Paolo Richter

Gump- & Drahtesel, Bicycles for Africa
Year founded: 

Gump- & Drahtesel helps unemployed people reintegrate into the labour market in Switzerland by recycling old bicycles for Africa.

Focus: Unemployment, Rural Development, Environmental Sustainability
Geographic area of impact: Switzerland, Africa
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 123’000 (13’000 in 2012)
Annual Budget: US$ 5.7 million (2013)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 88%
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Switzerland, 2009

As in most industrialized countries, unemployment is a major concern in Switzerland, with long-term unemployment often resulting in social exclusion and stigmatization. In Africa unemployment rates are even higher. Through better mobility services people in rural regions can gain better access to jobs and the supply system. Sustainable, low-cost and CO2-free mobility is a key driver of development.

Innovation and Activities
Paolo Richter turned his hobby of collecting and restoring old bicycles into one of the most respected work integration programmes in the Swiss canton of Bern. Currently, 850 unemployed people are working in his bicycle and metal workshops, receiving professional training to reintegrate into the labour market.

Many people working with Gump- & Drahtesel have gone through various employment reintegration programmes, but failed all too often. However, Richter's company gives them time and support to develop, offering a range of job opportunities, from bicycle mechanics to retail shop assistants, all of which allow for personal training and professional development. People stay from six weeks to six months within the firm.

As part of Gump- & Drahtesel’s Bicycles for Africa (Velos für Afrika) , old or unused bicycles are collected throughout Switzerland and transported to Bern to be restored. Around 12,000 bikes per year are then shipped to Africa to be sold by local partners at affordable prices, while a few bikes are sold in Switzerland to generate funds for the project. Gump- & Drahtesel has developed networks in Switzerland and Africa to collect and distribute the bikes. The bicycles guarantee low-cost and CO2-free mobility, enabling people in Africa to get to work and earn a living. The exported bikes also help people in rural areas to reach schools, health centres, water supplies and fields, and result in a contribution toward poverty reduction. Gump- & Drahtesel is also developing “tricycles”, a three-wheel vehicle that can be operated by hand, to enable transport for handicapped people. These are very stable and suited to the needs and conditions in Africa.

In addition to shipping restored bicycles to Africa, Gump- & Drahtesel manufactures unique products made from bicycle spare parts for the Swiss market. These objects, such as lamps, paper clips, decoration and jewellery, are sold in the Pico Bollo shop in Bern to support the African business and offer work experience for unemployed people in Switzerland.

The Entrepreneur
During his studies Paolo Richter worked as an intern on a social living project. It was here that he came up with the idea to apply his private passion for restoring old bicycles into a project for unemployed people. Within months the project was up and running. By chance a friend from Ghana stopped by and saw the pile of bicycles, and thus began the partnership with Africa.