibian home health care workers, 90% of them women, who have been given bikes that make it easier to deliver supplies, medication and critical care to HIV/AIDS patients– at the lowest operating cost of any transportation mode.

Nkurenkuru kindergarten is supported by bike shop revenues.

And strictly for sport, Team BENN fields a team of expert cyclists to race across the country, while BEN’s Spin for Life program uses the athletes in AIDS awareness events in rural towns –  where prize bikes are awarded among those who get tested, prevention strategies and condoms are distributed, and health issues are discussed.

On the road in Namibia.

In a country that only achieved its independence from South Africa in 1990 and where most of the 2.1 million people live in rural poverty, bikes can steer an entire nation towards a better future. And if Bicycle Empowerment Network has anything to do with it, they’ll make sure what goes around, comes around for the people of Namibia. To join me in donating to BEN, a Women, Tools & Technology Ashoka Changemaker, click here!

51 thoughts on “Two wheels of fortune for Africa.

  1. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing
    your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope
    you write again very soon!

  2. Pingback: Bicycle Ambulances saving lives in Uganda |

  3. If you are interested in visiting Africa on a Volunteer program, for heaven’s sake do not go any where near “Dr” Peter Mc Hendry or Global Adventures, Christian ski or any other companies run by “Dr” Peter McHendry – have a look at what he did to this poor chap!

    Peter McHendry is a fraudster who has been deported from Zambia for breeching labour laws (not paying his poor village staff) and failing to register any sort of business interest in Zambia, he does not legally own any land there, only the President of Zambia can grant a lease in Zambia, most of his deceptions are based on owning things he quite clearly cannot and does not!

    The Police in South Africa are looking for McHendry in regards to Insurance Fraud and conning investors into his failed Global Bio Diesel and Akula Trading 227 PTY Companies.

    This man is very dangerous and is believed to have several personality disorders, such as Jerusalem syndrome, his wife and other girls have complained of violent behaviour and at nearly 60 “Dr” Peter McHendry has an unhealthy interest in young vulnerable women and strippers as the Lonely Planet article shows.

    The Lonely Planet confirms that “Dr” Peter McHendry had not paid his staff for at least two months when the volunteers’ had paid over $2500 US each to live in a tent with no food!


    He steals from poor African Villagers this is why a deportation order was issued by the Zambian government and why the South African Police are looking for him!

    Do not give him any money it will not go on any sort of good, it will all be spent on young girls that “Dr” McHendry has no chance of sleeping with, you can see lots of them on his website which makes many, many, false claims all of which are badly spelt!

  4. Pingback: Two wheels of fortune for Africa. (via What Gives 365) « Against the Grind

  5. Is enough being done to help Africa? What role should the international community take? The responsibility of aiding African countries in despair should be shouldered by the former colonialists who raped those nations’ wealth and who have not done their part to leave behind proper infrastructures and education.

  6. Pingback: Haiti « Symington Solar Fire

  7. Pingback: It’s pretty amazing what a bike can do…. « Answer Cycling

  8. “I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike….” lol I hope at some point someone can blast that Queen song in the bike garage.

    Everyone should have a bicycle. This charity is awesome! Now if only more fat @$$ed Americans would appreciate bicycles as much as the Namibians.. =)

  9. oi gostei da ideia mais vc ai que quer ser revendedor de cosmeticos de todo mundo entre em contato comigo tenho otimos produtos empresa com 30 anos temos deo colonias 22 contratipos de importados e shampoos sem sal e condicionadores e hidratantes corporal e sabonetes liquidos e sabonete liquido intimo o mais barato do brasil somente 11,90 nos telefones 05191006148/05193201340 ou 05134212565 mail

  10. What a great post. Very inspiring. I spent a year in Africa when I was 18 and realised how the smallest things can make ALL the difference. How the sight of a camera can cause and outbreak of joy in a classroom, how the prospect of warm soup during study can warm the hearts of hundreds or how a simple song can brighten their day.

    Bicycles, I imagine, make their lives that much more bearable. Easier, more pleasant even more fun. Fair play to you!!

  11. Pingback: Namibia, la ruta «

  12. Pingback: Two wheels of fortune for Africa. (via What Gives 365) « Njunge's Blog

  13. The world needs more ideas like these. Really, it’s so much more effective to encourage self-sustaining development and innovation within third-world countries rather than to enforce foreign concepts and cultures upon the people. This is an example of something similar, actually:

    Thanks so much for the post!

  14. Pingback: Mark this day: A vow « Comatose Runner

  15. Finally a charit thats actually thinking about what they rrally need over there.
    Not another one of those banana peal menstrual pads…
    Way to go!

  16. The problem with bicycles is cars and other transport, and people who don’t know how to drive, or have respect for cyclists. The Earth, and most of us who live on it, would be so much healthier if we could just rid ourselves of cars, and a car’s way of life.
    There is something very close to Earth, when walking or cycling. Other forms of transport have helped us lose that, and so we are at dis-ease.
    Those who have to resort to walking or cycling, are actually very lucky though they don’t appreciate it, perhaps.
    So that is one blessing for much of Africa.

  17. Pingback: Two wheels of fortune for Africa. (via What Gives 365) « Mass Minimalism

  18. This post is really nice. I enjoy reading stories about empowerment. I recently did a story/video about a group called Dining for Women who went to Kenya last year. DFW goes around empowering women in Third World countries. Thanks for posting and congrats on getting freshly pressed.

    • I KNOW! …. man oh man … I am living the high life today, that’s for sure!! SO happy — and it’s such a great cause, I’m thrilled Michael & Clarisse are getting the recognition … yay!!

  19. Simple inniatives like these really have amazing empowering potential. The communities that benefit aren’t just limited to rural villages anymore, a bicycle drive like this could affect townships that stretch for kilometres. Public transport in South Africa is really unreliable and sometimes even hostile, and we’re “better off” than most other African countries.

    Just getting to work or school is a genuine daily struggle for many, even if you stay in well-developed urban areas.

    Thank you for posting and sharing! It’s very inspiring.

  20. Hi Betty

    Happy Birthday! The quintessential re-cycling….cycles bi and tri. Wow!

    It is always humbling to see man’s ability to be resourceful when laden with such dire circumstances.

    As always, thanks for bringing into the light so many opportunities to minimize strife for the millions of impoverished in a personal and practical form of giving.



  21. Great idea turning the containers into bike shops, and it gave me an idea of getting a container and having the Shadow Youth group of the Winsom Foundation turn it into their own arts and crafts workshop where they can be fully in charge and leave the work they are doing around without having to find somewhere to always store it as they are currently using a class room and it is needed in the mornings for regular school. Thanks again for waking up my brain. Have to go get permission to put it somewhere on the compound and then get one donated.Blessings.

  22. A great post!
    It was well known that the invention of the wheel moved the society towards progress when it was first introduced. I praise Namibia and its people to have used this basic means of transport in such a great way.
    and congratulations to you for making an effort to further this movement! 🙂

  23. Pingback: Two wheels of fortune « Bicycles Africa's Blog

  24. Another example of how effective a simple idea can be. Nothing new needed to be invented. Rather, an existing tool was matched up with a seemingly complex problem, and one benefit led to another. That’s genius.

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