Grassroots Innovation | Wooden bicycles, Rwanda


The old adage “necessity is the mother of all inventions”, underlies the basic premise that drives human ingenuity to invent and innovate. For practicality, I’ve lumped them together as they are rooted in the same cause, and are triggered by the same need.

And the need to innovate is universal! Regardless of geographical location or economic stage. So here’s a look at street-level or grassroots-level innovations from around the world. It essentially involves looking at an existing problem with a new set of eyes to identify solutions, using any means and resources available.

Here’s a look at a unique solution to the transportation challenge, using organic material (read: wood), hence: The Wooden Bike.


Handmade wooden bikes in Rwanda serve as workhorses to transport cargo and coffee [L]. Founder of Rwanda Project, Tom Ritchey who helps provide sturdy modern cargo bikes as wooden bike replacements. Photo: Rwanda Project

The land famous for rare Gorillas is home to some amazing human ingenuity. Photo: Rwanda Project


The land famous for rare Gorillas is home to some amazing human ingenuity. Photo: Rwanda Project


The people of Rwanda make do with the little they have and bring grassroots innovation to the fore. Facilitating childhood fun and the economy alike. A much needed recovery process from the war-ravaged landlocked nation that witnessed some of the worst genocide in human history. Photo: Bikes to Rwanda [L], Andy Braner [R]

Organizations like Rwanda Project, pioneered by Californian bike enthusiast, Tom Ritchey, and Portland, Oregon-based Bikes to Rwanda, are doing their share to help provide modern bicycle replacements that are more durable and efficient.

Both organizations aim to work with co-operative coffee farmers in Rwanda, and improve the quality of life in these communities through a bicycle workshop and maintenance program that provides transportation resources for basic needs and enhances production of quality coffee.

In 2001, with the help of the U.S.AID and Texas A&M University, Dr. Timothy Schilling put together the PEARL project (Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages). The intention of the program is to help farmers recover their coffee industry, increase the efficientcy of production, and highlight some of the finest coffee in the world. At the time, farmers were unable to afford the processing of their own crop. They were outsourcing the washing, pulping and drying of the coffee and in the end the fermentation of the beans was taking away from the quality, directly reflected in the price per pound the farmers’ received.

During a coffee buying trip to Rwanda in the Spring of 2006, Duane Sorenson of Portland-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters had the opportunity to sit down with coffee farmers at the Karaba Cooperative. He asked the farmers what their communities needed and their response was bicycles. Upon returning home to Portland, Oregon, Duane set about mobilizing the bike and coffee communities in the city on the farmers’ behalves. By October of 2006, Bikes to Rwanda was formed with the organization’s objective to provide cargo bicycles to co-operative coffee farmers in Rwanda. The goal is to improve quality of life in these communities through a bike distribution, workshop and maintenance program that provides transportation resources for basic needs and enhances production of quality coffee.

Inspiration: Bikes to Rwanda, Project Rwanda

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About dianhasan

Brand Storyteller, Travel Writer, Speaker, Creative Writer & Thinker - avid observer of randomness in everyday life - Sustainable Business, Eco Matters, Sustainable Urban Issues, Architecture, Heritage Conservation, Innovation & Brand-Strategy, Cross-Cultural Communications, Travel, Tourism & Lifestyle.
This entry was posted in Africa, Grassroots Innovation, Poverty Eradication & Alleviation, Rwanda and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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