Women in Mozambique, Africa proudly display their environment-friendly, money-saving bikes that save them from walking long distances under the sun to get to their destinations, including school, clincs, or the local market. Photo by: Mozambikes

For many people, bicycles are a godsend: They get you from point A to point B in less time than walking, save money on fuel and don’t harm the environment. But for people living on less than $2 per day, the cost of buying a bike tends to be prohibitive.

In Mozambique, one organization is now offering bikes at a much lower cost, and at times free of charge, to low-income individuals. The trick lies in its innovative business model.

Mozambikes sells advertising on its bikes to local businesses, turning the bikes into roving billboards. Business owners can either buy the bikes with their branding for 3,500 meticais roughly $120) or pay a flat fee of 2,500 meticais simply for the branding to be placed on a bike. With the latter, the price for a bike drops to 999 meticais.

Companies that buy a bike can then decide to give it away to employees and customers as an incentive and to communities where they operate. Locals can also get free bikes through donations made through Mozambikes’ nonprofit affiliate.

According to Lauren Thomas, the social enterprise’s co-founder, each sold unit offers Mozambikes a small profit and an “attractive” margin to retailers.

“Our advertising solution is entirely unique in providing an effective channel to reach low-income clients and generate a substantial social impact for the community,” Thomas said, adding that the Mozambikes model has “completely redesigned” the local bicycle industry as it is not only designed to reduce the cost of bicycles and provide after-sales service but also create jobs, teach skills to local people and campaign for bike safety.

According to Thomas, the Mozambikes model is applicable and needed in regions such as Africa where poverty is rampant and the need for bicycles, given the high transport costs that prevent people from reaching schools, health clinics and other important facilities, are substantial.

“It can be replicated by others who are willing to make the time and resource investment to build up such an initiative on the ground,” she told Devex.

The idea for Mozambikes emerged from a road trip that Thomas and co-founder Rui Mesquita took a few years ago. The two travelers were taken aback by the long distances that people in Mozambique walk — up to 60 kilometers under a hot sun — and were wondering why people did not use bicycles. After a study and some brainstorming, they decided to change “the current market fundamentals in order to make bicycles more available for the people who need them,” Thomas said.

Since the social enterprise was founded in 2010, it has grown steadily and “is in the midst of some very large orders for 2014.” The challenge is to meet the demand and keep its pipeline continuously moving doing. Mozambikes may seek a loan to finance new inventory and the containers that are needed to ship bikes to their destination.

Also this year, Mozambikes will make a pitch to local officials about creating bike lanes within the city of Maputo. The effort is funded by a grant it received from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Development Innovation Ventures program in 2013. The grant will likewise help the organization build its sales capabilities and develop new uses for bikes such as ambulances.

What do you think of this innovative approach? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and read our previous #innov8aid.

About the author

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Ma. Eliza VillarinoDevexElizaJV

Currently based in New York City, Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.

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