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Interview with Kristina Jasiunaite: Every development starts with mobility

Kristina Jasiunaite is the Europe Director of the international NGO World Bicycle Relief (WBR). World Bicycle Relief builds specially-designed, locally assembled, rugged bicycles to provide a sustainable solution to the lack of mobility and long distances in rural development regions. The bicycles are distributed to students, healthcare workers and entrepreneurs where the need is greatest. Kristina will speak in our Fundraising track at the MOVE Congress on 18 October and we caught up with her to find out what she is looking forward to most about the event.

What are your expectations for the MOVE Congress 2019? Is there something in particular that you are excited about?
Kristina Jasiunaite: Apart from this being my first time at the MOVE Congress and in Budapest, I am excited to encourage the audience to remember the populations often invisible to us.

The poorest people in the world live on less than $2 a day. Many of them live in very remote areas with no mobility options except their own feet. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone there are over 500 million people for whom walking remains the main mode of transportation. When that is the case, distance becomes a barrier to the accomplishment of daily tasks and basic needs.

For many of us, more physical activity would lead to healthier and happier lives – and there are great initiatives to champion for more awareness about this. But at the same time, there are hundreds of millions of people who face very different challenges as they fight against the sun and fatigue. I feel honoured that I can give them a voice through the MOVE congress.

How do you inspire individuals to stand by the cause of WBR?
Kristina Jasiunaite: It is actually not so difficult. Most people long to make a positive impact in the world. And they do. For example, there here has been remarkable progress in reducing poverty. Already by 2010, the poverty rate was cut in half. But the challenge remains, mainly because the poorest people live in remote areas with limited access to education, healthcare, electricity and safe water.

Basically, every development starts with mobility. In my experience, people very easily understand how a simple, eco-friendly and cost-effective mobility helps developing regions to thrive. Our focus on the rural areas and our “leave no one behind” approach to the Sustainable Development Goals covers an often overlooked transportation issue.

With over 450 000 bikes distributed to people in need, I am sure there are countless inspiring stories. Is there one that is particularly special for you?

Kristina Jasiunaite: This is a difficult question because there are so many inspiring stories. The Power of Bicycle truly helps people pursue their dreams and alleviate their daily challenges.

If I have to pick one story, I will tell the story of Melanie. Melanie was one of the girls I met during my first visit to Zambia. She was about to receive a Buffalo Bicycle through our Bicycles Education Empowerment Program, so we were invited to join her after the handover ceremony. Our group covered 9 kilometres in 40 minutes, but before she had the bike, it would take her over 2 hours to get to school in every morning.

We also joined her to fetch water, which is a daily task for millions of girls worldwide. That was when we discovered just how heavy a bucket of water is! Melanie had to do it every day since childhood. She would take 5 tours in the morning, then walk 9 kilometres to school and back, then fetch water again. By the time she would have finished, it was dark, and, without electricity, she couldn’t do her homework.

That was when I realised – I would not have made it to where I am today if was born in her village. A simple bicycle changes everything there!

What innovative ways could be explored to bring more funding to the traditional charity-based NGO sector?
Kristina Jasiunaite: Firstly, World Bicycle Relief embraces digital technologies to share our story and support those who want to make a difference by raising funds.

The second way is our innovative organisation model. Soon after we had implemented our first philanthropic program in Zambia, something beautiful happened: development organisations, farmers and others approached us and asked where they could buy such a strong bicycle.

The market demand let us create Buffalo Bicycles Limited in 2008. World Bicycle Relief owns a 100% share of this social enterprise. The profit generated through the entity’s sales helps us fund our philanthropic programs in healthcare and education.

Combining philanthropic distributions with social enterprise sales is an innovative model that successfully addresses the astronomic need for reliable, affordable transportation.

WBR seems to have various fundraising events and mechanisms. Can you tell me more about their effects?

Kristina Jasiunaite: In our fundraising we work from different angles and on multiple levels. The individual fundraising is especially big in the US and UK. Runners and cyclists are raising funds through their tours, rides and marathons. As I mentioned earlier, we use digital technology to allow our supporters to quickly and easily create their own online fundraising pages. They are transparent, easy to share and do not require any additional administration. That way, supporters can focus on their passion and make an impact at the same time.

The support comes from all corners of society. It includes bike rides, school runs, and many birthdays of generous people who make donations instead of presents.

You can still be part of the discussion and interactive workshop in our Fundraising track. Tickets for MOVE Congress 2019 are available here – but hurry, registration closes soon!

Interview by Marie Oleinik, ISCA

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