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What donated bicycles in Africa and PFM should have in common


January 27, 2011

James Elrick
PR Specialist

There’s an article written by Nicolas Kristof, a columnist from the New York Times, that illustrates how sustainability, increasing internal capacity, and self-sufficiency applies to donated bicycles in Africa.

The title of the article is “A Boy and a Bicycle(s)”. It describes how World Bicycle Relief has donated bikes to school children in Zimbabwe. This program is known as The Bicycles for Educational Empowerment Program, and has made a positive difference for these school children as riding bicycles reduces commute times. This gives the children more time to study. An important goal for any country.

Where sustainability enters the article is that World Bicycle Relief realized it couldn’t just donate any bikes, new or used, to these children. It had to donate bikes meeting the needs of children. It had to listen to the customers. And World Bicycle Relief had to design bikes that were easy to repair. You don’t want to donate a bike that gets thrown out as soon as it breaks down. And you don’t want the bikes to require expensive bike repair experts or consultants.

When World Bicycle Relief donates bikes they train people in the community to repair the bikes. They have a ratio of 1 repair person to 50 bikes distributed. Training local people how to repair bikes increases local capacity. Local people learn valuable skills and a trade. This means an out-of-country repair person is only needed at the beginning for training. It also means the solution, bicycles, are sustainable as the community can continue to repair the bicycles. Repaired bicycles stay on the road longer. This is self-sufficiency in action.

FreeBalance believes its PFM software solutions for governments should be sustainable, leverage and increase local capacity, and be self-sufficient. Just like The Bicycles for Educational Empowerment Program.

The FreeBalance PFM solution, the FreeBalance Accountability Suite, is a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solution that doesn’t require extensive and expensive software changes to get started. FreeBalance is designed and structured for government rather than modified to fit government. FreeBalance solutions have a proven history of being implemented within a couple of months. A fast implementation is a requirement for post-conflict countries as the need for a stable, PFM system is mandatory by aid agencies and donors for building and reconstruction.

FreeBalance provides train-the-trainer sessions. Just like the local bicycle repair person, the in-country trainer continues to train government employees. This increases local capacity as people from that country learn the FreeBalance Accountability Suite. The FreeBalance Accountability Suite is also easy to use, another key to increasing local capacity. For example, the government of Afghanistan trained 262 government employees in 2009 to use the Afghanistan Financial Management Information System (AFMIS). Increasing local capacity increases self-sufficiency. FreeBalance believes governments should be able to operate its PFM system without constantly calling the vendor or having the vendor operate the government’s PFM system.

A recent survey of FreeBalance customers describes what FreeBalance is doing to find new ways to improve sustainability for its customers.

Sustainability and increasing local capacity are the keys for any long-term solution, whether it’s bicycles or a PFM software solution. And it doesn’t matter if the country is an emerging economy or belongs to the G20: sustainability, nurturing local capacity, and self-sufficiency should always be the goal.

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Matthew Olivier

Matthew Olivier

Vice President, Marketing at FreeBalance
Matthew is responsible for providing strategic marketing, communication, and business development direction for FreeBalance products, solutions and services. Matthew leads marketing and business development activities to support FreeBalance growth and brand awareness in the GRP market.

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