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03
November
2012

Local student raises money to buy bikes for rural Africa

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Inspired in part by the memory of his Palestinian grandfather, an Ottawa student has helped raise more than $40,000 for a charity that distributes bicycles in Africa.

Mahmoud Abuwasel, a Rockcliffe resident and his classmates at Harvard University donated the money to the World Bicycle Relief, an organization that provides bicycles to farmers, students, entrepreneurs and health care workers in remote areas of Africa.

WBR is unique in that it does not provide money or food for individuals. Instead it gives people bicycles, says Mahmoud Abuwasel.

“A farmer can carry 4 kg of food while walking and it would take him a good hour, while with a bicycle it can be done in 15 minute while carrying as much as 25 kg,” says Mr. Abuwasel. “We”provide for the long term as opposed to the short term.”

The project was particularly meaningful for Palestinian-born student/entrepreneur as it evoked memories of his grandfather.

“As a young boy, my grandfather, living in Palestine, would walk 20 km every morning to sell vegetables,” he says. “My lineage and grandfather's life experiences were in fact one of the reasons I was pleased with the success of the project, and anxious to deliver extraordinary results for the betterment of those in similar eco-systems.”

As this was an online course on Managing Virtual Teams, Mr. Abuwasel was part of a group with four other individuals who were based in Washington, Boston, Miami, and China. Together they developed a social networking plan that raised about $5,000 of the $40,000 raised by the class.

“We split the campaign into the physical campaign, in which two people in the group reached out to the local geography, and the remaining two of us had responsibility over the social media aspect,” Mr. Abuwasel says.

His contribution to his group was the creation of a LinkedIn campaign that connected with about 700 business people and companies who donated $1,600 of the $5,000 raised by his group.

Other class teams also devised innovative ways to raise money. One raised $7,000 (enough money for WBR to buy 52 bicycles) by having a virtual race in which participants found sponsors for running, walking or biking five kilometers at a location they chose.  Another team got bicycle stores to donate from 10 to 20 per cent of profits from customers' purchases to WBR when customers mentioned their team name.

Mr. Abuwasel moved to Ottawa in 2008 and has operated his own investment consulting firm since October 2011. He says the best way to make a difference in the world is to start with helping the people around you first. You help the person next to you and they will in turn help the person next to them -- it has a butterfly effect, he says.

“It's the same in the sense that when you help the micro economy you also are helping the macro economy.”  

This article was produced exclusively for Muslim Link and should not be copied without prior permission from the site. For permission, please write to info@muslimlink.ca.

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Miriam Katawazi is an Afghan Canadian journalism and human rights student at Carleton University.