Gert Vermeulen and I started work on an SAP implementation project in July 2012 in Richards Bay, South Africa, as Payroll Consultants with EPI-USE.
Gert Vermeulen and I started work on an SAP implementation project in July 2012 in Richards Bay, South Africa, as Payroll Consultants with EPI-USE. Little did I know that it was the start of an enduring friendship that would have a profound impact on my life. We began cycling together, and wanted to share this experience with people that may not have the means to do so. Consequently, in 2013 we launched a charitable organization called ‘BOMB Centurion’ (affiliated to the international BOMB organization). The modus operandi of BOMB was to build bicycles from parts collected as donations. We did this for a few months and managed to donate a bike per month, on average. The question soon arose as to how we could scale our project to get more bikes to more people?
When the Group announced the ‘Beyond Corporate Purpose’ hybrid business model, and specifically, Elephants, Rhinos & People (‘ERP’), Gert and I realized that this would be the ideal platform upon which to scale our nascent BOMB initiative. We researched how access to bicycles contributes to poverty alleviation in rural areas, and found an example in Kenya where learners received bikes to assist with transport to schools. There is strong evidence that the mobility improved their grades, so we started planning a similar program for kids living in rural areas adjacent to the threatened species that ERP protects.
In June of 2015 we got the go ahead for our first ERP Bikes project: Project Buffalo, later branded as #BIKES4ERP, at the Blouberg Nature Reserve for the Monoko Community.
In doing our planning, we soon realised that in scaling up the operation, the game had changed considerably. We needed funds to purchase bicycles, vehicles to get to a remote village in Limpopo, trailers to carry the bikes and most importantly, many people to assist with the delivery. Aided by inspirational videos produced by Gert, we took to selling our dream to our EPI-USE colleagues. The response was encouraging, and several people even put money in for extra bikes. Soon thereafter, I was invited to present #BIKES4ERP at the Group’s Client Advisory Board in Phoenix, Arizona and all told we managed to raise enough money for 86 bikes, for that first delivery. We received support from Volkswagen South Africa in the form of vehicles for the delivery, trailers were sponsored by Bronco, and accommodation sponsored by Makgabeng Lodge. Most of these parties remain involved to this day, building on #BIKES4ERP’s proven track record of responsible spending, and providing tangible benefits to children in ERP’s target rural communities.
After that first bicycle delivery, it dawned on me that this was no longer ‘my’ project, but that it had been adopted by a great many other highly committed people. Most people that participated in the first event are still heavily involved. Those that moved to different cities and even different countries adapted what they do, but most continue to contribute to the growth and success of #BIKES4ERP. Youngsters that joined the business later on have also climbed in, bringing fresh perspectives and a welcome new energy.
#BIKES4ERP has developed as it has because of broad based, strong leadership. Every person that attends a delivery takes responsibility for a defined section, and they have the authority to make and implement decisions. In late September, we will hopefully complete our 8th event, and deliver our 400th bike.
Interestingly, #BIKES4ERP has had an unexpected and positive impact our for-profit business, because of how people from different practices and service lines, at different levels of seniority, have found themselves working together in sometimes inverted relationships, from a seniority point of view. I love this unintended consequence of #BIKES4ERP, one of its many benefits.