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May 25, 2021

This week we sit down with Kemi King, Director of Philanthropy for World Bicycle Relief. World Bicycle Relief is an international, non-profit organization based in Chicago, IL that specializes in large-scale, comprehensive bicycle distribution programs to aid poverty relief in developing countries around the world. Their programs focus primarily on education, economic development, and health care.

World Bicycle Relief -- Donate to support my team

The Ridership Forum 

Automated Transcription (Please excuse the typos)

[00:00:00] Craig Dalton: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the gravel ride podcast. I'm your host Craig Dalton.  

[00:00:05] This week on the podcast, I'm thrilled to have Kemi king from world bicycle relief. join the show.

[00:00:12] If you're not already familiar with world bicycle relief, it's an amazing 15 year old non-profit that has delivered over 500,000 bikes to those in need around the world. 

[00:00:24]I'm very excited for you to get to know a little bit more about world bicycle relief from Kemi, and also hear about their ride on June 5th, the pedal to empower ride it's something, regardless of where you are in the world, you can get involved in. As well as three in-person events around the country that we'll get into. Stick around until the end of the podcast Cause we've got a special announcement about how local gravel riders in the bay area can get involved.

[00:00:52]Ordinarily, this would be where I ask for your support of the podcast. But today I'd prefer that you go over to world bicycle and contribute to what they're doing.

[00:01:03] As you'll learn from Kemi every $147, and that's a new bike for someone in need. So let's get together and support this great cause. With all that said let's dive right in to my discussion with Kemi.


[00:01:18]   Kemi welcome to the show.

[00:01:20] Kemi King: [00:01:20] Hey, thank you so much, Craig. Thanks for having me. And I'm excited to, to chat.

[00:01:25] Craig Dalton: [00:01:25] I'm really excited to learn more about world bicycle relief and it was super [00:01:30] fortuitous that I ran into one of your contributors on the trail a couple of weeks ago, and learned about the upcoming events you have.

[00:01:37] So super excited to dig into that, but before we get started, let's just find out a little bit about your background and how you got involved in cycling and. Ultimately joining the world bicycle relief team.

[00:01:49] Kemi King: [00:01:49] Sure. It actually all started during a tough period of my life. I personally embraced cycling as a positive force and I wholeheartedly understand really how a bicycle can change everything.

[00:02:00] And I think a lot of the listeners here can relate to that. For me, it really was profound. I went from a really unhappy overweight lounger to an, a joyful elite cyclist in three short years. I at that time founded a women's pro road team and found myself training and racing among some of the world's strongest people on earth.

[00:02:22]I had been a supporter and kind of long time. Donor for world bicycle relief and was thrilled to take on the role of director of philanthropy for the Western us and Canada, just about two years ago. And now I get to support their mission daily and spend some of my time training and looking for that next extreme challenge, whether it's on a road or dirt.

[00:02:47] Craig Dalton: [00:02:47] First off what an amazing journey into cycling. And I think as you noted, a lot of our listeners have mimic that same story back to me that the bicycle has been really transformational in some element of their [00:03:00] life. So it's really exciting to hear you say that and really excited to learn that you've changed that.

[00:03:05] You've fueled that passion into a career first founding a cycling program, the racing program, and later finding world bicycle relief. Can you tell us about world bicycle relief and what the focus is?

[00:03:19] Kemi King: [00:03:19] Sure. Yeah. World bicycle relief or WBR as we like to shorten it because it's a mouthful was founded in 2005 by FK day.

[00:03:28] One of the founders of Ceram and Liam is buck day, a documentary photographer in response to the tsunami in the Indian ocean. And they want it to be able to provide some support to the people in Sri Lanka. So they quickly rounded up as many bicycles they could and traveled to Sri Lanka to distribute them and through the beautiful stories that Lee Leah captured.

[00:03:52] And the time that they were able to spend just meeting with the people and capturing all that information, they brought back this this. Devastation to light to the rest of the world. And they quickly learned that their work would not end there so together with support from Ceram and other industry leaders FK and Leah designed a rugged, especially design and locally assembled Buffalo bicycle and launched.

[00:04:19] World bicycle relief to mobilize and empower people with bicycles to help them conquer the challenge of distance, achieve independence and thrive. Over the past 15 years, [00:04:30] we've distributed more than 550,000 Buffalo bicycles to students, healthcare workers and entrepreneurs across Africa, south America, Southeast Asia.

[00:04:41] It's a sustainable and scalable program. That's led by strong infrastructure of trained local mechanics, assemblers and supervisor supervisory committees.

[00:04:52] Craig Dalton: [00:04:52] There's a lot to unpack there. I have a question, when they first saw the tsunami disaster, was there something they knew specifically that the bicycle could change in that community?

[00:05:03] Obviously, people were throwing money at it, but throwing bicycles at it was probably a unique proposition at that moment. Yeah, it

[00:05:10] Kemi King: [00:05:10] really was. They just, they knew that people couldn't get from place to place. Everything had been completely destroyed. And the only thing that kind of couldn't make its way through any of the roads or the destruction was a bicycle.

[00:05:22]And they were able to quickly provide some of that.

[00:05:25] Craig Dalton: [00:05:25] You mentioned the specifically designed Buffalo bicycles, which some of the listeners may have seen pictures of, but can you describe why it's important? The sort of important elements of the design, and I know you alluded to them being locally assembled and some of the local infrastructure that probably revolves around having the exact same bike in every project you're involved in.

[00:05:47] It

[00:05:47] Kemi King: [00:05:47] actually came from some exploration in the field. We, we believe that all answers are found in the field. And as our team was spending time in Africa, they were looking at these what they called bicycle shaped [00:06:00] objects, and they were bicycles that were falling apart that weren't actually fulfilling the needs that the people using them were required, were requiring.

[00:06:09] So they decided that something had to be created. That was a little bit more sturdy and a little bit more capable of hauling loads up to 250 pounds and working in that That area of where the train was a little bit more rugged. So they created the Buffalo bicycle and it is one, one size fits all.

[00:06:30] It's one bicycle. It has all the same parts and pieces we have about 2,500 mechanics in the field that service those bicycles and shops that locally that assemble the bicycles to distribute and keep those bikes up and running.

[00:06:46] Craig Dalton: [00:06:46] So I've seen pictures of people riding with multiple family members on the back or big loads of maybe they're the wears that they've had from a farm or something to transport.

[00:06:56] So it sounds like it's a very utilitarian bike that can serve a lot of different purposes.

[00:07:02] Kemi King: [00:07:02] It can, it's a, it's something that's amazing that just this bicycle. Helps those, access medical care, they get farmers and produce and milk to the markets. And. Pile on the kids to get them to school.

[00:07:17]Craig Dalton: [00:07:17] So it's been a 15 year journey and presumably the organization has continued to grow both in its size and impact over the year. Had there been any changes, obviously with the global pandemic, have there [00:07:30] been any changes in your plans or execution across the world? Yeah,

[00:07:34] Kemi King: [00:07:34] so much has happened obviously in 2020 with COVID and we were able to transition a little bit last year to provide 2,500 bicycles for COVID 19 response, pretty immediately. As COVID hit and we distributed still 40,000 bicycles last year hitting our historic 500,000. Along the way, we also launched our 21st program country in Columbia. So even though last year had some.

[00:08:02] Crazy times. We still were able to take care of some of those needs and focus on, some immediate needs at hand with

[00:08:10] Craig Dalton: [00:08:10] COVID. Yeah. I have to imagine a lot of these bikes are being used in unexpected and new ways to help support, PR potentially getting vaccinations out or certainly servicing the health needs of rural communities.

[00:08:23] Kemi King: [00:08:23] Yeah, just livelihood needs to find food and other things in those areas as well.

[00:08:28] Craig Dalton: [00:08:28] You mentioned Columbia as being the 21st program and that's in south America are the majority of programs across Africa or what territories have you been addressing?

[00:08:38] Kemi King: [00:08:38] Yeah, most of the programs are in Africa who found that the largest need was there.

[00:08:43]But there's definitely need. All over the world. Like I've mentioned, we've been in Sri Lanka, we've opened up into Columbia. We had some really unique partnerships that allowed us to open up there. We also are working on a multi-carrier drive training, which will open up a few more [00:09:00] opportunities and allowing us to distribute In areas where there might be a few more Hills

[00:09:04]Craig Dalton: [00:09:04] co Columbia may qualify as one of those countries.

[00:09:08] Kemi King: [00:09:08] Yes. Yes. At the moment we're focusing on some flat areas, but definitely has has its needs with the Hills.

[00:09:15] Craig Dalton: [00:09:15] Like when you introduce a program into a country, is it critical that you build on the ground infrastructure to support the bicycle as you're delivering.

[00:09:24] Kemi King: [00:09:24] Yes. Yeah. We've got programmed facilities now in bettering Kia, Colombia, where we've got a team that supports a warehouse and provides the assembly and the mechanics that are needed for that area.

[00:09:37] And as we can distribute around those areas and spread our little bicycles throughout the country He had some really interesting programming there's of course, with COVID things have been shut down a little bit more and schools have been closed. So our programming has been a touch different, but now the need to get back into school is dire.

[00:09:58] And I'll touch a little bit more on that as we go as well.

[00:10:00] Craig Dalton: [00:10:00] Yeah, that'd be great to talk about where WBR is today and in 2021, what are the kind of key need areas that you guys are trying to address?

[00:10:10] Kemi King: [00:10:10] Yeah. As we look at what's happened and where we are, the odds against women and girls in developing regions actually have amplified over the past year.

[00:10:20] That's where a large focus of ours will be because 47 million women have been pushed into extreme poverty. And about 10 million [00:10:30] additional child brain brides have happened over this past decade, 11 million girls won't return to school this year. So with the pandemic, it's created short and long-term challenges for our communities.

[00:10:43]While I, as the world's eyes ways to open back up, we need to ensure that those programs aren't left behind provide opportunities to ensure that they can rebound and thrive.

[00:10:54]Craig Dalton: [00:10:54] How is the organization funded to do all this work?

[00:10:58]Kemi King: [00:10:58] We've got a couple of different ways, obviously. We look for donors support too.

[00:11:03]Everyone and anyone, we get some corporate partnerships. We have major donors and grassroots donors. Everyone that's willing to give whatever they can. We also do have some social inner enterprise programs with our Buffalo bicycles. So Buffalo bicycles is its own entity that allows us to provide.

[00:11:24] Purchase programs for entrepreneurs. We also have other additional programs that will purchase the bicycles from us and distribute themselves UNICEF being one of those. We've got several other partners within Africa that purchase the bicycles and distribute as well. So we have a couple of different ways of bringing those those dollars into the organization.

[00:11:44] Craig Dalton: [00:11:44] So when you referenced micro entrepreneurs that might purchase Buffalo bikes, are those people in these countries who have pass some certification and are looking to finance, bringing bikes into the country and distributing them.

[00:11:56] Kemi King: [00:11:56] We've got a little bit of that.

[00:11:57]We also have just, people that [00:12:00] come in to purchase the bike save their pennies and purchase a bike for one 47. Each bike costs $147. And they're eager to come in and make their own purchase. We've got small companies that purchase bikes. We actually had quite a few security companies purchasing bikes through COVID to get individuals to different areas or even into work.

[00:12:20]So yeah, it was interesting to see the growth on that social enterprise side of the program.

[00:12:26] Craig Dalton: [00:12:26] That's super interesting. You mentioned quite frequently Just the efforts you're making towards helping women around the world. And I think you've got a new program that you recently launched on that subject.

[00:12:39] Yeah,

[00:12:40] Kemi King: [00:12:40] actually as this errors are a new women on wheels program, we'll we'll be launching and that is to help these women build their businesses care for the sick reach school on time, serve the community, avoid harassment advocate for girls. Increase their incomes. There's a whole list of different things that these women are continuing to do by breaking boundaries and serving their communities.

[00:13:06] So we've got this longstanding relationship with people and partners in the field who have first hand experienced what is needed to drive those meaning that meaningful change. We've proven repeatedly and recently, without response to that, to the pandemic outreach, we're positioned now with our Buffalo bicycles to lead on more programming and hope to bring in more [00:13:30] communities where we can mobilize.

[00:13:32] Craig Dalton: [00:13:32] Is that an initiative that you're fundraising for specifically, or do you tend to fundraise as an umbrella organization and then fund the different initiatives internally as makes

[00:13:41] Kemi King: [00:13:41] sense. We do both. We do focus some interesting campaigns each year on a specific area. So this is really focusing on our women on wheels and how we can message around focusing just these funds on providing that that need for women.

[00:13:58]I there's so many different stories of how those women's lives have changed. One of my favorites, I'll just start sharing a couple of stories. Dull Shawnee was actually one of our very first recipients in Sri Lanka to receive a bicycle and it allowed her to go to school and become a nurse.

[00:14:16] And my favorite part about devil's Johnny's bike is that 10 years later, her sister used that same bike to travel to school. Amazing. Amazing. We've also got ion, which she's one of my favorites because there's a video of hers and there's so many amazing videos on our website. I would, invite the listeners to go onto the websites, see the pictures and stories, watch the videos, but she is.

[00:14:44] Started in one of the videos and it starts with her saying when I'm stressed out, I just take my bicycle and go for a ride. It's amazing. I just feel I'm not even in this world. I don't know how to explain it, but it's just the best [00:15:00] feeling I can. Anyone can experience in his or her life. And as we were talking before, so many of our listeners can feel that exact same way.

[00:15:08] I think I know that I do. I can't even believe I said that without getting choked up because she's been just. Inspirational. She's been inspirational to her community as well as the girls have met her. She's actually the first Muslim girl in that community to receive a bicycle. And as she was riding to school, the other girls realized, oh my gosh, she could ride bikes.

[00:15:31] She can, she's just like us. And she loves riding a bike as well. And those friendships were started. And as. As they were able to become friends and continue writing, they set aside some differences, which at this time in this world right now is one of the best things we can ask for.

[00:15:49] Craig Dalton: [00:15:49] Yeah. That's so amazing.

[00:15:50] It's and it is such a universal sentiment. As you said, we so often on the podcast talk about how the gravel bike allows us to explore and get out of our daily lives and how. We've all made connections with other athletes solely because we see someone next to us riding and you don't think about what their race is, what their sex is, where they're from, what they do for a living.

[00:16:15] All is them pedaling up the same hell. You're paddling up with a smile on their face. And it's just an easy way to make connections.

[00:16:22] Kemi King: [00:16:22] Absolutely. And that's, we're seeing it so many places with our distribution to that. They're experiencing that too. Not [00:16:30] only are these bikes changing their lives for, other various reasons for, providing food for their families or extra income, or just getting to school, but they're loving riding those bikes, which we do too.

[00:16:42] And nothing else matters.

[00:16:44] Craig Dalton: [00:16:44] Very true. Very true. So you're just drilling in a little bit more. You had mentioned a bicycle costs $147. Is that the amount that if one were to want to donate. $147 is what they should donate in order to. Believe that they've purchased one bike for someone in need.

[00:17:02] Kemi King: [00:17:02] Yep. One by one 47.

[00:17:05] Of course. That may be a lot to ask of someone and $10 is awesome. Any, anything we'll obviously help, but that one 47 does provide that one bicycle too. Person I need. That's

[00:17:17] Craig Dalton: [00:17:17] really cool. So this is an exciting moment in time where we'll air this in may and in early June, you've got one of your bigger kind of global outreach programs going on that may help some listeners drive towards that being a date.

[00:17:31] They're gonna donate some money to w BR can you talk about what's going on June 5th?

[00:17:37] Kemi King: [00:17:37] Yeah. Yeah. So June 5th We've decided it should be our global world bicycle relief ride that we call pedal to empower. And this is to celebrate, obviously our women on wheels campaign that we'll be running and to celebrate world bicycle day.

[00:17:55] And for those of you who aren't aware of possibly June 3rd has been [00:18:00] made world bicycle day, obviously to celebrate bicycles as a simple, affordable, reliable, and environmentally sustainable. Mode of transportation. So we've thought what better way than to celebrate that day and our own day of, creating hopefully what we could call a global movement of participation to pedal to empower.

[00:18:23] And our focus obviously is now to pedal, to empower women and girls as we try to get those needs Of getting the girls back into school. Mostly

[00:18:31] Craig Dalton: [00:18:31] WBR done these types of rides before. I feel like over the last few years, I've seen friends in the community host rides where they just doing that on their own, or was that a coordinated kind of

[00:18:41] Kemi King: [00:18:41] effort?

[00:18:42] We actually have hosted rides annually here, especially in the bay area. There's been one or two rides, one often in mill valley. Couple of down in the peninsula. And last year we decided that we wanted to create. A little bit larger scale ride and hopefully make this global impact COVID hit and transitions happened with everybody and we went for a virtual ride.

[00:19:06] And what was great about that is it allowed us to create this virtual ride that can happen everywhere every year. We did change the date from last year sheer. It was the ride happened to September. In hopes that we could really take advantage of that June 3rd world bicycle day, and really target that and celebrate that at the same time.

[00:19:27] So yeah, this year has moved to June [00:19:30] 5th and we're very excited to be able to. Provide that virtual event, what we're calling a DIY adventure, you can sign up, register for that DIY adventure and take advantage of the pedal to empower app that we provide as well. There'll be a few challenges so you can get, create something or create your own.

[00:19:52]I know there's 160 mile challenge for anyone that wants to get a little bit crazy. And a few other little ones involving. Your kids or writers in the community that, may not be hardcore writers, like. Many of us. And so there's that kind of stuff. Solo option, where you can create that DIY adventure and that's in hopes that we can really get some global limbo.

[00:20:13]We'd like to see a thousand participants in all 50 states, across 35 countries, we'd love to see a million plus in so social media and that registration is free and it allows us to track towards our goals. Go on the website pedal to and register. Join us, create your own DIY adventure.

[00:20:35]There's a couple options. If you want to take it a next step up there's a option to host or join a team where you could organize a group locally, invite your friends, family, coworkers. We've got toolkits to provide for the team captains to help. Guide through some fundraising options.

[00:20:52]If you were interested in that and not option and then exciting to have returned this year, some in-person [00:21:00] rides and there'll be small events. We're trying to keep in mind the local protocols and the concerns of in-person events right now. And those are planned for New York, Chicago, and the bay area.

[00:21:13] So we would love to see, Anyone that wants to join us in those areas. They are road rides, road events, but we could get a little creative with the gravel.

[00:21:22] Craig Dalton: [00:21:22] Nice. Nice. The New York city ride, is that sort of starting in Manhattan or is it outside yourself?

[00:21:28] Kemi King: [00:21:28] In Tarrytown. Okay. So yeah, you'll see those familiar with that area.

[00:21:34]We'll be in in Tarrytown.

[00:21:36]Craig Dalton: [00:21:36] And then how about

[00:21:37] Kemi King: [00:21:37] Chicago? Hold please.

[00:21:39]Craig Dalton: [00:21:39] I didn't mean to put you on the spot. So

[00:21:42]Kemi King: [00:21:42] it's the Chicago north shore. I apologize. This is what I should know. It's starting from the community house. For those that might be familiar with that area and these details can be found on our website too.

[00:21:53] As you click to register, there's the options for the DIY ride and then farther down, you'll see, join the Chicago ride the New York or the bay area. And Being local in the bay area, one I'm all over that one. I know where that one is. And can give you the details. It will be starting in mill valley at

[00:22:11] Craig Dalton: [00:22:11] floodwater.

[00:22:12] Add water for the local listeners in a newish restaurant. Attached to the holiday Inn express, as you enter mill valley. Yes.

[00:22:21] Kemi King: [00:22:21] Floodwater is where we will be. We've got all the waters here, so which we will be riding and seeing all the beautiful waters as we take the routes

[00:22:28] Craig Dalton: [00:22:28] here. That'd be perfect.

[00:22:29]It's [00:22:30] an easy ride in from San Francisco. That's right off the bike path as a starting point. And I, I've been so excited. About learning more about world bicycle relief and wanting to contribute what I wanted to offer. If you're game is I'll lead any local gravel riders on a gravel route where we'll try to aim to a similar destination as the road group, but we'll take an off-road off-road route, certainly on the climbing aspects and then circle around and end up at floodwater to meet everybody post dried.

[00:23:04] Kemi King: [00:23:04] That would be awesome. And we can make sure we arrange and lead your group off on a separate adventure.

[00:23:10] Craig Dalton: [00:23:10] Yeah. So if you're interested in that, obviously we're mostly gravel cyclists. Although we do dabble on the road here on the podcast, definitely register for the event. Look for details either directly from me, or if you're in the ridership forum, I'll be posting there.

[00:23:25] We'll pick a time to start that ride. They're going to, as I understand it, Kemi, you're going to have multiple different rollout times for the shorter version and the longer version of the road, correct?

[00:23:36] Kemi King: [00:23:36] Yes. Yeah. We're going to have staggered times that all of the locations where you can even pick a time that works with your group or the, the kind of our communities are pretty strong in each city and there's different.

[00:23:46]Groups that love to connect with each other and find each other again. So we're hoping that they'll self-select and start those times, obviously, mostly to keep this, a distance scene a little bit hard still and

[00:23:59] Craig Dalton: [00:23:59] yeah. [00:24:00] And just for clarity writers should bring their own sort of nutritional supplies and water for the ride.

[00:24:07] Yeah.

[00:24:07] Kemi King: [00:24:07] We will have actually some aid stations along the way. I'm happy to have Rafa supporting those actually in each of our locations. So the longer rides we'll have an aid station, the shorter route may not have that, but we will have sag support. So there will be a kind of food and water and drinks along the way if needed.

[00:24:25] There'll definitely be some setup at the beginning to to pack your pockets and have stuff

[00:24:29] Craig Dalton: [00:24:29] ready. Okay, great. As I think about designing a route, I'll try to get from you where that aid station might be. I've got a couple ideas on how to get over the mountain, where we might encounter some water.

[00:24:39] So everybody is safely hydrated and fueled up for the

[00:24:42] Kemi King: [00:24:42] day. Wonderful. Yeah, I can definitely get that aligned for

[00:24:45] Craig Dalton: [00:24:45] you. This is going to be a lot of fun. I was really excited to learn more about world bicycle relief. It's so amazing. The impact you've described such a relatively small amount of money. When we think about all the expensive bikes that are out there in the world, that $147.

[00:25:04] Can really trans transform someone's live overseas. So it's such a great cause. And I appreciate you giving us an overview of it.

[00:25:12] Kemi King: [00:25:12] Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure to be here and to be able to chat about it.

[00:25:16]Craig Dalton: [00:25:16] So that's it for this week's edition of the gravel ride podcast. Thank you for spending part of your week with us this week. As we just mentioned on June 5th is the pedal to empower ride. Please go over to [00:25:30] world bicycle and make a donation today

[00:25:33]As you've learned your donation will have an outsized impact on someone's life. If you're interested in joining me in mill valley on June 5th. For the dirt version of the world, bicycle relief ride. 

[00:25:47]Please head on over to the or follow me on social media as I'll be posting details as to when to meet and how to register for the event. Until next time, here's the finding some dirt onto your wheels.