If you’re reading this, it’s quite possible that you take cycling for granted. It’s quite possible that cycling is something you used to do around your neighbourhood, for fun, as a teenager. Perhaps nowadays you ride when you escape the city, enjoying more scenic ‘scapes. Or perhaps you’ve chosen to ditch the train or bus and commute via bike each morning and afternoon.
Despite growing up in Nairobi, where I’d see hundreds of people cycling to town each morning, as I rode the bus to school – even I find myself forgetting just how much of a life-line a bicycle can be to so many people on our continent.
That’s why I’m pleased to share today’s interview with you and, with it, a new perspective on the joys of cycling.
Lauren Thomas, co-founder of Mozambikes (below), left Wall Street to find a different way to use finance to make more of an impact. Read on for her story and then find out how a bike can be a shop, a water supply, a job, equality for women, a school bus, family time, a delivery van and more!
What’s your passion?
I have a lot of passion! Passion for bicycles as a global solution, passion for sustainable projects that capacitate people to improve their own quality of life and, certainly passion for Africa. Mozambikes incorporates all of these into one project that is fighting poverty in rural Mozambique, using bicycles as tools for income generation. We distribute bicycles to those who truly need them, but also are seeking to build a better bicycle industry overall in Africa. This means better promotion of bicycle safety, more buffered bicycle lanes, education about how to care for bicycles and – simply – teaching more people to ride bicycles, especially women!
What inspired Mozambikes?
My co-founder and I were on a road trip throughout Mozambique and were struck by how many people walk such long distances in the country. Often without shoes and with heavy loads on their heads, walking such distances that we couldn’t even see their destination. We pulled over to begin talking with people about why bicycles weren’t more heavily utilized, and the answers were clear: the only bikes sold locally are poor quality and still too costly for the people who really need them. Imagine saving months of salary for a bike that breaks in 3 months!! We knew we could design a better model to get bikes into the market.
What has been your greatest obstacle/challenge?
In order for our bikes to be affordable, we have to bring in a container of components at a time. This means that at each container, we have to fund the capital for another 1,000 bikes. In other parts of the world, a purchase of inventory (where 100% can be secured by the collateral) is not so difficult to attain but, in Mozambique, lending rates exceed 20%. We are currently looking out for patient capital investors or other sources of social funding that can give us an inventory line and take away this challenge.
How have you dealt with/overcome this challenge?
In addition to seeking patient capital, as discussed above, we use other funding opportunities to help us bring in bicycles. We raise funds from individuals via a “Donate a Bike” campaign on our website, and this October we have launched a crowdfund that will not only be used to bring in bicycles, but will also help us to build a bigger and more consistent community for regular support. We are really excited about the traction that this crowdfund is getting – our site has had over 13,000 visits!
What has your greatest achievement been?
Our growth has been tremendous since we brought over our first bikes at the end of 2011. We have over 2,500 bicycles on the ground and are gaining more and more attention each day. As a general achievement I think watching Mozambikes blossom from a “passion project” into a booming operation has been amazing.
Where will you be in 10 years?
In 10 years, we hope to be in every Province and District of Mozambique and in surrounding countries across Southern and Eastern Africa. We hope to have regular safety campaigns, technician trainings and bicycle riding workshops. Mozambikes will have regular corporate sponsors around the world to reduce our dependency on individuals.
I hope that I will be acting as an Advisor or Board member for Mozambikes, and therefore also have my hand in other social initiatives targeted towards Africa and the bottom of the pyramid. Why? Because I strongly believe that we have not reached success as long as it is still so dependent on its Founders. Mozambikes currently has local Mozambican technicians building our bikes, and a local sales agent but we need to find amazing Managers that carry out the day-to-day operations. Only then will I know that Mozambikes is something that will help people over the long-term. And, then I will have the fortune of helping to build other projects that can reach out to improve the quality of life for people less fortunate.
How does Africa inspire you?
The people of Africa work so hard, and achieve so much, with so little. Women who walk 3 hours to reach their farming plots, only to work in the fields all day and then walk home at night with 10 kilos of crops on their head – just to feed their children… These people inspire me every day and I fight to grow Mozambikes to help each and every one of them.
Anything we should look out for in the coming weeks/months/year?
Something to look out for now – our crowdfund campaign! Please consider making a contribution – as little as $15 can make a tremendous difference in the lives of rural Mozambicans. We also encourage everyone to share the campaign, as the power of social media and personal emails is so powerful these days in spreading important messages. Check out the video and details of the campaign here.
Images courtesy of Lauren Thomas and Mozambikes