LUSAKA, ZAMBIA (October 7, 2010) – Newsweek and BBC World News have announced that Zambikes, a bicycle manufacturing business in Zambia co-founded by a 25-year-old member of Clairemont Covenant Church, is one of five finalists in the media companies’ World Challenge competition.
Vaughn Spethmann helped start Zambikes to provide jobs and business opportunities for impoverished Zambians three years ago. He started the ministry with classmate Dustin McBride and two Zambians.
World Challenge is a global competition aimed at rewarding projects or small businesses that have shown enterprise and innovation in helping people at a grassroots level. The nominees must improve the living standards without wrecking the environment.
Visitors to the World Challenge website cast votes to determine the winners. Voting will close at midnight (GMT) on November 12. The winner and two runners up will be announced December 4 during a live broadcast of BBC World News. Newsweek magazine will profile the winner in its issue that goes on sale December 14.
In a country where most people live on less than $2 a day, Zambikes provides training programs and pays a livable wage to employees. It invests all profits back into the business, which now employs more than 40 people.
Zambikes initially made only low-cost, high-quality bikes that enabled Zambians to travel over rough terrain to work or even start their own micro-businesses. As the workers’ skills advanced, the company started making bikes that can carry cargo, a bike trailer, and a bike-drawn “Zambulance.” The Zambulances are used at 10 medical clinics around Lusaka.
“With the Zambulances we have seen that with every 10-20 days it is in the field, it saves a life!” Spethmann told Covenant News Service for an article in 2009.
“The largest lesson we have been experiencing is that God’s plan is bigger and oftentimes different than the plan we originally intended to pursue,” Spethmann added. “However, we have realized that we will readily adopt his plan any day instead of holding on to our own.”
That plan took a surprise turn recently, when Zambikes partnered with Santa Cruz bike designer Craig Calfee to manufacture and sell high-end bicycles made of bamboo. The bikes are marketed to an American audience and can fetch as much as $1,000.
Calfee, who has been working on the design for 10 years, was inundated with orders since previewing the bike at a trade show. He wanted to manufacture the frames in developing countries where the bamboo was natively grown and employees would benefit.
He eventually connected with Zambikes and formed the partnership. The frames are handmade and can take a week to build. They are then shipped to the United States where the rest of the bike is assembled.
This is not the first time that Spethmann and McBride have reached the finals of a major competition because of their innovative idea. In 2006, the pair sought a grant at the Urbana 06 Missions Conference to start the business.
The two fell just short of getting the grant, but they didn’t lose either their desire or the admiration of committee members, several of whom continued to help them develop their business plan. Based in San Diego, they raised $200,000 in startup costs and assembled a board of directors with extensive business experience.
Although the company is gradually becoming known worldwide, Zambikes already has made a big difference for many people in Lusaka.