Friday, February 12, 2010

Speeding access to health in Zambia... with bikes

The social business Riders for Health have a double bottom line, make a profit and improve transportation to health care in Africa.

For those who sick in Zambia access to health care can be difficult for some, impossible for others. Hospitals and clinics can be far away from remote villages, it could be a day long trip for some if they even have transportation. Those needing immediate care may never receive it.

To help combat this, two motorcycling enthusiasts fix up old bicycles and charge health systems in Africa for use of the bikes. From the BBC, writer Ashley Morris profiles the social business.

Outside the district laboratory, 30km away, the broken carcasses of vehicles are everywhere.

Behind one building, motorbikes lie rotting, gradually disappearing under the plants that wrap themselves around their wheels.

It was a similar sight that first motivated motorcycle-racing enthusiasts Andrea and Barry Coleman to set up Riders For Health.

Barry explains: "I saw a motorcycle that was new and gleaming and it was completely dead that had done 800km, and we know you could have 150,000km of health care delivery out of that and there it was dead at 800."

With their knowledge of engines and motorbikes in particular, they knew it wasn't Africa's harsh conditions that were the problem, but poor maintenance.

They decided that if they could persuade African governments to let them, they could manage vehicles efficiently and keep them on the road.

The secret of their success is that they train local riders and drivers to carry out simple checks and preventative maintenance.

Although the pilot project will be paid for by fundraising, Riders For Health strive for all their schemes to be self-funding in the long run.

They charge governments a small fee to cover their costs, fixed for five years, so it is easily budgeted for.

It's this business-like approach that sets Riders apart from conventional charities.

As Andrea says, it means they have to think carefully about the constant compromise between keeping the money coming in and maintaining the social benefit.

"I think that social enterprise really has to think about the double bottom line. The money and the humanitarian impact and between those two lines there has to be a tension."

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