Friday, 10 June 2011

Ability Bikes

Ability Bikes is a bike mechanic and retail shop whose core business is to receive discarded or broken American and British bikes by shipment, repair them and sell them on for a profit. Nothing particularly remarkable about that – it’s fairly common practice in Africa where there is practically no domestic bike manufacturing industry.

However the interesting thing about this bike shop is that it is run and staffed entirely by people who have some form of physical disability, mainly caused by polio during childhood. Polio is pretty rare in Europe because of the vaccinations we get as babies, but you can’t walk down the street in Ghana without seeing a few people with twisted or missing limbs that is often the mark of a polio victim. More often than not, children with such disabilities are seen as a burden to the family and their prospects in life are relatively limited.

Ability Bikes was established in 2008 by 7 Koforiduans with the assistance and training of David Brannigan ( to develop their technical skills as mechanics and business managers. Maud and Torsu run the shop and carry out the administration, Mirriam, Agyen, Lizzy, Julius and Sule run the workshop. All are co-owners.

This is quite a big year for them as they’re trying to make a significant shift in their sales numbers, moving away from selling wholesale to other bike dealers, to mostly selling direct to the public in order to maximise revenue and start to consistently make a profit without subsidy.

I was working with them from January to June to help implement an inventory system and develop a basic marketing plan. With the former they had a really smooth delivery in April and now have a good and simple stock accounting system.

With the latter they spent several weeks identifying and analysing their core markets and deciding on the actions required to tap into them – prioritising the low cost, high impact actions. I provided a bit of guidance. Maude and Torsu will now take forward the plan and design some stickers and leaflets, organise school and workplace demonstrations, arrange product placement in key locations around the town and other things to boost sales.

It’s been absolutely brilliant working with these folk. They are the most fun-loving, sharp-witted, entertaining group of people I’ve come across. I’d love to stay in touch with their progress when I get back – and help wheneer needed. It was quite sad to leave them and they reminded me a lot of what I miss most about being back home – random banter.

I should mention that Agyen is planning to do a few bike rides through Ghana to try to raise awareness for disabled people and possibly some funding for disability projects. Ultimately he hopes to do a circuit of Ghana. He’s looking for sponsorship to cover his costs but I wondered if he could do a relatively short ride, get a bit of publicity, set up a sponsorship page etc. I know the guys in the states are looking at this but if anyone has any experience in this area, please get in touch.

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