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Here’s a challenge: list all the possible uses for a bicycle. I bet you’re struggling past “ride it”, or if you’re thinking outside the box a little, “ride it backwards.” How about “use it to generate electricity”, “tackle an obesity epidemic in an entire nation”, and “make some money with it”?
A project team at Enactus Lancaster is currently working on an innovative idea to apply the humble bicycle in as many uses as possible, starting on the Pacific Island of Fiji. We recognised a three-tiered problem affecting the residents of Fiji, and arguably, none of the problems related to one another on the surface. Firstly, there is the weak state of the Fijian economy, giving us an automatic beneficiary group to work with. Secondly, there is an ever-growing problem with obesity across the Pacific Islands, thanks to a carbohydrate-heavy diet. Finally, Fiji and other Pacific Islands are regularly subject to intense hurricanes and tropical storms, which result in a complete loss of power across the island.
How do you tackle relative poverty, obesity, and energy poverty in one go? A bicycle, of course! Working with engineering professors at Lancaster University, the Enactus project team are currently developing a prototype energy generator that can be attached to bicycles, which is the primary mode of transportation in Fiji. The generator will produce electricity as the bike is ridden, thereby allowing it to be stored for use on a literal rainy day, either by families, or small kiosk-owners. Since the energy generation depends on individuals riding the bicycles themselves, there is greater incentive to use the bicycles. The novelty of producing electricity by riding a bicycle will hopefully entice and excite a young generation of Fijians, thereby stopping obesity in its tracks.
This is an ambitious undertaking on behalf of Enactus Lancaster, but we are excited about the possibilities that this affords, in terms of direct impact to beneficiary groups, and the potential for scalability. If the prototype can be produced and transported at a low-cost, the team plan to roll the product / service out beyond Fiji to other Pacific Islands, to India, the Dominican Republic and Burkina Faso, just a handful of places where the project team have personal contacts.
The project started out on a complete blank canvas; the world really was our oyster in terms of idea generation and implementation, beneficiary groups, and the problems we wanted to tackle through our project. We’ve spent extensive hours researching beneficiary groups, both in the UK and abroad, contacting local and foreign stakeholders, conducting market research, meeting with those who can help on the scientific front, and having incredible socials on the side. Starting a project from scratch is akin to starting a business from scratch, and therefore, a white piece of paper and no tangible assets to our name can sometimes feel more daunting than exciting. However, with a project team fully dedicated to beneficiary wellbeing and sustainable innovation, nothing is impossible – even turning a bicycle into a money-maker.
After extensive brainstorming, we settled on the name Project Velodrome, not only because of its link to cycling, but also of our overarching aim to create a self-sufficient and cyclical economy in Fiji. Our next major challenge is to find a way to involve the UK in this cyclical economy, and to thus strengthen relations between the UK and Fiji by raising awareness of both countries for their counterparts.
We are currently looking for opportunities in the local area where we can step in, shout loudly about Fiji and Project Velodrome, and begin raising funds to finance our new cyclical economy. Currently in the diary are collaborations with Snap Fitness in Lancaster, where we will be installing our energy generators onto stationary bicycles as part of their anniversary celebrations, and with local primary schools, where we will be encouraging children to participate in cycle energy generation, alongside teaching them about some of the issues that we are trying to tackle with Project Velodrome. Also in the works is a merchandise sub-project, that would see the project team selling Fiji-themed paraphernalia and art made from bicycle spokes at the University, in order to directly generate revenue for Project Velodrome.
Sadly, many of the Project Velodrome team will be graduating in July, and we are therefore in need of new project members to continue the fantastic work that we have been doing over the last five months. We need people to maintain contact with our beneficiaries, to continue refining the prototype, to innovatively finance the project, and above all, to ensure that the project is meeting the ambitious aims that it set out to meet in October 2017. Being a member of Enactus is a fantastic introduction into the complex world of social entrepreneurship and sustainable development. Enactus is a global community of over 72,000 students, at over 1,730 universities, in 36 countries, all creating a network of student-led, long-term impact with the support of global business partners who provide bespoke guidance and open doors to opportunities specifically for Enactus students.
Alongside Project Velodrome, Enactus Lancaster boasts a wide variety of projects in its portfolio. We have two local projects, Amity and Difference-Enabled, the former tackling loneliness amongst the elderly by facilitating social interaction and activity, and the latter developing employability skills in autistic individuals by giving them work experience at the ‘Zest’ salad stall at the University’s Thursday market. Alongside Velodrome, two other international projects are making sufficient progress: Project Tr:Ust works with victims of human trafficking in Romania to regain personal and business development skills through soap and bag-making businesses, whilst Create Connect Change pairs South African entrepreneurs with business professionals in the UK to strengthen their entrepreneurial offering. Finally, Enactus Consulting partners with local Lancaster businesses to offer consulting services, market research and business development advice for a reduced price in comparison to traditional consulting. If any of these projects, or social entrepreneurship in general, light fireworks in your mind, please contact Enactus Lancaster today and become a part of one of the most directly impactful societies on campus.