By founding the job-creation-project DRAHTESEL, including the bicycles-for-Africa-project VELAFRICA, Paolo Richter had the chance to fulfill a personal dream. He was privileged to grow those projects from small workshops to recognized social enterprises, together with a dedicated team. So far, the lives of over 700,000 people have been improved through affordable bicycle-mobility. In 2009 Paolo was honoured as a Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year. He holds a Masters degree in Social Work and a Masters degree in Management and Innovation.
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Gump- & Drahtesel, Bicycles for Africa
As part of the Drahtesel project, Velafrica has been collecting disused bicycles in Switzerland and has been exporting them to partners in sub-Saharan Africa. With more than 200,000 bicycles shipped to Ghana, Eritrea, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Tanzania and Madagascar, Velafrica has a remarkable track-record and, with 24,000 bicycles shipped per year, one of the leading agencies for recycled bicycles worldwide.
Its approach based on cooperation with recognized social institutions in Switzerland to provide work for people without employment or with psychological or physical impairments has been an important pillar of its activities. In the South, the recycled bicycles enable direct partners (producers, wholesalers) and their retailers to generate income, create new employment opportunities and vocational training for youth in the field of bicycle assembly, repair and distribution. The bicycles themselves impact livelihoods. They improve local access to education, healthcare and economic opportunities.
The importance and utility of Velafrica's bicycles is profound as demonstrated by two impact studies conducted in 2013 that show bicycles to be a key prerequisite for the social and economic development of poor households. In developing regions in Africa, however, cheap forms of transport are scarce. The recycled and sturdy bicycles are an affordable alternative. These promising realities and the scope of Velafrica's activities are remarkable, yet only a drop in the ocean. For more than 80% of people – particularly in rural areas – walking is still the most prevalent mode of transport. Increasing the number of bicycles is therefore a desirable and necessary step. For its achievements, the Schwab Foundation rewarded Velafrica with the Swiss Social Entrepreneurship Award. In 2015, the Ashoka Foundation selected Velafrica to be part of the Swiss Changemakers Programme.