While issues, like global warming and the threat of decreasing natural resources paint the media headlines green, there seems to be less room for other pressing social issues. What happened to Guantanamo Bay? School of Americas? The war in Darfur??
Maybe there is only so much room in the hearts and minds of compassionate Americans? What if we could combine forces and create organizational ventures that are socially responsible and ecologically friendly?
On the southwest side of Chicago lies the Working Bikes Cooperative, an organization that is doing just that. The objective is pretty simple: whoever volunteers fixes bikes to be in working condition, nothing more, nothing less. This minimalist approach keeps the price tag low. So what’s so socially responsible about that?
1. They make it possible to sell a practical and sustainable mode of transportation at an affordable price to anyone regardless of their socioeconomic status.
2. It’s one of the few places in Chicago where someone with little or no skill can learn bike mechanics for free.
3. Working Bikes uses all the proceeds from selling bikes, plus money from donors, to ship mountain bikes to developing countries and needy communities in Chicago.
This is how it goes: Bikes are donated privately, or bought at scrap yards for less than five dollars (which is higher than the price the metal recycling companies will pay, but not enough to encourage scrappers to take bikes on the street). Then a team of volunteers assembles them in the most cost-effective way possible. Finally, the bikes are sold out of their storefront, which enables them to pay for shipping to foreign countries in need of affordable transportation.
In certain areas of the world, having this alternative mode of transportation means more than most of us can imagine; it’s not so much about saving on gas or being able to take a leisurely ride in the evenings. Having a bike can mean transportation to an otherwise out of reach job location. In extreme cases it can mean the difference between eating tomorrow or eating next week. Also, in many of the places they are shipped, a bicycle that is worth $80 in the U.S. will be worth ten times that amount. In a nutshell, receiving a functioning bike is a big deal.
This organization is salvaging bikes that would otherwise be recycled (which uses more energy than reusing, of course) or thrown away. It’s giving anyone a chance to learn practical skills, for free, that may help them get a job. Most inspiring though, this organization has figured out the magic formula…helping people and helping the environment go hand in hand.