Name your initiative: Geared for change - women bicycle mechanics in Namibia

Name your initiative: Geared for change - women bicycle mechanics in Namibia

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

Describe your Social Enterprise. Explain why this is a Social Business? Training and equipping women to run community-based bicycle workshops has proven to be an entry level for women's empowerment, positioning them as local transport technology experts in traditional male roles. Currently the employment of 45 women bicycle mechanics across Namibia leverages empowerment through access to income

About You
Bicycling Empowerment Network Namibia
Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name


Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


Organization Name

Bicycling Empowerment Network Namibia

Organization Phone

+264 61 250 200

Organization Address

PO Box 23150, Windhoek, Namibia

Organization Country
How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, XX

What makes your innovation unique?

BEN Namibia's approach has focused on building a national network of bicycle workshops connected to existing health-care grassroots organizations. Transport technologies are an important lever for communities’ empowerment, especially considering its potential for a multidimensional impact on improved health, education, income, participation and reduced vulnerability. Most community volunteers delivering health care at community level (i.e. home-base and OVC caregivers) are women. However women are usually marginalized in access to transport solutions, and almost always excluded from attaining technical mastery over the technology itself. Namibian bicycle mechanics in BEN Namibia's programme are not only trained and equipped to run bicycle workshops, but networked with women in other regions, sharing experience and reinforcing their position as pioneers in what for Namibia is a new industry.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

In 2006, BEN Namibia and a Canadian volunteer network, Bicycles for Humanity (B4H), developed a new bicycle distribution model, the BEC. A BEC is a 12m modified shipping container with about 350 second-hand bicycles, tools, spare parts, paint, roofing materials, and workbenches, delivered to a grassroots organisation and run as a community-based bicycle shop. With each project BEN Namibia provides extensive training in bicycle mechanics and financial and project management.
Through each BEC, at least 10 per cent of the bicycles are allocated for use by volunteers and beneficiaries of the local partner. Income is generated through sales and servicing of bicycles to the community. This income generation component not only provides paid employment for volunteers, but generates income for community projects and provides ongoing availability of maintenance services to bicycles used by volunteers.
As more than 90 per cent of Namibian healthcare volunteers are women, the majority of our project participants are women. Training women in bicycle mechanics addresses the practical need of teaching them how to maintain their bicycles, and is an entry point for changing existing gender division of labour. BEN Namibia considers it an opportunity to promote more fundamental changes in gender roles and relations, and the planning process of BEC projects with local communities consider strategies to make best use of this opportunity. Training women in bicycle mechanics can be a powerful tool for empowerment.
Fifty six percent of the population of Namibia lives on less than US$2 per day, and typically healthcare volunteers and their clients live on very low incomes. The BECs provide these people with an employment opportunity, and a reward for their commitment to healthcare volunteering.
BEN Namibia has already established 22 BECs, providing employment for 90 people, 50% of which are women.

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

The Namibian health system has struggled to cope with the number of people being admitted with HIV related illness, but the shortage of healthcare professionals remains a hindrance. Problems are exacerbated within the rural setting where the lack of transport systems isolates communities from access to social services.
To address these problems, dozens of grassroots organisations have implemented projects in partnership with the Ministry of Health, providing support to the health care system. One of the main responses from communities is the programmes for home-based care (HBC) of people living with HIV/AIDS and for supporting of orphans and vulnerable children. HBC programmes work with health care volunteers that visit clients in their houses. They assist clients and their families with household chores; provide counselling and information on adequate nutrition, hygiene and health; deliver medication and sanitary supplies; and provide basic solutions to common needs. The volunteers also assist clients to visit clinics and hospitals and to adhere to their anti-retroviral treatments. These programmes, however, face major challenges such as lack of appropriate transport and limited income generation activities to enable sustainability for their activities.
The need to support healthcare volunteers with improved access to reliable and sustainable transport is urgent. Many of these volunteers walk long distances to visit people infected with and affected by the disease and often take responsibility for taking sick clients to hospitals and clinics with limited resources. For many infected people, stigmatisation among family and friends combines with geographic isolation and makes coping extremely difficult. Volunteers reduce stigmatisation; provide emotional and psychological support through counselling; distribute prevention information; and give advice on living positively—many volunteers are HIV positive themselves.
The need in Namibian communities for sustainable ent

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. Include a description of the business model. What might prevent that success?

Skills transfer to project participants occurs through initial training and ongoing support. Each project provides significant economic benefits to the local community in which it is located. Up to five people are employed directly, in most cases these people have never previously held formal employment, relying on sporadic informal work and subsistence agriculture. Each individual is in turn likely to support a number of extended family members, broadening the impact of their employment. At least 50 per cent of people employed are women.
Project participants, together with their supporting CBO, take decisions on how surplus project income is spent. Existing BEC projects have allocated income for different community projects.
Each project generates its own income from the outset, and after implementation is responsible for meeting ongoing costs such as purchase of spare parts and bicycles for resale. By the end of BEN Namibia’s period of support, the project has a clear picture of its financial performance. Eighteen months after implementation there are no costs associated with handing over the project for fully independent management by participants.
The greatest constraint to project implementation and hand-over stems from Namibia’s poor standard of basic education. Historically, apartheid-era spending on non-white education allocated far fewer resources per-capita compared with white education. Policies limiting the level to which non-white students could study were a further limiting factor. Today this legacy is perpetuated as the products of this education system are now teaching, and at the same time government has been unable to improve its service delivery. To address this, BEN Namibia provides 18 months of support to ensure that key components for project success are embedded.

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

Improved income for participating CBOs within 18 months from project inception.
1) Improved quality of life for five participants involved directly in each BEC project.
2) Improved community volunteer service delivery to people living with HIV/AIDS in communities where BECs are located.
3) Replication in other sub-Saharan African countries
From 2010 to 2012, 16 new BECs will be established in Namibia.
BEN Namibia has been in dialogue with different grassroots organisations and is starting to explore replication of the model in Zambia, Uganda, Malawi, South Africa and Ghana.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$50 - 100

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?


If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?

Approximately 150 words left (1200 characters).

What stage is your Social Enterprise in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your Social Enterprise

BEN Namibia's main partners are grassroots organisations in Namibia, which are focusing on addressing the HIV/AIDS impact at community level. BEN Namibia seeks these partnerships in order to strengthen the work of grassroots initiatives that have broad legitimacy, credibility and knowledge at community level.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

Each BEC project formulates its own business plan. BEN Namibia provides support in this activity where necessary. BEN Namibia also has a strategic plan for the entire network within the country, with projects cooperating primarily within regional networks for cooperation on bicycle and spare parts group purchasing, and also in provision of technical support. A national level network is also being fostered to encourage trading between projects and knowledge sharing on best practices.
While the business plan varies between projects, the main focus is on meeting the overwhelming demand for affordable transport and maintenance services in poor communities. Each shop is seeded with stock of second hand bicycles and new spare parts, capitalising further development of the business and the ongoing supply of bicycles, spare parts and accessories. As the local market becomes saturated with bicycles, the provision of servicing, repairs and spare parts grows as a proportion of total revenue. Investment in new businesses is also a key component of project growth, with projects investing in such enterprises as livestock trading, market gardening, provision of solar-electric battery charging for mobile phones and transport services. The integration of tourism activities is also being explored.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

When BEN Namibia was established in 2005, we had a workshop in Windhoek and distributed bicycles to home-based care volunteers--mostly of them women--in small batches. It became evident that there was no service provision at local level, so the bicycles would break down and there were no skills or parts available to put them back on the road. That was when we trained one woman connected to one of our projects (Hilya Ekandjo, now manager of the first BEC in the country). In turn, she trained women in her village on basic maintenance skills. Initially there was some discomfort in the training - how would a woman be capable of handling all those tools and do a typically male job? She was however very confident and knowledgeable, which turned the general discomfort into surprise and pride.

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

We would like to describe the social innovator as a couple - Michael and Clarisse Linke. Michael founded BEN Namibia in 2005 and Clarisse joined him in 2006. We have been working closely with all our project participants, finding solutions for challenges they face, and sharing ideas on how to improve their quality of life.

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