World Bicycle Relief has so far organized more than 105,000 bicycles for people in underdeveloped countries to provide access to independence and livelihood through "The Power of Bicycles." We talked to Rebecca Much of this very passionate charity.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Rebecca.
Rebecca: Anytime! Honestly though, I should be the one thanking you guys for your awesome support of World Bicycle Relief. Slowtwitch rocks.
ST: What exactly do you do for World Bicycle Relief?
Rebecca: I work in World Bicycle Relief’s Grassroots Fundraising department out of our small Golden, Colorado office – the "WBR Commons." We have a great 3 person team here - myself, my colleague Katie Bolling and our stellar summer intern Jen Schofield, dedicated to assisting fundraisers in their efforts and building awareness for our organization. Our office has a pretty diverse line of duties as World Bicycle Relief as a whole operates with a lean, efficient staff - our main tasks entail providing courses, information and tools to aid folks looking to get involved. We work hard to maintain a line of personal communication with our fundraisers and thoroughly enjoy taking the time to answer questions and educate about the positive impact a properly designed and maintained bicycle can have in really rural parts of the world. Katie, Jen and I are always working on projects and upcoming events as well. The most recent (and exciting) project had been developing our newest fundraising platform designed specifically for athletes – Team WBR!
ST: When did you get on board?
Rebecca: I started as a volunteer at World Bicycle Relief in late 2007. I’ve always been an athlete and massive cycling fan. I was invited to visit the WBR offices and happily obliged – the program seemed cool enough. When I arrived I remember walking down the hall of the office and seeing some of (our co-founder) Leah Missbach Day’s photos from Zambia on the wall – they were incredible. Then I got to see the World Bicycle Relief bike and was given the full run down: bicycle specs; carrying capacity; the soundly laid infrastructure under which the bicycles were supplied; mechanic training programs to ensure sustainability of the bikes - It was clear that this was way more than just a bicycle charity – this was a very real and effective way to create change.
I worked closely with Katie over the next several years trying to do what I could from a volunteer standpoint. Katie comes from an athletic background as well (she’s raced in Kona at the Ironman World Championships) so I always enjoyed working with her. Then in 2010 just as I was getting ready for a career change, a job opportunity opened up at World Bicycle Relief. I was beyond ecstatic. I have this list of life goals and working for World Bicycle Relief was at the top of that list so needless to say I've been here happily ever since.
ST: You raced as a Pro prior to that, is that right?
Rebecca: Yup, I started racing bikes when I was still fairly young. I was pretty full-on into racing by the time I was 15 and found myself on the T-Mobile Pro Cycling team by the time I was 18 after some decent junior results. I raced professionally with a number of teams through 2010. Loved the experience - I got to travel the world and meet a slew of amazing people. Would never trade my racing days, but it’s been fun moving onto to new challenges. I feel fortunate that I can use my cycling expertise now to help open some doors at World Bicycle Relief. In the mean time, Katie is slowly turning me into a triathlete – I’m hooked!
ST: Talking about triathletes, many of us have seen Jordan Rapp raise money for the organization, but not everyone understands what World Bicycle Relief stands for. Could you enlighten our readers?
Rebecca: I have to start by saying Jordan is amazing – he is the picture model of what an athlete is capable of doing through their sport to inspire action. The Rappstar Charity Challenge is the perfect example of how much change can be created by using this power wisely!
As for World Bicycle Relief I’m always a bit baffled as where to start since we have so many amazing programs going on. As I alluded to previously, World Bicycle Relief distributes a specifically designed bicycle into a wide variety of programs. Our bike – The Buffalo – is built for tough roads and big loads. The bicycle can carry 220lbs on the rear rack, is constructed entirely from heavy gauge steel (down to the rims and spokes), has a low maintenance design geared towards removing common fail points and most importantly of a style in which replacement parts/tools will be readily available. In our programs we train a mechanic for every 50 bicycles distributed, providing opportunities for economic development alongside the bikes. Our long-term vision is to create a self-sustaining bicycle industry in Africa. All of our bicycles are assembled by locally employed mechanics at one of our four facilities (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Africa) before going to recipients through a number of different avenues.
A portion of our bicycles go into the programs we fund – this includes an education program targeted in Zambia and Zimbabwe that provides school children with bicycles (weighted about 70% towards girl students), a healthcare program in Kenya with the IMC providing volunteer caregivers with bicycles to more effectively visit patients and distribute medications and a neat environmental program in South Africa with Qhubeka in which students receive bicycles in exchange for planting and nurturing tree saplings or picking up trash. It is important to note that all bicycle recipients work to earn their bicycles – for example students are operating under a "study-to-own" model in which they must maintain certain attendance benchmarks in order to retain the bicycle. Next to our programs, we are also increasingly selling our bicycles to other NGOs throughout Africa for use and implementation in their own programs. Via this vein we’ve provided bikes to UNICEF, CARE, and World Food Program amongst many others.
ST: I think WBR started back in 2005, but it is quite a different organization now. Is that a fair statement?
Rebecca: We’ve been operating under the same principles since inception, however; we’ve seen a lot of growth since our start. It has been incredible to see the variety of uses for our bikes and the efficiency under which we can operate. It is revolutionary to say the least.
ST: I think I have read that you have gone over 100,000 bikes in the field. That is quite an accomplishment.
Rebecca: Thank you! Yes, our current tally is just over 105,000 bicycles, and this number is constantly growing. In fact, this year alone we expect to distribute about 35,000 bicycles.
ST: To what degree is SRAM involved these days?
Rebecca: SRAM will always be the roots of World Bicycle Relief. They continue to be our largest corporate donor and everyone at SRAM really embraces and supports our mission. World Bicycle Relief headquarters are stationed within the SRAM offices in Chicago and the marketing and sponsorship teams at SRAM are always looking for innovative ways to support us. We are definitely separate organizations but we were born from their goodwill. As you might have seen at Interbike last year, SRAM asked artists around the country to participate in their pART Project. Artists built sculptures from bike parts that were in turn auctioned in our benefit. The SRAM office in San Luis Obispo recently hosted a bicycle Poker Run to raise funds and a group of SRAM staff set up a neat swag giveaway at a big bike race in California.
ST: Who are some of the athlete ambassadors you work with and do you come to them or do they come to you?
Rebecca: Yes – I love this question! So as I mentioned at the start we just launched out brand new Team WBR. We are really excited about our list of athlete ambassadors and eager to continue building our community of supporters. Many of our athletes come to us looking for ways to get involved and Team WBR is now the perfect way to give these athletes a solid platform to use their athleticism. Jordan has been our #1 ambassador from the start and we are really excited to announce that Mirinda Carfrae has officially joined our team this week! On the cycling side we work closely with a couple of the Radio Shack Nissan Trek riders – Chris Horner and Ben King – while we’ve had support from countless other pros willing to lend their time and name: Taylor Phinney, Tim O’Donnell, Tejay Van Garderen, Michellie Jones, Christian VandeVelde, Ted King, Danny Pate, Alex Howes, the entire Optum Pro Cycling Team… Our goal is to get more people out there racing in the World Bicycle Relief kit, wearing our Team WBR t-shirt and provide a bit of purpose to their training.
ST: That is quite an impressive roster.
Rebecca: We are so grateful for all of our athlete ambassadors. I’ll say it again – athletes inspire people so we really value this group of individuals. Our celebrity ambassadors are the driving force of Team WBR but I get even more excited when I see an age-grouper or recreational cyclist wearing our kit. I raced at the Kansas 70.3 a couple weeks ago in my WBR tri kit and went bananas when I saw a fellow teammate on course rocking the WBR singlet. I saw him twice on the run and even though it was like 100 degrees and I was melting I got this massive surge of energy and pride every time I saw him. It feels amazing to race for an organization you are passionate about.
ST: Are there plans to grow this group?
Rebecca: 100%. We are accepting new Team WBR members every day. Team membership is low commitment – a $35 membership fee gets you our awesome red Team WBR t-shirt, a WBR jersey bin to keep your phone/cash dry on runs and ride, as well as our Grassroots Toolkits – a packet of info, videos and other resources – plus a personal online fundraising page to help you share your efforts and garner donations.
ST: Anything else we should know?
Rebecca: I could go on forever so I’ll leave it at that. I’m happy to answer any questions if the slowtwitch community has any thing for me. Feel free to shoot me an email at rmuch at worldbicyclerelief dot org and check out our sweet new video with Rinny at worldbicyclerelief.org/team. And finally, thank you guys so much for supporting World Bicycle Relief over the years, we love you!