January 25, 2016

The Genius of the Bamboo Bicycle–Empowering Ghanaian Women. {Video}

I own a quite a few bamboo household items.

Like many people who care about sustainability, I am aware of the renewable quality and durability of bamboo. But I never imagined a bamboo bicycle. But it makes sense given that “bamboo has a higher compressive strength than wood, brick, or concrete and a tensile strength that rivals steel.”

Bernice Daapah, the founder and CEO of Ghana Bamboo Bikes, is an entrepreneur who is not only committed to empowering Ghanaian women, but is equally committed to creating a product that is sustainable, recyclable and substantially reduces pollution. In 2014, Bernice was named a Young Global Leader, by the World Economic Forum.

Like many African countries, Ghana is rich in resources but has suffered great environmental degradation from deforestation. In its cities, traffic congestion creates a major pollution problem. Poverty and underemployment are systemic.

Ghana Bamboo Bikes addresses these issues. The company builds bikes that can withstand the difficult terrain of rural, unpaved roads, giving poor and rural Ghanaians a reliable form of transportation that doesn’t contribute to pollution. These bikes give children more reliable access to schools and adults more work and small business opportunities.

The company gives its workers (who are primarily women with very little education) the skills they need to assemble and manufacture the bikes. “We are committed to promoting fair trade, treating people fairly, profit sharing with builders, creating environmentally responsible products that contribute in reducing climate change, protecting the environment and promoting environmental awareness.”

According to a CNN report on the Bamboo Bikes Initiative, the prototype for the bamboo bike has been around since 1894 but the idea never took off. One hundred and twenty years later, Ghana Bamboo Bikes took the idea and rode with it, so to speak.

Bamboo grows abundantly in Ghana. It only takes two sticks of bamboo to make one bicycle so they’re unlikely to run out any time soon. This is a raw material that won’t be depleted.

The bikes are all handmade and it takes about 40 hours to build each bike. They are painted by hand and can be customized to order. They’re extremely lightweight and durable. The bike is gaining global interest.

As far back as the 19th century, bicycles represented a kind of emancipation for European and American women. Susan B. Anthony supposedly said, “Woman is riding to suffrage on the bicycle.” Ghana Bamboo Bikes represents a kind of emancipation for the Ghanaian women who are trained in the production of the bicycles. After their training, each woman will be able to set up their own small-scale operation, employing five or six people in different parts of Ghana.

I’ve spent some time in a few African countries and I am in awe of the beauty and the resilience of its people in the face of so many systemic and sometimes seemingly insurmountable problems. When I see a company that uses all of the best practices to empower women, I am reminded that women are indeed, Half the Sky, I am heartened. When I see a company that uses all the best practices to reduce the impact of climate change, and believes we have the resources to reduce our impact on the environment, I am heartened.


Author: Gayle Fleming

Editor: Caitlin Oriel


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