AROHI:Pedaling the Path to empowerment! Women on bicycles breaking stigma to gain freedom of mobility and economic opportunity.

AROHI:Pedaling the Path to empowerment! Women on bicycles breaking stigma to gain freedom of mobility and economic opportunity.

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
< $1,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

To establish freedom of mobility for women through riding and owning a bicycle, in societies where public movement is restricted due to social and cultural norms. Arohi wants to use bicycles as a tool to empower women to demand freedom of mobility as a fundamental human right. We want to break the stigma, in a conservative society, attached to a woman riding a bicycle on the street.Arohi provides access to bicycles through a pre-payment model and encourages cycling to open the doors to equal opportunities for employment and broaden economic participation for the female workforce in Bangladesh. Arohi cyclers will inspire collective action locally, to transform mobility in Bangladesh and establish a precedent for economic empowerment through increased mobility on a global scale.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Arohi’s guiding principle of freedom of mobility means individuals cannot be excluded from the opportunity to ride and own a bicycle. The market mechanism will engage any woman with the purchasing power to demand the product. However, advocacy efforts encourage faster uptake of bicycling with upper-middle income women. Women working in white collar jobs with less social pressure from family and community are quick to join weekly rides through the city and lend their time to teach cycling. Arohi identified ‘champions’ within this group who were first movers, to serve as role models and motivators. Arohi also engages with college students who cut across the social spectrum but share frustrations about the lack of female-friendly public transport in Dhaka. Association with an educational institution helps young women warm to bicycling in groups and also led to creating campus chapters. Arohi faces challenges in engaging lower-middle income women with blue-collar jobs in cycling. Focus group discussion with the female workforce in textile factories and beauty parlours identify restrictive norms and values are a primary deterrent. Married women are particularly worried about stigma and perceived health problems, whereas marriage is not a barrier for higher income groups. In spite of having employable skills, these women forgo employment due to harassment enroute to work or restrictions on movement by family. Arohi plans to push harder with this social group and identify jobs such as street hawking or delivery, where productivity is enhanced on a bicycle.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Access to assets at the bottom of the pyramid in Bangladesh is traditionally achieved through microfinance, where loans are provided to women for repayment in weekly installments ex-post. Arohi’s model takes a reverse approach to microfinance by providing women access to mobility via bicycles through a 'pre-payment' model. Women will rent bicycles as frequently as they truly utilize the asset and benefit from gradual skill building and empowerment on the streets. For every rental, they earn credits towards owning the cycle. This end goal of asset ownership transforms daily/weekly payments into an investment in their futures. Such a financing model is not practiced in Bangladesh. It was innovated to overcome challenges of directly selling a product such as bicycle when your low income consumer's upfront capital is scarce and initial demand low, for an untested product. A rental fee competing with daily rickshaw fare aims to hook women onto cycling while Arohi's activities in teaching and supporting women riders will accelerate the frequency of rental and eventual ownership. Arohi will literally enable women to pedal their way to empowerment. Arohi’s social enterprise model of financing mobility is a new contribution to female empowerment and employment generation in Dhaka. Programs exist, which support cottage/home based entrepreneurial employment for women but the young, urban, female workforce is ready to leave home and compete for jobs traditionally undertaken by men and break through rigid social norms with strong network of supporters.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Overall, Arohi encourages bicycle use through city rides, cycling training workshops and providing access to rental cycles to women across the city. These activities support women to break and status quo and take ownership of personal movement through the following ways: Building a Critical Mass: Job opportunities for women in offices, industries or the informal sector in Bangladesh are limited by perceptions of family and society as to what constitutes as appropriate modes of independent travel for a majority muslim female population. To help overcome this stigma, Arohi advocates to build a 'critical mass' of women across the city to create a network of first cyclers who sensitize society to women on wheels to jumpstart a bicycling movement towards empowerment. Providing Access to Cycles: Over the next year, Arohi plans to go a step further to ensure those who ride a cycle can also own a cycle, since lack of access and availability of ladies bikes is a barrier to scaling up the aforementioned critical mass of potential cyclers. To this end, we plan to implement a ‘pre-payment’ model of business where a fleet of cycles are available for a daily rental-fee to registered Arohi customers. As an individual cycler rents and rides, she will earn ‘credits’ bringing her closer to paying an amount equivalent to the discounted cost of the cycle. Once this threshold of credits is reached, she will own the cycle! Arohi’s hybrid model of social business tagged with advocacy activities creates a safe and economically productive environment for women in the region.
About You
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name


Organization Country


Country where this project is creating social impact


How long has your organization been operating?

Less than a year

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

What stage is your project in?

Operating for less than a year

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

At a conference in Jan 2011, I heard eminent South Asian environmentalist Sunita Narain say that South Asians should be “riding bicycles instead of cars not because we are poor, but because we are rich”. Although Narain provided an environmentalist’s prescription for decreasing reliance on dirty transport, her words struck a personal chord on empowerment.

As an educated, upwardly mobile, independent woman in Bangladesh—“rich” by all measures, I never rode a bicycle. I justified travelling by car by blaming dangerous traffic, lack of pedestrian infrastructure, inimitable heat and harassment by male pedestrians. I was a strong and vocal woman in the confines of home or work, but I stepped outdoors with car-shaped armour as protection from staring, poking and lewd comments aimed at women of all ages and backgrounds in Bangladesh.

Only 2 out of every 1000 people own a car in Bangladesh and thousands of women step outside their homes each day, leading a one woman army, to work, for education, recreation and to exercise the fundamental human right of freedom of mobility. Verbal and physical harassment is so normalized that we've coined a euphemisms such as ‘eve-teasing’ to describe this. Limitations to mobility also limit economic and social participation affect all strata of society. This realization drove me to start Arohi as way for women to define mobility themselves using a simple tool-the bicycle.

(I am a development professional with professional experience in access to finance & female empowerment and degree in economics.)

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

Arohi’s success is measured by the extent to which we can satisfy the latent demand for fast, safe and cheap mobility through the 'feminization' of bicycles i.e. converting women pedestrians to women cyclers and sensitizing urban society to viewing bicycles as a transport option for women.

Arohi has leveraged the power of social media to form a network of over 250 individuals committed to sensitizing society to women on cycles. Within 3 months of inception, group rides averaged 30 participants with many first time riders. Cycle workshops pairing up trainers and learners had participation ranging from 2-10 pairs at weekly sessions. Success in the prepayment model can be monitored through rates of cycle rental, purchasing patterns and no. of ‘converts’ substituting public transport with cycles for work, to measure impact on empowerment and employment.

Media coverage in local and international news outlets, radio and magazines has provided positive reinforcement to the families of current and existing Arohi cyclers and proves that media can be leveraged as a powerful tool for feminization of cycles within the household. Anecdotal evidence shows that households with daughters or sisters allowed to ride bicycles have a positive effect on spreading the practice to other households in the neighborhood. The number of 'bicycle friendly' household clusters formed across the city (with Arohi riders) can be a measure of the success.

An increase in the visibility of female cycling on the streets, while hard to quantify, is a potential measure of success. Dhaka houses 12 million people and grows at the highest rate in the world with no mass transit and low investment in transport. You will see highly mobile men crammed into buses, speeding to work on two-wheelers or earning a living hawking various goods. However, there is a conspicuous absence of women on the streets as pedestrians or otherwise. While 60% of transport in Dhaka is non-motorized, only 5% of this transport is cycle traffic by lower-middle class men. 30% of rickshaws are used by women. Faced with public transport costs eating away incomes, introducing cycles to the market of working women and will have multiplier social and economic impacts.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?


How will your project evolve over the next three years?

Arohi will expand its customer base and geographic coverage:
0-6 months: Expand existing team of ‘champions’, woman who already adopted cycling, as advocates for Arohi. Up media/communication campaign.
6-12 months: Identify a new customer clusters as early adopters and market product to increase qty. of renters in in low and middle income target group.
6-18 months: Establish door-to-door delivery system (tuck/van) to reducing barriers to renting a cycle.
18-24 months: Scale up service to towns surrounding Dhaka and cities in north/south Bangladesh with significant female labour force and limited female-friendly public transport.
24-36 months: Refine model wrt pricing, distribution, customer conversion and sustainability of membership for replication outside Bangladesh

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Barrier: Access to bicycles is the largest barrier to scaling up a cycling initiative in resource poor countries. Women don't allocate disposable income to mobility enhancing assets.
Action: The prepaid ownership model provides cycle access for low income women through micro-rental payments. 65% of the urban population in Dhaka, Arohi’s target group, earns 2000-10000 taka per month and spend a daily 10-30 taka on transport. Given the cost of a cycle and maintenance is 5000-8000BDT, daily rental rates can be as low as 12-26 BDT to achieve a 1 year duration to cycle ownership.

Barrier: Stigmatizing values prevent feminization of the bicycle. Bangladesh is a 90% muslim society where cycling is considered male domain and the sight of a woman on a cycle is absurd and considered impractical.
Action: Instead of selling the product to individuals, follow a group based marketing model. Associate with factories, officers and universities to tap into existing clusters of women who travel together with an aim to encourage ‘doing-by-seeing’. Group rides and training within community boundaries will also increase visibility at the household level.

Barrier: Theft of rental bicycles, which affect city biking programs across the world. Installing costly tracking technology to is not an option.
Action: Arohi will track the cycler, not the cycle. Cycles will only be rented to members who register with national IDs, are associated with an institution (job or school). Also, door-to-door bike delivery serves as a cross-check on home address. Community networks will be tapped track of bikes in a neighbourhood.

Tell us about your partnerships

NGO partner: Working for a Better Bangladesh (WBB) Trust is a not for profit organization that facilitates the passage and implementation of policies to create an environment that promotes health and social interactions for all members of society in Bangladesh. Arohi partners with WBB’s Liveable Cities program, which promotes friendly interactions, provide job opportunities for the low-income, reduce the need to travel long distances, and enable free, outdoor recreation and includes a bicycling component. WBB loans their stock of bicycles to Arohi, which facilitates bicycle exchanges for group ride activities and also human resources for the bicycle training workshops. Moving forwads, WBB’s body of knowledge and experts will facilitate Arohi’s dialogue with the city corporation in making Dhaka more bicycle friendly.

Private Sector: North Bengal Cycle Industries Ltd. is the oldest Bicycle manufacturer in Bangladesh and the only company selling its own brand “Champion” Bicycles in the domestic market, and has sold cycles to UNDP, NGOs, commercial organizations etc. Arohi has the option of sourcing its fleet of cycles from North Bengal, in order to keep the supply chain local and replacement costs low, as opposed to using expensive Chinese or European cycles available in the market. This allows Arohi to keep rental rates low with a locally made and tested product.

Explain your selections

Arohi’s operating budget currently comes from philanthropic donations from friends and family to fund the administrative and operational budget. WBB, the NGO provides in-kind contributions in the form of human resources and loaning their stock of bicycles.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

Arohi’s goal in the next few years is to successfully transition out of solely not-for-profit activities into a market based social enterprise model. As a result, the financial model facilitating prepayment of cycles leading to ownership must be air tight. At the end of the day, we’re looking to plough profits back into the business and establish public-private partnerships that support demand-generating advocacy efforts.

Initially, donor contributions will be required to meet the operating budget for these activities but we hope that Ashoka’s funds will provide the boost required to sustain a positive bottom line.

Given the sensitivities inherent in women cycling, Arohi will be on its toes to garner community support for this initiative throughout its life time and recognizes this as an ongoing need. Arohi will strengthen clusters of women who can confidently take up cycling and also clusters of supporters in households, schools and work places. A network will be created by connecting the dots between these groups.

Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.


Restrictive cultural norms




Restricted access to new markets

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

-Female labor participation is a third of full potential in Bangladesh and bicycles open new opportunities for women by connecting to school, jobs, shops and sectors out of grasp. Cycles enable women to venture outside walking radius from home and promote equity between the male and female labor force.
- As major roads in Dhaka ban rickshaws to deal with traffic congestion, daily mobility for 30% of female commuters depending on cycle rickshaws is threatened. Cycles allow alternative access to formal job markets.
-Arohi feminizes bicycles, a traditionally male mode of transport. Women cyclers break social taboo by cycling and controlling their movement outside the home. Collective action of a critical mass sensitizes society and chips away at the discriminatory status quo.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.


Enhanced existing impact through addition of complementary services



Other (please specify below)

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

Current (other): Generating and sustaining demand through advocacy complimenting market based incentives
Planned: Enhance existing impact through addition of complementary services & Grow geographic reach Within host country

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

NGO: WBB support was critical for a fledgling Arohi to get off the ground, through borrowing cycles and connecting with a citizens network familiar with cycling programs.

For profit companies: Export-oriented bicycle manufacturer’s link with Arohi to supply cycles. This expands their own reach in local markets. Corporate sponsorships can also support advocacy activities.

Academia/universities: Campus Arohi chapters target female students, who will eventually join the workforce and allows the mission to reach a wider social spectrum.

Government: Police force shows interest in dialogue on managing traffic flow around female bicyclers and making traffic law clear to commuters. Next steps include working with city corporations to install signs regarding bicycle traffic.