Last week, we introduced our latest really big idea. “You know how some doctors go all over the world to help sick people? What if gearheads did that to help people with transportation?” This week, we’re looking atsome established organizations already putting horsepower to the ground.
Before we decide how we – the gearheads – will change the world, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at what others are doing in similar veins to see what we might learn from them. I haven’t reached out to any of these organizations (yet), but just as we get a lot of new automotive ideas from seeing what others have already done, I figure this might be a good exercise.
First on the list (which is in no particular order, by the way), is Doctors Without Borders. Now, most of us have a pretty good idea what MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières, they are based in France) does – coordinate medical care to those in need around the world. With so much need in the world, how do they know when to respond? Well, according to their website:
“At its core, the purpose of humanitarian action is to save the lives and ease the suffering of people caught in acute crises, thereby restoring their ability to rebuild their lives and communities.”
What are these “acute crises,” you ask? Try armed conflicts, epidemics, malnutrition, natural disasters, and exclusion from healthcare. MSF gets involved every day, providing critical medical services to not only treat injuries, but improve the overall health of the people they serve.
MSF appears to have narrowed their focus to helping where there is the largest concentration of need; need stemming from root causes. I’m not so sure I’m ready to jump into an armed conflict, and epidemics seem a bit out of automotive scope, but malnutrition? Natural disasters? These seem like situations where access to reliable transportation would be critical. Food, medicine, supplies need to be delivered in large quantities. Could there be a need for gearhead assistance in this regard? How might transportation assistance impact people’s ability to build their lives and communities?
Next, let’s take a quick look at Engineers Without Borders. Similar to MSF, EWB members are known as the “Blueprint Brigade.” These folks apply their engineering skills to designing and implementing critical infrastructure projects for communities in need. In their words:
“EWB helps create a more stable and prosperous world by addressing people’s basic human needs, by providing necessities such as clean water, power, sanitation, and education.”
It doesn’t take too much time on the EWB site to figure out they help people by designing and building facilities for the treatment/delivery of water, electrical power generation, sanitation and education. I also noticed them building bridges, connecting people to basic services previously out of reach.
By making it easier for people to live healthy lives, EWB enables them to spend more time improving their quality of life. This is making change sustainable for the long term. How might transportation assistance be like a bridge?
Speaking of sustainability, it’s not long before any of these transportation needs make their way back to thoughts of pedal-powered mobility. Enter Bikes Without Borders. In their own words:
1) BWB consults with communities and community-based organizations to assess unique local needs, develop bike-related solutions to those needs, and implement programs that realize those solutions.
Example: design + develop a bike rental program for farmers in rural Peru, using bikes donated by communities in Canada.
Example: develop a bike-related employment program for at-risk youth in Toronto.
Example: distribute bikes to HIV/AIDS care and support workers in Africa, with the assistance of a local NGO partner.
2) Design, develop, manufacture, market and distribute a bike for impoverished communities, bringing the cost to an extremely affordable level and partnering with micro-credit organizations to offer credit solutions for purchasing.
3) Design, develop, manufacture and distribute pedal-powered technological solutions for the developing world e.g. bike-powered water pumps and generators.
From a gearhead perspective, the bike scenario really makes sense. Bikes don’t need gas, they don’t overheat, they’re generally easy to maintain, and they’re relatively inexpensive. And kudos to the BWB folks for figuring out alternative ways of using pedal power.
It’s hard to compete with bicycles in terms of effective transportation needs, for sure, but take another look at what they do. Could this idea be synthesized to automotive needs? Could there be a vehicle shared by a rural community? What about basic mechanical tools/training? Are there alternative ways of using vehicles to extend their usefulness?
Another bike-focused charity, Pedals for Progress, brings some additional ideas to the table for us gearheads. Check this one out:
“To keep the bikes working, maintenance is necessary. Children and adults are trained in bicycle maintenance and repair, and the bicycles are sold within the community, fostering the development of a local economy. If a person would like to have a bicycle but cannot pay for it, that person has to work for the shop (and learn a new skill) in order to cover the cost of the bicycle.”
Look at the way they’re building a sort of ecosystem, there. Put things in automotive terms. It would be pointless for us to spend a week somewhere fixing an old truck, only to leave the people helpless when it broke down again a month later. If we go anywhere to help people solve transportation needs, we need to be sure we leave them self-sufficient when we say goodbye.
So what have we learned?
MSF reminds us to understand the root causes and needs.
EWB reminds us we should improve people’s access to essential services.
BWB reminds us to think of new ways the automobile might be used to serve needs.
PfP reminds us that knowledge truly is power.
For me, the striking revelation is something every gearhead already knows – success depends on two things: tools and know-how. If we’re going to make a lasting difference in people’s lives, we need to do more than just show up and fix a car – we need to educate people and provide tools for long term success.
Will the next level gearheads please step up?
- How might we help people with neither tools nor training?
- What do you think about this idea so far?