Few corporations have taken the old 'Charity begins at home' chestnut to heart quite like confectionary company Cadbury and their clever Bicycle Factory initiative, which gives bikes to middle school children in Ghana to help ease their daily commute to school.
When things are good in Ghana -- which produces the cocoa Cadbury turns into chocolate for worldwide sale and which is 49 percent rurally based, according to CARE Ghana -- then things are good at Cadbury.
And while it's easy to be cynical about the altruistic efforts of major corporations, which inevitably fetch tax breaks and positive PR blowback, Cadbury's ongoing Bicycle Factory campaign is so grassroots it's palpably sincere.
The initiative has profound impact not only on the children who receive the bikes but on their entire communities, a point illustrated in a 2010 documentary about the program called Wheels of Change. Now in its fourth year -- and about to achieve a total tally of roughly 18,000 donated bikes -- Cadbury's Bicycle Factory project has new successes to holler about.
For one thing, it's now easier for consumers to help "build" the bikes, which are customized for the terrain (one speed, sturdier construction based on anecdotal feedback). Formerly, product UPC codes had to be entered at a micro-site, every 100 of which purchased an actual bike.
This year, no consumer purchase is necessary -- site visitors simply choose a favourite virtual gum or candy product, drag it through a portal icon and "release" it into Africa. As before, 100 bike parts create one actual bicycle. The 2012 initiative is on now until the end of July and again includes a contest to send one "bicycle builder" and a guest to Ghana to witness the handover.
And plans are afoot to equip Ghanaian teachers with bicycles as well, similarly sparing them the tiring and time-consuming daily walk to schools.
"That idea was based on feedback I personally got when I was in Ghana," offers Aditi Burman, senior corporate promotions manager with Kraft Canada, Cadbury's parent, who has twice been to Ghana to see the initiative in action.
"In many cases, teachers are also walking two hours every day to school which got us wondering what sort of impact giving bikes to teachers would have; whether it would mean a more alert teacher for her 40 students. So this year, we have secondary prizes available on the website. You can enter to win one of 20 Dorel Mountain Bikes and every consumer that wins a bike gets to 'give' a bike to one of the teachers.
"We work with NGOs on the ground in Ghana -- World Vision Ghana, CARE and others -- and to make it manageable, we deliver roughly 5,000 bikes to about 150, 200 villages per year, primarily our cocoa-growing communities," Burman tells Samaritanmag.
"The difference it makes is remarkable; kids get to school quicker and feeling less tired, and the time they previously devoted to walking to school can be used instead for chores and errands to help the family which in turn helps entire communities.
"We are so committed to this program that we're already talking about next year. Bikes are a simple thing Canadians take for granted for fun and fresh air but in the developing world, a bike means so much more."Nike Air Zoom Pegasus