The Beauty of Movements

Bicycles for Humanity just keeps growing and growing and it is just exciting to watch it all happen.   As a grassroots movement , it is efficient, everyone is engaged in making a difference and as volunteers we get to work directly with the people we support in many developing countries.   if you want to be inspired, make a difference and feel good about what you and your team are doing,  think about joining the global Bicycles for Humanity initiative.

It is so hard to believe that we have shipped over 50,000 bicycles in 5 years and we still have not spent a cent on any overhead or administration. Grassroots movements are about people, about telling their stories and together making a difference, here and in the developing world. When these stories are told and retold, others want to tell the stories and become a part of the bigger story of the difference a bicycle can make, especially in the developing world. We invite you to share our story, to become a part of our story and to make a difference, we all can.

Movements take time to grow and evolve.  they are never easy and no one person  controls or drives a movement, but a collective group of minds sharing a common set if ideas and beliefs.  Like the book, ‘It’s not about the bike”, the story of Lance Armstrong, bicycles for Humanity is not about the bike, but  what happens when people worlds apart decide to set about change through the gift of mobility a bicycle can deliver.  the following are  few thoughts and ideas about the  Bicycles for Humanity Movement.  if  you would like to contribute and become a part of this global initiative, everyone is welcome.

Vision and Strategy


The purpose of this  document is to  provide an overview of  our movement and to share with  all, our  beliefs, model and strategy.   The founding principals of the B4H Movement are as strong today as when our movement was founded 6 years ago.   There are 4   guiding  beliefs that our movement   grows from. In the last 6 years,  our movement has delivered over 70 containers or 40,000 plus bikes to Africa from over 30 chapters  globally, literally thousands of volunteers  and  it continues to grow  at a very rapid pace, all without any staff, support, central administration or monies spent.  We are a pure grassroots movement and what connects and drives us is the common belief that , “A Bicycle can make a difference”


We believe that the gift of mobility that a bicycle can provide is  universal, essential and empowering to all.  Mobility  delivered by a bicycle allows healthcare workers to do  more, enables  youth to travel long distances to school, entrepreneurs to  establish business’s and  deliver goods to distant markets.  It also allows families to  carry  food and water long distances, hopefully allowing the family unit more time to be together. 


 To be truly sustainable, it  must be  embraced and accepted by our partner communities, with local teams taking full responsibility for the   on going  support of the program.  Bicycles are delivered in Containers,  local community members are  trained  in  bike service  and support and, with these BEC’s or Bicycle Empowerment Centers becoming the foundation to long term  support, development, job creation and community development at many levels. Community is key to our movement, we encourage  chapters here to   work together with   community groups and chapters in Africa.   Global teamwork is key to both an understand and the development of new models to solve the problems facing many globally. 


Bicycles for Humanity is a  community based grassroots movement.  Other than our main website, supporting a directory of all projects, there is no  central organization,  management or administration of  any kind.  We are a pure, highly efficient movement with  community leaders organizing, their chapters, raising the funds to send the containers of bikes to Africa, to communities  there  that they want to support.   This model allows all to organize, fundraise and collect in a manner that makes sense to them and their community.  It also allows  chapter heads to take charge, be accountable and to  feel empowered  as well  as  others on their team.  In short, it is a very flat, very efficient  model that allows whoever  puts in energy to help do  it the way they feel best. Much of our movements growth comes from individuals who, rather than just volunteer for  a NGO or Non Government organization and  just be a volunteer with little say, choose to start their own organization,  while still being connected to a common vision through the movements belief’s.


Efficient models that empower the individual and the  chapter to do more is   the last founding key.   Deep down everyone wants to make a difference, to contribute and to know that their efforts of helping others helps themselves and their communities at the same time.  The B4H movement is really a model or template that allows all to  help  others globally and locally.  It allows the creative energies and forces  of many to focus on a very simple goal helping deliver the gift of mobility  through a bicycle.


In Summary, The Bicycles for Humanity Movement Believes:


Bicycles are universal, everyone understands the power of a bike.

Individuals and their  communities are empowered to make a difference.

The deliverables are clear and every project has a start and an end.

Accountability and responsibility stays with the chapter.

It’s fun and very rewarding on many levels, local, regionally and globally.



Bicycles for Humanity  Developed World Chapter Model


Chapters and local community leadership are the foundation to the B4H Grassroots Movement.  Chapter  membership is open to all, individuals, schools, civic clubs, church’s, sports teams, really anyone who believes that a bicycle can make a difference and is  interested in sending at least one container of bicycles  a year to a community partner/chapter in Africa.


4 Guiding Principals of Chapters in the developed world are as follows:


Chapters are free to organize in any way that makes sense to them.  Bicycles for Humanity existing chapter leaders and teams will  mentor you and your  team  to the best of their abilities.  All we ask is that a developed country Chapter  try to  deliver on their commitment of   sending one container of bikes a year.  If the chapter has raised funds and does not complete  the process of sending a container, than we ask that that chapter forward any funds they have to an existing chapter. Chapters cover the cost of buying the container,  which becomes the BEC, Bicycle Empowerment Center, all local logistics, plus the cost of Ocean  freight to the closest African port.  Depending on the partner relationship in Africa, some chapters may also cover  the in country shipping and logistics on their own or in partnership with their African Community partner


Every chapter  and  chapter leader will be listed on our website, www.bicycles-for-humanity.org   and in the main B4H directory, plus   they will have a link to their website, Facebook  or WordPress page.  We encourage all chapters to  support all 3 social media  platforms, plus use Twitter to keep all informed  locally, regionally and globally.  We encourage chapters to follow  a uniform naming model, example,  Bicycles for Humanity, Ottawa.  www.b4h-ottawa.org as an example.   Today’s social media allows for  all to spread the movement message  virally and we encourage all chapters to  establish links and favorites pages with all other chapters.  This way you both learn what is going on within the movement,  plus gain ideas on how to make your chapter better


Chapters are free to  pick whatever community they want to support in Africa.  In many countries like Namibia  our movement has  a  long history with  the Bicycle Empowerment Network  and many chapters partner with this group.  Other chapters  establish their own partner programs in Africa and  any new or existing chapter is free to join these initiatives, or you can start your own and  grow B4H membership around your project. B4H has a set of logo’s and images that all chapters are  encouraged to use, we also do not mind if you  create your own or a variation of one of our existing ones. pastedGraphic.pdf

By telling your story locally, the media is drawn to the efficiencies and value that a B4H Chapter partner creates in their community.  We encourage all chapters to keep telling your  story and the need for bicycles in Africa.  We also encourage chapters to work together, share ideas  and where possible establish relationships that are good for all chapters and communities in Africa.


In Summary Bicycles for Humanity Chapters are:


Free to organize in  whatever way they like and support the community of their choice.

We ask that all chapters try and send at least one container of bicycles  annually.

We encourage teamwork, both here and in Africa and by building community  everyone benefits.

We encourage chapters to  follow our core naming model and to use  social media tools  to tell their story and spread the word.

We respect the  chapter structure and encourage all to do the same, while sharing and helping each other.

Every day I wake up and check  Google alerts, I am totally in awe by what is going on  within the  Bicycles for Humanity Movement.    As a movement we are 6 years young and  growing in a hundred directions, yet we have no staff, no  budgets of any kind and no real organization, really no leadership, just a whole lot of people who believe that the gift of mobility that a bicycle can deliver  is  an important first step to a better life.


If we had created a Non Profit, organized centrally and   asked  people to join this  NGO would we have grown the way we have, I don’t think so, would  individuals be taking this in a hundred directions all good for their communities and good for communities in Africa, nope, don’t think that would have happened.


It’s hard to  identify any one thing, it’s a lot of things.  People want to make a difference, they want to drive change and they want to be accountable  and know that what they are doing is making a difference.  Today’s connected world of social media allows all with common interests to connect, organize and mobilize  quickly and efficiently.  The speed at which grassroots can drive change and the efficiencies of models that scale driven by concerned citizens who want to make a difference is  a powerful force and one that is very difficult to stop.


There is a  terrific book called, The Spider and the Starfish, the  concept is simple.  if you cut off the leg of a spider it dies, but if you cut off the leg of a Starfish, it grows another leg.  Movements like Starfish  flourish because there is no one leader, but a set of ideologies that many believe in.  Mobility  offered by a bicycle is efficient, economical, environmentally friendly and  universal globally.  Saving  a portion of the 18 million bicycles destined for landfills in North America and Europe is a good thing.  Doing good in one’s own community and linking that community to help do good a half a world away  connects us in ways we cannot imagine.


My wife and I started bicycles for Humanity to  simply send one container of bikes to healthcare workers in Namibia.  Today there are literally hundreds of volunteers and leaders everywhere who share our  vision and beliefs and all  who have  joined this movement have taken it a  thousand times further than I  could ever imagine.  Would this viral growth happen in a structured NGO, don’t think so, too many rules and  to much inefficiencies to attract  high energy people.  Can a highly structured NGO attract  good people and keep them, by making them a small cog in their big machine, don’t think so, people want to make a difference and they want to do it their way.


Bicycles for Humanity and all within it resemble a Starfish and it  keeps growing on it’s own.  Many highly structured NGO’s  are beginning to look like Spiders and  by losing one   individual, they can  fail or become very inefficient.


In reflecting back on the last 6 years, it is simply incredible what has happened and  I have no  idea what the future  will bring, but I know that  it will be good  on a hundred fronts and the gift of mobility that a bicycle can deliver will reach many many more communities globally.

We have been asked time and again, why Bicycles for Humanity is not a Non Profit, who is it’s board, why it has never spent a cent on administration and why it will never have staff, and overhead of any kind. the answer is simple, we are a movement and really a philosophy. All within the Bicycles for Humanity movement believe that a bicycle can make a difference to so many globally. All withi the movement also believe that efficient models with accountability and empowerment forming the foundation to the chapter/community model allows all to drive it in the direction they feel best. Seth Godin in his blog today, summed it up nicely.

Organization vs. movement vs. philosophy

An organization uses structure and resources and power to make things happen. Organizations hire people, issue policies, buy things, erect buildings, earn market share and get things done. Your company is probably an organization.

A movement has an emotional heart. A movement might use an organization, but it can replace systems and people if they disappear. Movements are more likely to cause widespread change, and they require leaders, not managers. The internet, it turns out, is a movement, and every time someone tries to own it, they fail.

A philosophy can survive things that might wipe out a movement and that would decimate an organization. A philosophy can skip a generation or two. It is often interpreted, and is more likely to break into autonomous groups, to morph and split and then reunite. Industrialism was a philosophy.

The trouble kicks in when you think you have one and you actually have the other.

A movement is a wonderful thing, it grows  on all sides every day and everyone is doing the best they can to  take it forward and the surprising thing is that it works.   there is an ongoing debate out there between a movement and a non profit, our choice is  movement, it is viral, it attracts   incredible talent globally and  it allows everyone to be  the solution.

The last 6 months I have been asking myself, what is next for the Bicycles for Humanity Movement.  When we started it was to provide  the gift of mobility offered by a bicycle to   healthcare workers and women in Namibia.  This program  continue’s to grow and many chapters  over the past year have   started to spread their wings and enter new countries.  This year,  chapters   entered and are building programs in South Africa, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Zambia and Rowanda.  These chapters are searching for new communities  to  support and they are doing a terrific job. Our Chapter in Whistler  in partnership with other chapters, Calgary, Saskatoon and hopefully others  is  now building a program in Uganda.


In 6 years  we have gone from groups collecting bikes to support other organizations projects to chapters branching out and supporting  their own projects in Africa and we hope this continue’s for many many years to come.


I think we are about to enter the 3rd phase of our growth and I believe the most important single step in our  movement.  Initially we grew in the developed world and  supported the developing world.  today we are seeing a trend  towards groups in the developing world, Uganda, Swaziland wanting to form chapters and  build community globally to support  their respective countries and communities.  As   new grassroots groups in developing countries take hold, it will open up and  grow our movement in ways we cannot yet imagine.  new relationships with government, new partnering opportunities with corporations and industry groups.  Individuals and  groups that have a heart for a specific country can now get involved.  As we grow in  both worlds, developed and developing, we have the ability to    help more in many new areas, yet, stay close to the  initial belief’s of our movements grassroots .  We are about to enter a wonderful era in the life of the Bicycles for Humanity Movement