On 24 October 2019, Qhubeka Charity celebrated an important milestone as it distributed the 100 000th bicycle to programme recipients. Qhubeka is a charity that moves people forward with bicycles, helping to improve access to schools, clinics and jobs. Established in 2005, it has been distributing bicycles through learn-to-earn and work-to-earn programmes since.
“Although we feel like 100 000 bicycles has been a long time coming, we have learned so much along the way, and tailored our strategy accordingly to help impact as many people’s lives as possible,” says Qhubeka Executive Director Tsatsi Phaweni.
Qhubeka’s story began around 14 years ago, when IT entrepreneur Anthony Fitzhenry set out to fund computer centres for schoolchildren in poorer communities. These centres did not have the impact envisioned, however. Upon discussing the reasons for this with local educators, Anthony discovered that the children’s biggest challenge was their lack of personal transport.
“They told me that most of the children had to walk long distances to get to schools, libraries or community centres,” he recalls. “I realised that if we could improve children’s mobility, we could improve their access to education.” And so, the idea for Qhubeka Charity was born.
Anthony founded Qhubeka as a corporate social investment project, and it has grown to become an international standalone charity, headquartered in South Africa, with supporters around the world, a limited company in the UK (Qhubeka UK), and a fully-fledged bicycle manufacturing subsidiary, Real Bicycle Co. (RBC).
“One of the key reasons for our success has been the far-reaching vision that Anthony had,” says Phaweni. “He has always spoken about the need to touch millions of people’s lives. That’s still our mission. We started by providing children with bicycles through our learn-to-earn programmes, helping them to travel faster and further, and to carry more. This means they can get to and from school in a third of the time (as compared to walking), carry their school supplies more easily, and enjoy more time in their day for homework, sport and play.”
Later, Qhubeka added work-to-earn programmes for adults and disaster relief programmes to help serve communities in the wake of a crisis.
“Over the past few years, we have concentrated our efforts into specific regions,” Fitzhenry explains. “We call these our Qhubeka SHIFT areas. A SHIFT is a Qhubeka bicycle project that aims to distribute 5 000 bicycles per year into a specific geographic area for five years, with the aim of helping to SHIFT the entire community forward. Instead of spreading our bicycle programmes across more towns and villages, we are aiming to create more effective and lasting change within the areas in which we work.”
For example, when Qhubeka partners with a school, it works to “fill” each one, so that no child is without a bicycle. This ensures no child misses out and will help to shift entire communities forward by creating a critical mass of bicycle users – a new generation of South Africans whose lives have been changed with bicycles.
Another important development along Qhubeka’s journey has been moving from sourcing its bicycles to manufacturing them via RBC. This allows the organisation to support job creation and enterprise development in Southern Africa, as well as giving it oversight and control of its full supply chain.
“All these developments have helped us to build a strong foundation for Qhubeka, as well as long-term partnerships and room to grow sustainably,” says Fitzhenry. “We are now positioned well to scale, and we are looking forward to celebrating many more hundreds of thousands of bicycles distributed over the coming years. We are thankful to all our donors, fundraisers, sponsors and partners for helping us get to this milestone. We could not have done it without the individuals, organisations and communities behind us. We believe this achievement further cements our belief in community / private / public partnerships. Together, we can change more lives with bicycles.”