2019 Winner: World Bicycle Relief

At World Bicycle Relief (WBR), they mobilize people through “The Power of Bicycles.” Their mission is to improve access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities in developing regions of the world where distance is a challenge. They build and distribute a rugged, specially-designed, locally-assembled bicycle to students, health workers, farmers, and entrepreneurs. Since 2006, they have distributed over 400,000 bicycles to individuals in 19 countries. Their programs and social enterprise have contributed to students improving school pass rates by 36%, community health workers expanding patient visits by 45%, and dairy farmers increasing incomes by 23%. They support our end-users by establishing market-based bicycle value chains and maintenance services, community-led programming, and continuous monitoring, evaluation, and learning to drive impact.

Primary Area of Impact: Economic Development, Education, and Healthcare

Geographic Areas (Continents): Africa, Asia, South America

Geographic Areas (Countries): Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Thailand, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Year Founded: 2006

Social Challenge

Across the developing world, more than one billion people living in rural areas lack access to transportation options and all-season roads. According to the World Bank, in Africa alone, more than 70% of the continent’s rural population 450 million people are affected. In these communities, distance and lack of mobility constrain access to health care, education, and livelihoods. Governments lack sufficient funding to maintain public transportation systems and road networks, while most households lack the resources to purchase an automobile or motorcycle or otherwise purchase transport assets. Without public or private transit options, walking is the primary mode of transportation. Across World Bicycle Relief (WBR) four focal countries of Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Kenya, they witness the pernicious effects of these everyday constraints on development, particularly for women. In Zambia, 57% of women living in rural areas cited distance to a health facility as one of her greatest challenges in seeking medical care for her or her family. In urban areas, that figure falls to 10%. Similarly, in Zimbabwe, half of all rural-based women, compared to one in ten urban-based women, cited distance as a primary challenge to accessing health services. Education outcomes are similarly affected. In Kenya and Malawi, net attendance in secondary schools in rural areas is half the rate of urban areas. Since female students are expected to contribute to their households through time-consuming tasks, such as fetching water, collecting firewood, cleaning, cooking, care-giving, and assisting in farming, they are particularly affected by long commutes to schools. Indeed, in Malawi, less than 4% of women complete secondary school in rural areas, versus almost 20% in urban areas. In Zimbabwe and Zambia, female students in urban areas are four times more likely to complete secondary school compared to female students in rural areas. Moreover, students that travel long distances are more likely to be absent, tardy, and have less energy for their studies; and girls are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence during long commutes. The effects of distance and lack of mobility options are also observable in household economics. In Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Kenya, the percentage of the rural population living in the lowest two wealth quintiles ranges from 46% in Malawi to 64% in Zambia. In urban areas in these countries, only 0.1% to 14% of the population are found in the lowest two wealth quintiles. Whether transporting goods to market, acquiring inputs for farming or other enterprises, or traveling to employers, lack of transportation and longer distances hinder economic development and livelihoods opportunities.


Throughout the halls of any WBR office, whether in Lilongwe, Malawi, or Chicago, Illinois, you will hear the mantra, “All answers are found in the field.” Their organizational culture, infused with “kaizen” (continuous improvement) and a relentless focus on the end-user, is embodied in their senior leadership team. implementation environments, and target markets, Dave Neiswander was appointed CEO in May 2016. In close collaboration with their board, Dave has promoted a renewed emphasis on sustainable and quantifiable impact, operational excellence and building the foundations for growth, and communicating the power of bicycles and the issue of local mobility. Under his leadership, WBR has grown nearly 19%, and as importantly, is dramatically expanding access to education, health services, and livelihoods for their target communities. Dave took on the position of CEO after serving for nine years as WBR’s first Director for Africa, for which he was based in Zambia for six years and South Africa for three years. During this critical time of growth for WBR, Dave helped establish and refine foundational elements of the organization. Co-founder and Chairman of the Board, Frederick (F.K.) Day. F.K. is a long time Chicago businessman, entrepreneur, and humanitarian. In 2005, immediately following the Indian Ocean tsunami, F.K. and his wife, Leah, were moved to support survivors of the tragedy. After traveling to Sri Lanka and Indonesia, and hearing directly from survivors about the tsunami’s devastation of infrastructure and lack of access to basic needs, F.K. and Leah founded WBR with the support of SRAM, a bicycling company F.K. and his brother founded, and other leading cycling industry companies.


WBR considers monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) a key component to their daily activities. They rely on data to make evidence-based decisions. They measure their success based on the number of individuals they reach, and the impact a bicycle has on each individual’s life. In collaboration with their programs team and country offices, their MEL team has established results frameworks to guide data collection and evaluation. They illustrate their results framework through two sector examples: education and health. They then explain how they capture and evaluate data, and their impact to date. This team is led by a South Africa-based director who provides support to each country’s MEL team, which is in turn led by a MEL Manager who oversees MEL Specialists. The teams’ primary sources of data collection and benchmarking include baseline and endline surveys, three-times-per-year term reports by each balanced scorecard (BSC), and monthly field mechanic reports. They have recently rolled out tablet-based reporting using the cloud platform TaroWorks to streamline data collection and transmission. This model ensures that data is collected, cleaned, synthesized, and analyzed at least three times per year and available for adaptive management of programming.


At WBR, their mission is their constant. They mobilize people through ‘The Power of Bicycles” to improve access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities in developing regions of the world where distance is a challenge. They build and distribute a rugged, specially-designed, locally-assembled bicycle to students, healthcare workers, and entrepreneurs. WBR also engages across multiple sectors, geographies, and cultures. As such, they have designed a service model that is domain-independent: with minimal tailoring, their service model can be applied across sectors; across districts, provinces, and countries; and with variety of partners (e.g. bilateral donors, multilateral institutions, local governments, international NGOs). The operations team is charged with inventory management, bicycle distribution, supply chain development, training local mechanics, and back office operations. And, the social enterprise team operates retail locations, provides maintenance services within retail locations, and sells bicycles and spare parts at market prices. With slight variations based on sector, our activities follow a three-step progression over one-year cycles: (1) community engagement and empowerment, (2) bicycle distribution and sustainable value chain configuration, and (3) and MEL.


WBR’s organizational business model, as well as their programmatic service model, are especially applicable to other social sector organizations that are offering a good or service that has both philanthropic ends, and market-based demand by individuals and organizations that are willing to pay for that good or service. Their business model marries three operational practices: lean methodologies, a supportive value chain, and social enterprise operations. While other organizations are utilizing these approaches, it is WBR’s capacity to integrate their feedback loops that makes them unique and amplifies their impact. To meet market-based demand for Buffalo Bicycles and offer a further stream of funding for their philanthropic activities, WBR established a for-profit social enterprise, Buffalo Bicycle Limited, which operates multiple retail locations in each of their core countries of operations. By integrating these three operational practices, WBR optimizes their own business model and ensures their end-users and beneficiaries will continue to have sustainable access to access preventative maintenance, repair services, spare parts, rider safety training, and new bicycles. This organizational model amplifies their service model, and offers a unique approach which is transferrable to others providing socially-oriented goods and services. They are particularly proud that their service model is transferable in three distinct ways – by geography, by sector and by partner.


  • Since 2006, we have assisted more than 400,000 individuals across 19 countries
  • 400,000+ bicycles distributed (210,000 bicycles funded, 190,000 bicycles sold)
  • 1,900 community-based bicycle mechanics trained
  • Education Pass rates improved by 36%
  • Academic performance improved 10.5% on average, and up to 56%
  • Travel time to and from school reduced 7.5 hours per week on average
  • Attendance increased up to 28%
  • Patient visits increased by 45%
  • Retention rate of CHWs increased to 95% from approximately 55%
  • CHWs reported traveling up to four times further by bicycle to reach patients than on foot
  • Lead farmer visits increased 120% to follower farmers
  • Farmer deliveries increased 25% Incomes increased 24%
  • Travel time to and from follower farmers, markets, and collection centers dropped 60%

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