Clean, lean bike orgs are wheeling and dealing social change

Happy January! Welcome to Clean Start week.

We had a ton of fun posting about this female-centric bike shop a couple of months ago, and it got me thinking about the variety of socially-conscious bicycle concerns working around the world to bring this energy-efficient, inexpensive, and healthy form of recreation and transportation to more people.

APRIL GREEN

Me and my beloved bike
(photo courtesy Crazy Nick)

Here’s just a wee smattering of shops, cooperatives, and nonprofits that have two missions: one bike-related and one… that’s something else good.

Mountain2Mountain

In 2006, North Dakota native Shannon Galpin started a nonprofit to help empower women and girls in conflict zones. After working on projects in Pakistan and Nepal, Mountain2Mountain ventured into Afghanistan with programs that “use the mountain bike as a vehicle for social justice with survivors of gender violence.”

In a country that largely considers it a cultural crime for a woman to ride a bicycle, Mountain2Mountain is distributing bikes, hosting all-female bike retreats, and supporting the burgeoning Afghan National Women’s Cycling team.

“Using bikes, long a symbol of freedom of mobility, and a tool of the women’s suffrage movement in America in the early 1900s, we are unifying the women we work with to pedal a revolution of change for women’s rights,” writes Shannon on Mountain2Mountain’s blog.

Bikes Not Bombs

Longtime Boston-area heroes have been “using the bicycle as a vehicle for social change” since 1984. Staff and volunteers work to collect thousands of used bikes and bike parts each year, and restore them to workable condition before shipping them to others who can use them for transportation, skill development, or employment in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

They also offer bike-centered vocational training, and sell used bikes to support their efforts.

“From the way we get around, to what we have access to, to which people and which neighborhoods have which resources,” says the BNB website, “the bicycle is so much more than the sum of its parts.”

Re-Cycle

Northeast of London, this UK org has a similar mission to BNB’s, but their secondhand bikes all go to partner organizations in Africa.

Re-Cycle offers a number of satisfying ways to get involved with their efforts: they can help you organize a used bike collection in your community, throw a “sponsored bike ride” to raise money, or give you an incentive to clean out your garage—they’ll take old bike parts, tools, and manuals off your hands and put them to good use. (You can even donate your junk car! Ironic?)

Wash Cycle Laundry

This company is a laundering service that transports dirty goods between customers and commercial washing machines entirely by bicycle.

Founded in 2010 and serving central Philadelphia, Wash Cycle rejects “diesel power” as the only way to move heavy loads; uses only locally-made, hypoallergenic cleaning products; and works with city organizations to hire people in the market for a “second chance” job to get back on their feet after being unemployed or incarcerated. Fresh!

Baltimore Bicycle Works

BBW is proud to say they’re the city’s only worker-owned and democratically-operated bike shop. They’re full-service (meaning they’ll make any repair you need and can consult on “bike fit” issues) with a mission to “put more people on bikes because they’re practical, sustainable, beautiful, and fun!” They also rent bikes and sell used ones.

BBW pledges you’ll have a good experience with them at every turn because “every person you interact with at our shop is either an equal owner of the business, or someone working towards becoming an owner. This translates to exceptional customer service and a deep commitment from all of our staff members to making sure you receive quality service and advice.”

And that’s really just the tip of the top tube! You can search Idealist to find over 200 other bike-related organizations worldwide, and over 100 opportunities to get involved with them.

Happy riding (and change-making)!

Have a great story that weds human-powered transit with social good? Send it to april@idealist.org or share it as a comment.

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Help Seth create a beverage to better the world

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Seth

Growing up in Pound Ridge, NY, Seth Markowitz had to ride his bike for two minutes to get to his best friend’s house which was only two houses away. This isolation was compounded by the fact that he was considered a nerd, and a kid who didn’t understand why there was so much violence and hostility at school.

But then he went to summer camp. He made a ton of friends. He became empowered to be a leader. He was accepted for who he was.

“At the age of 11 it put this dichotomy in my mind: How come life sometimes can be so isolating and it can be so hard to find community? How come sometimes life can be so wonderful and communal?” he says.

His utopian summer camp experience proved formative. As an adult, Seth became fascinated with traditional hunter-gatherer societies that lived in camps, such as the Mbuti or Pygmies, and Native American tribes where there was little emphasis on possessions or competition, nearly everything was shared in an open and loving manner, and there was a lot of time to socialize and bond.

While studying at Bates College, he participated in a volunteer service program with a group of idealistic students that furthered his desire to return to how our ancestors lived. He witnessed how rewarding it could be to live, even for a short time, in a camp-like community of people devoted to helping others.

“I think tons of people would live comfortably, but modestly, and devote their lives to making the world a better place if they had the opportunity to do so,” he says.

The intention

When he’s not spending his days as a special education teacher, Seth thinks about how he can create an urban intentional community that has a cooperative, socially conscious business at its core.

Inspired by Newman’s Own, which donates 100% of its profits to charity, Seth envisions a business centered around a single-serving soft drink, eventually expanding to other products.

“I want to create a brand. And I want that brand to represent altruism,” he says.

Drawing from the model of Twin Oaks in Virginia, Seth hopes the business will support a community in the Bronx or Brooklyn. The community will be a worker cooperative, where the employees own part of the company, make democratic decisions, and as part of the employment contract, have the time to devote to service in the larger community and to each other.

His goal is to create a company that not only has a charitable mission, but provides its employees a fair living wage, good benefits and a community center/dining hall where they can conveniently gather and share meals. Ultimately, Seth’s goal is to build community within the company, in the neighborhood, and in the world.

Obstacles

So far Seth has a recipe for the soft drink, a brand name, a product name, and a label. He’s also gleaned knowledge from a friend of a friend about taste testing and focus groups.

Here are the challenges he is currently facing:

  1. Seth needs $30,000 in start-up capital to hire a consulting company that could perfect his formula, source ingredients, help design the label, create the nutrition facts, and find bottlers, labelers, and distributors.
  2. He’d love to find a trained business person with experience in the beverage industry, ideally someone who is also committed to his philosophy.
  3. Finding people who would be interested in starting an intentional community, as well as initial partners who have an entrepreneurial and sharing spirit, is crucial.

How you can help

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Seth doesn’t want to divulge the exact product yet, but he stands behind its awesomeness. (Photo via Ano Lobb on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

  • Do you know of any other successful charitable business models or intentional communities Seth can learn from?
  • In general, what’s important to you in a brand?
  • When you’re at the store browsing beverages, what makes you pick up one bottle over another?
  • Where can Seth find philanthropic investors to help kickstart his company?
  • If you’ve started a socially responsible business, what are some key lessons learned?
  • If you have specific knowledge about starting a beverage company, what advice would you share about production, distribution, and marketing?
  • What are some challenges Seth should keep in mind when creating an intentional community?
  • Do you have experience working in a worker cooperative, and can you share your ideas about how to make this business model work?
  • Are you interested in living in an intentional community?

Leave a comment below or send him a message through Idealist and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

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Do you have an idea that’s just starting to brew? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

 

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