Recently, we had the chance to catch up with our March 2015 third millennium African in the person of Winifred Selby on Spotlight Talks. Winifred is a 20-year-old entrepreneur and a change-maker who started her entrepreneurial journey at the age of 15. She is the co-founder and CEO of Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative, and Afrocentric Bamboo Limited. Indeed, she is evidence that entrepreneurs are born and not made. We loud this inspiring lady for her courage and for giving back to her community through her start-up projects.
You can listen to our interview podcast with her above or read the interview script below.
Welcome to Spotlight Talks, Winifred! Can you introduce yourself and tell us about what you do?
My name is Winifred Selby; I am a senior high school graduate. And I started with my organization when I was 15 years, I am 20 years now. I completed Joyce Standard College in year 2013. My business is the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative. What we do is that we take advantage of the bamboo fibre material by adding value to it, to create and develop bamboo bicycles. Because we discovered that, there were many bamboo plants in Ghana people took for granted. So we wanted to add value to that to address the transport needs of people. And I established that company at the age of 15 years. I also serve as the CEO of Afrocentric Bamboo Limited. And the Afrocentric Bamboo Limited is the profit arm of the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative. And Afrocentric Bamboo Bikes Limited was established two years ago, whilst the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative was established in 2010.
Can you share with us how you learnt about Bamboo Bike design in school?
Way back in high school I studied a subject called Basic Design in Technology, where they can ask you a question like, “Design an artefact for a 3 year-old girl to support the child whilst the child is walking”. Meaning that the problem is that the child has started walking but there is no material or artefact that will support the child. You have to be creative and innovative to put up a solution to that problem. So I was really creative way back in school.
When I was in school, I looked around my community and discovered that farmers were walking miles to their farms every day. They do not have access to cars or bicycles that can support them to produce more. Some were discouraged because they do not have means of transport. So I thought that this is a problem in my community: people do not have access to transport, they walk miles. Some students that go to school even walk 8 miles to school. So then what solution can I provide for this problem in my community? It was there I remembered that I learnt about a research some years back that bamboo bicycles can be used to manufacture bicycle. So what can I do to help the rural people in my community and the farmers? So is not a new concept. I then came together with my schoolmates to put up the initiative again and produce bicycles for these farmers in deprived villages, in order to help them produce more of their farm products and serve students as a means of transport to school. Imagine a nine-year-old student walking 8 miles to school every day? By the time he or she gets to school the child will be tired. Now the question is: “what kind of concentration will the child have when he or she is in class?” And we know that education is the key word for success. So if these kids cannot be motivated to go to school because they cannot get easy access to transportation, so where is the hope of the nation? This was my heartbeat! I could not sit down and watch them not fulfil their dreams.
And also, unemployment was really high. You see many young girls sleeping without shelter and are into prostitution because of unemployment. So I thought if I put up this initiative it can also address the problem of unemployment. We can inculcate in unemployed girls, the technology of bamboo bike making. And I realised that I can use this one stone to kill four birds: it can create employment opportunities, it can help farmers to produce more, it can help school children, and can generate income as well; so one stone can kill four birds.
We see you’ve done your homework well. Aside from your mum, who are the role models you look up to?
My role model’s name is Marie O’Mara, a Kenyan social entrepreneur. She has a heartbeat for Africa. She is ever willing to make an impact in the lives of women in Africa. Other people have had an impact in my life as well. One of them is Chichi Obano. I look up to her because she is the kind that never gives up.
How do you distribute your bikes internationally; what is your channel of distribution?
For the European countries, we have some people that request for the bikes individually. Provided the client is in Switzerland for example, the client can send us an email with their location. Then we calculate the days it will take to ship the client’s order to their location. We ship it from Ghana straight to wherever they are. Also, there are some friends of ours in the Netherlands for example who would request in bulk, and we distribute from here to where they are.
What is the price tag for the bikes?
We have different prices. For the local market, some are 100 dollars, whereas some are for 150 dollars. Because the materials we use locally are different from the materials we use for the international market, the prices between the local and international market are different. The materials we use for the international market have to be compatible for all weather conditions. This is why the price for the international market is 250 dollars per bicycle frame.
Why do you think people should go for your bamboo bike, which is relatively the same amount with the metal-coated bikes?
Why I think you should go for mine is because the normal metal frames rust but bamboo frames do not rust. Secondly, the metal bicycle has been designed specifically for road conditions, most of them do not have a carrier but our bamboo bicycles have been purposely designed to have big carriers that would enable farmers carry their farm products. Comparatively, the bamboo bicycle has more value than the metal bicycles, which does not have carriers. And is affordable because some of the normal metal bicycles are more expensive and far above 100 dollars.
What are the future plans for you and also for your projects?
Personally, I want to be somebody who will give voice to women. This is because people look down on women so much that sometimes it is really sad. But I want to give voice to the voiceless people in deprived communities. I want to be a mouthpiece for them and want to be a mentor for them and give them hope. And no matter how difficult things are, they should not be limited by their age. I want to make an impact and challenge people to do more.
And for my future projects, in a short time, I also want to have a bamboo charcoal business. I want to get about 30 more women on board. So that after we’ve manufactured our bamboo bicycles, the waste materials can also be used for charcoal.
And I also intend scaling up my productivity so that we can produce thousands of bicycles and also get more than 100 youths on boards to be trained so that we can meet our demands.
How do you joggle being a businesswoman and also doing school?
Being a 15-year-old and running a business is a lot of hard work. And I am now preparing to go to the University this year in September to study Business Administration. But then I have a strong management team and everybody have specific roles they play. Even if I am in school, because I have a dedicated and committed team, my business will still go on. I owe them my progress. Though am preparing to go to school, my business will still stand and I will combine both them.
What are the challenges you would say you are experiencing in your start-up project?
The challenge has to do with getting funds to scale up with our productivity. There is high demand on us but the fund to expand our boundaries and productivity to meet-up with demands is the challenge for us.
What can you say is your weakness?
My weakness shows when I don’t catch up with the demands of customers, especially due to power failures which affects our equipment and productivity (this is also a challenge for us). When I don’t catch up with demands, I’m often in rage with myself and that might affect my relationship with people around me. But even though it is a weakness, it helps me to bring solution to the problem.
What is your dream of a third millennium Africa?
I want Africa to be one of the well-developed continents in the world. If you go to some of the international countries you will see how well-developed they are. In the next few years to come, I wish we would see the value in the things we have and add value to those things. We have to cherish what we have, add value to it, and appreciate it no matter how it is so that we can benefit from it. But not to look up to other countries who we think that are better than us; we are blessed! I look forward to an Africa that will be a continent that will appreciate what it has and add value to the things it has!
Any word of advice or encouragement to people that might be listening to this interview?
My advice would be, the first thing they should not forget in life is God. They shouldn’t joke with their faith; they should take it serious and be God fearing. And secondly, they shouldn’t give up on whatever they do. They should press on towards their goals. And finally, they should stop thinking that leaving Africa to Europe or America will make them successful. You can be in Africa and still be successful! We have to change our mind set and believe that no matter where we are, we can be successful.
Winifred is such an encouragement to thousands of young girls all over Africa and we want to celebrate this new brand of African, for her courage and tenacity as a young social entrepreneur.
We celebrate and salute you and wishing you all the best in the near future, Winifred!