Bikes for the World

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The eBox Beginning: From Namibia to Madagascar

Michael Linke (back) with the crew at Walvis Bay
So where did this Malagasy idea of an 'eBox' come from? None other than BfW partner BEN Namibia (BENN) and founder Michael Linke. In fact it's BENN's model and training that made the bike enterprise 'box' come to life in Madagascar through overseeing partner Transaid.

After Transaid identified the need for a motivating, sustainable project to compliment the health initiatives in Menabe, the idea of bikes and repair was a natural fit. And they looked to BENN, who has been running successful bike co-op shops for nearly a decade, for guidance.

TKMOAMS eBox crew with Michael Linke and Madagascar visitors
Two years ago these minds got together and laid out a plan to bring the eBox idea to Madagascar. Michael visited Madagascar and key players from the MAHEFA program in Madagascar paid BENN a visit to see the eBox in action.

Together, these two groups created the Malagasy eBox system, which looked a whole lot like BENN's eBox genius. BfW was quick to jump on board to help support the effort in Madagascar knowing first hand the success in Namibia.

BENN established their first official eBox (known then as a BEC, Bicycle Empowerment Centre) in December of 2006.  This is also the first year BfW and BENN joined forces. Since then, BfW has donated nearly 2,000 bikes to Namibia in support of this program.

Gloria rides by local eBox
An eBox is a shipping container filled with about 350 bikes, spare parts, and tools which BENN delivers and positions in rural communities around Namibia. They are run as small businesses that often times become the hub of the community.

In addition to the tangible components of a bike shop, BENN also provides training to new mechanics and business skills essential to running a successful business.

What began as solely a 'bike business' has grown into much more over the last decade. Many of the established eBoxes provide funding to other organizations and community run efforts through income from bike sales. The eBoxes are supporting health care workers, feeding children, and providing jobs and transportation in areas where cars are scarce.

Solar power station. Photo: Elephant Energy
And it's no longer just about the bike. Elephant Energy introduced the idea of the powerful FREE solar service to communities around Namibia. EBoxes now also sell solar powered devices and travel around promoting the idea of using the sun to power items like lights and even cell phones.

Through other partnerships, like Elephant Energy, eBoxes now supply a range of goods and services to the community, outside of 'just bikes'. This prompted BENN to change the name of these entrepreneurial shops from BECs, less emphasis on just BICYCLES, to eBoxes, more emphasis on ENTERPRISE and growth.

Miandrivazo container shipped thru BfW
Back to Madagascar. In 2015, BfW sent the shipping container seen in this photo (left) to the co-op eBox known as Miandrivazo. The container was packed with bikes, tools, and spare parts to help get this co-op off the ground and rolling. Just this month a second container arrived in Madagascar from BfW.

And, as in Namibia, this newly formed bike business is already doing more than just selling bikes. It's creating jobs, incentives for health workers, and even planting the seed (pun intended) for new business ideas. Plans are already in the works for this community to start diversified businesses ranging from selling rice, fish, and vegetables.

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