“In the developing world, a bike is close to a democratic revolution. You could even say it’s not a bike, but rather an engine for growth,” says Jimmy Östholm, founder of Vélosophy Cycles, a Swedish bicycle brand founded in 2015 that, for every bike it sells, donates one to a schoolgirl in Ghana.
In countries like Ghana, bikes often are a primary mode of transportation, Östholm points out. As such, they play an important role in safety and security activities: “A bike becomes so much more than just two wheels and a bar,” he says. “It can turn into an ambulance, a school bus, a water truck or a food transport vehicle. A bike revolutionizes by cutting time and increasing capacity.”
Indeed, while Östholm describes Vélosophy’s decision to give bikes to young women as a “simple” choice, the potential impact is anything but. Girls in Ghana who have access to bicycles attain a higher level of education, he says. Their attendance can rise by nearly 30 percent because families are more likely to let girls continue with formal schooling if they have a way to travel there that is quicker and safer than walking.
“With a bike she can arrive at school rested and ready to learn,” Östholm says.
A large body of research from NGOs like UNICEF and the United Nations shows that when women in the developing world are given the means to further their education, they experience personal growth — and their families and communities share in the benefits, as well.
The impact is so powerful, in fact, that other companies with a more-than-profit mission have committed to the cause. Footwear manufacturer Sseko Shoes employs young women at its production facility in Uganda to help them pay for college education through matched funds: for every dollar one of the girls makes working for Sseko, the company matches it in a college fund for her.
Uniform Clothing has a buy-one-give-one model that donates one school uniform to a Liberian child for every one it sells, and says two in three of the girls for whom it donates uniforms continue their education in lieu of pregnancy.
Feminine-products brand Ruby Cup donates one of its reusable menstrual cups for each one it sells; the donated cups go to women without access to menstrual products. The company says this gives East African girls a tool to improve their school attendance during menstruation by freeing them from needing funds and access to pads every month.
“One extra year of education can increase the income for a girl by up to 20 percent,” says Östholm. This is often enough to make them economically self-sufficient and lift them out of poverty. Girls who continue their education also are less likely to become pregnant at a young age, and mothers in developing countries who have had access to education are more likely to affect change that can make their families healthier and wealthier, he says.