Three girls prove sexist naysayers wrong with innovative bike business
Originally published by One on April 9, 2015.
When she was just 15, Winifred Selby noticed a major problem in her home country. She knew Ghana was rich in resources and manpower, but every product she came across seemed to be created outside of Africa.
“It’s so sad and so serious that a common toothpick in my country has to be imported from other countries,” Selby, now 20, told All Africa.
To create their own products and also bring jobs to Ghana, Selby and two other students, Bernice Dapaah and Kwame Kyei, took advantage of one of the country’s most abundant resources: bamboo.
In 2009, the three established the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative. Using raw materials from Ghanaian farms, the bamboo is stripped down to build bicycle frames held together by steel tubes, rings, and traditional wheels to create a sustainable form of transportation. The bikes, which require less electricity to produce and nix excess chemicals, are eco-friendly and reduce Ghana’s carbon emissions.
The bamboo material creates a frame that’s shock resistant and sturdy enough for farmers to transport heavy loads, yet light enough for an everyday ride. While pricing wasn’t immediately available, the initiative has said the bikes are built with Ghana’s low-income consumers in mind, especially students, who would otherwise have to walk miles to and from school.
In the past five years, the initiative has blossomed into a full-fledged company with a flagship location in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city. It has also earned widespread recognition, winning awards from the United Nations Enivornment Programme Seed Initiative and the Clinton Global Initiative University, and even U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has taken a spin on one. The three cofounders now oversee a dozen full-time employees, most of whom are young Ghanaians, and produce between 60 and 100 bikes per month.
The company may be a bona fide success today, but the trio initially encountered resistance, beginning with the man who supplied the paperwork when they went to register the company.
“I was thinking he was going to motivate me. But he really [tried to] discourage me instantly…as if thinking that turning bamboo into bicycles was the work of men,” Selby told All Africa.
Undeterred by critics, Selby and her peers are working to motivate more young women entrepreneurs as they’ve grown their business. They offer apprenticeship courses to teach young women to build the bikes; after they’re fully trained, they can operate their own facility and employ five or six additional workers, according to Africa Impact Group.
These days, the company’s biggest problem is keeping up with high demand as it begins to export the bikes to other African countries, such as Burkina Faso. The company is also looking to increase production from 100 to up to 500 bikes each month so it can start selling in the U.S. and Europe.