At age 20, Winifred Selby, the co-founder of Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative, is an inspiration to young female entrepreneurs across Africa. Her company has grown exponentially since it was founded six years ago, and has earned accolades across the entrepreneurial world. Here are 12 things you didn’t know about Ghana Bamboo Bikes CEO Winifred Selby and her work.
Sources: KonnectAfrica.net, Facebook.com/GhanaBambooBikes, AnzishaPrize.org, DW.de, YourStory.com, KhaleejTimes.com
Along with her friends from school, Kwame Kyei and Bernice Dapaah, Selby began Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative at the age of 15. The trio set up the company in Kumasi, the second-largest city in Ghana, and decided to focus on building bamboo bikes that were suitable for the unique terrain of the region, including high terrain and rough roads.
Selby’s family struggled with money, and she felt she had to help, “When I was 6, things were so tight that we sometimes had to sell (items) during (school) vacations, because where are the school fees going to come from?” Selby sold toffee and other small items to bring in extra money for her family.
Above and beyond helping her family, Selby wanted to focus on making a positive change in her community. Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative focuses on fair trade values that include paying employees fair wages, and creating an environmentally responsible and sustainable product.
Bamboo is readily available in Ghana and the government has been trying since 2002 to identify ways of developing the bamboo sector as an alternative to timber in light of alarming deforestation in Ghana, according to a report in InvestInKumasi.com.
Most bamboo in Ghana grows naturally in the wild. Western Ghana holds the highest stock of natural bamboo reserves, but most harvesting takes place in the east nearer to Accra, where demand is higher.
In 2010, Ghana reported a annual deforestation of 135,000 hectares (86,500 acres). At this rate, the country will run out of forest cover by 2040.
Compared to traditional metal bicycle manufacturing, bamboo bikes take less electricity and require no hazardous chemicals. This lessens not only the levels of carbon emissions created in production, but also lessens exposure risks for those making them. Bamboo is readily available in Ghana.
The company has been Selby’s path out of poverty, and she wanted to give other Ghanaian women the same opportunity. She employs 35 girls and women and gives them proper training to produce bamboo bikes, teaching them a critical trade. “There are no jobs here and most of the girls and young boys leave the community to Accra and Kumasi to do menial jobs after school,” Selby said. “Some of them don’t even have good education. We want to change that with this initiative.”
In addition to paying its employees fair wages, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative donates bikes to rural areas in Ghana – particularly where students may have to walk miles to attend schools in faraway towns.
Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative’s success can be seen in the ever-increasing demand for its bikes – Selby and her team work overtime to try to meet the demand. As fellow co-founder Dapaah said, “Currently, we have a lot of pressure on us because of the demand. If we are able to produce a thousand bicycles a month, there is a ready market for it but we are struggling to do that.”
While much of the focus of Ghana Bamboo Bikes is to serve Ghanaians, the company has been able to increase profits and make charitable donations by exporting bikes overseas. Particularly in the U.K. and the U.S., bamboo bikes have become popular, unique among the domestic brands already established there.
At an exhibition in Kumasi, popular Ghanaian TV host Kafui Dey took one of the Ghana Bamboo Bikes out for a test ride, and gushed about the experience afterwards. “It felt good and stable, it wasn’t too heavy and I had a spin around, and I enjoyed it. What was more exciting to me was the initiative being taken by Ghanaians to do something not just for themselves but for their communities.” Politicians in the U.K. and other parts of Europe have been seen riding bamboo bikes to work.
Thanks to its popularity domestically and internationally, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative is earning $16,000 to $20,000 in revenue each month. And, true to its commitment to a profit-sharing business model, employees and communities are benefiting from its success.
In February 2015, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative received an award for its unique and successful business model from the Crown Prince of Dubai for improving living conditions in the communities it serves. The award came with a cash prize of $30,000. Selby said the money will be used to scale up activities and train more people to meet demand for the product.
Selby was recently named a finalist for the Anzisha Prize, Africa’s “premier award for the continent’s bright and best young entrepreneurs.” Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative was also named one of the 12 best initiatives making an impact in Africa in 2015, a fitting testaments to the company’s success.