Recycle-A-Bicycle is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1994 as a youth program whose sole intention was to provide alternative transportation. As an education resource for the students in the local areas, RAB encouraged at least twenty-five boys and girls, and some were offered working opportunities in the stores. The first RAB shop was set up in East Village, in 1994. Later on, RAB managed to open a second shop in the DUMBO, Brooklyn on Pearl Street. With the support of Henry Street Settlement and Childrens Aid Society, the program was able to recycle the discarded bicycles. It became an established non-profit firm in 1998. Fourteen years down the line, the organization has thrived and has made great achievements in developing the youths and saving the environment.
To promote its missions, Recycle-A-Bicycle (RAB) has focused on assessing environmental threats, equip the youths with adequate technical skills to handle the environmental problems and reward the participants appropriately. The firm has also managed to develop new programs such environmental education, healthy living, youth development and community engagement. Such achievements have been made possible by the availability of support from social entrepreneurship, retail store fronts and innovative programs. The New York City youths have also benefited from the RAB innovative programs such as High School Internships, Earn-A-Bike, Kids Ride Club, stewardship, Green Jobs Training Programs, Recycled Arts Workshop, employment of New York City youths and Summer Youth Employment Program. It has also expanded to other parts hence it has split its storefronts into two: Seventeen school-based programs that are found in District 75 and an education center locate in the Long Island City Queens. By 2008, RAB had attracted more than 185,000 cyclists increasing the number of bicycle commuters by 26%. Surprisingly, only 25% of these cyclists were women. About 75% of them were men. One would expect that more women would have come up to support Karen Overton. However, only about a quarter of the cyclists are female. By 2013, the organization had more than 10,000 customers due to its expansion and popularity (Overton, Recycle-A-Bicycle 2013 Annual Report).
Basic history of Karen Overton, the founder of Recycle-A-Bicycle (RAB)
Having been born in Arlington, Massachusetts, Karen Overton spent most of her childhood time in Syracuse, New York City. She underwent an exchange student program in Brazil where she developed most of her interests in the developing and underdeveloped world. During her undergraduates at The State University of New York, Albany, Overtone studied Latin American and Caribbean studies and later majored in Urban and Regional Planning in her masters degree. She visited Mozambique, Africa where she worked as the director of Bikes for Africa. For most of the times that Karen was away from New York City, her primary mode of transportation was a bicycle. Her idea of bicycle commuting started during her visit to Mozambique. Initially, she thought the bicycle commuting was a social justice issue. However, she later realized that it was a matter of human rights arguing that cycling should become a human right.
Karen Overton had seen the gender inequality when it came to bicycle commuting. She started her mission of distributing bicycle to women in Mozambique during her stay in the country, to fight the problem. She encouraged the women who were usually small-scale farmers to use the bicycles to as means of transportation of their produce to the market. Her idea fueled her motives to start a Recycle-A-Bicycle organization in 1994. Her idea was promoted by the fact that, on her return to New York, she found a lot of discarded bicycles. This provided her with an opportunity to provide cheap bicycles by recycling the discarded ones. Since she could not have done it alone, she initiated a youth training program. To date, the firm has become very beneficial to the community as it is a source of revenue to 14 employees and some income for youths through earn-a-bike program.
Having the RAB organization running was an uphill task for Karen Overton. One of the greatest challenges that she faced was a lack of support from the women, yet her initial motive was to promote women. She had always wanted females to own a bicycle to make their lives easier as their counterparts male. Twelve years upon the start of RAB firm, only 25% of the cyclists were women. To overcome this obstacle, RAB has taken its campaign to more than twenty-two states and 4 countries in an attempt to gain support from both genders. As a result, RAB organization has gained over 2000 members. The company is taking its campaign to social media platforms, and the results are remarkable. By 2013, the company had received over 6,000 subscribers who wished to receive the companys newsletter. It had more than 815 Twitter followers and more than 5,000 likes on the Facebook (Overton, Recycle-A-Bicycle 2013 Annual Report). Emphasizing more on the social media advertising can provide the organization with an excellent opportunity to reach the international market and win both genders.
Karen Overton also faced great obstacle in getting funds to ensure the running of the organization. Since her firm is a non-profit one, Overton suffered financial crisis once in a while, challenges that crippled the development of the organization. Lack of adequate funds has also contributed to the slow growth of the organization. To overcome this obstacle, RAB started shops where the company offered bicycle sales and shop services at cheap prices. The establishments of shops have increased the funds to the company making it very easy for the company to promote its operations as indicated by the pie charts below. The company has also adopted mechanisms that help it to cut on the expenses. Due to its efforts, the company has received new funders such as The DeLisi Family Foundation, Alliance for Biking and Walking, and League of American Bicyclists (Overton, Recycle-A-Bicycle 2013 Annual Report).
The pie chart above was adopted from 2013 RAB annual reports
RAB faced another obstacle of rejection of bicycle technology, especially in some parts of the New York City, due to the availability of personal cars even to the young high school students. Commuting using a bicycle was seen as an outdated lifestyle and a waste of time. To overcome this challenge, Overton, and her colleagues encouraged people to use bicycle not only for their own health but also for the sake of saving the environment from pollution. Her campaign has been supported by environmental organizations thus she has been able to reach many people in the most parts of the New York City. Her persistent attitude and her philosophy of work towards achieving her targets has been a major contributor to the achievement and the expansion of RAB organization. Additionally, Overton promotes teamwork and has shared her work philosophy with her work partners making it very easy to deal with the obstacles.
Entrepreneurs Decisions and Actions towards Success
Karen Overton is a remarkable woman who is behind the success of the RAB. She used to say that riding a bicycle is like having social justice to the society. She had experiences that deepened over a while where he took a slogan of associating mobility with the human right. She made this decision as a change to portray that riding bicycles and her being a woman was not to be taken lightly. Above all that Overton had a passion for bicycles which is said to have started in Mozambique whereby she used to distribute single speed bicycles to the women who were working in the farms (Recycle-A-Bicycle). The return to the New York was just an opportunity to start what she had a passion for. She realized how the city was full of discarded bicycles, and she decided to have the youth get new bikes which were attainable at very low prices. The journey to her success is a long one since it was not easy to start a company like that on her own with a society that had stereotypes for the women who took men jobs.
She did her work to focus on the youth by introducing the bicycle cycling to them and enabling them to embrace the culture in which bicycle riding became a part of their life. What made her succeed is prioritizing the consumers wish (Recycle-A-Bicycle). When she started making and recycling bicycle, the kids could appreciate the recycled one but would hope for a better one. It was the time for her to think quality and prioritize the customer.
Her main strength was finding out what the community was facing at that point. After identifying the situation that the community faces, it was time to find out if bringing in a bicycle was the best decision that there was to act as the solution. She had to prove to everyone through working together with her team that the designed project was safe and mutually beneficial to the people who were involved (Lugo, Happy Anniversary, Recycle-A-Bicycle). She gave people a mutual beneficial projects goal that was like their life goal. She had to identify the champions that were in the New York communities so she could be able to focus on her customers. Luckily she targeted the parents, the teachers and also the students. Most importantly she went to the low-income earner and the youth who needed a reason to have a goal in life.
Carrying out different campaign also acted as a way to make the company to be popular and also to create awareness to the residents of New York, the outskirts, and the surroundings. Presentations at schools were also done to make people aware of what she was doing drawing attention to her work (Lugo, Happy Anniversary, Recycle-A-Bicycle). By making the connection between the communities to the policy, she knew that if there were people interested and never got the idea could reach out through the campaigns. She believed in a demonstration of leadership through the youths, and that is why she was so much attached to the young people through her new work of bicycle. She succeeded in working together with the other organizations and coming up with the youth bike summit which in 2013, it was noted to draw 369 youths and adults from the 24 states and the six countries (Lugo, Happy Anniversary, and Recycle-A-Bicycle). With the exhibits all over the cities and the streets, she had it all covered with the demand of bicycle rising due to bike summits and city bikes. School internships and employment grew to be rampant, and the bicycle organization was on the trail. The RAB was able to support twenty-one school-based programs that made it examine its opportunities to make necessary expansions.
Climbing the ladder of success is very hard as a lot of funds are needed to support the different decisions that the committee might make and also the summits that are held together with internships needs a lot of funds. Demand for educators to carry out the bike programs also increases day in day out. Staffing is not easy, and although the decisions and actions undertaken have been noted and progress made, many qualified mechanics would not wish to work few hours a day and to be precise in the afternoon. The structure of the organization itself is under non-profitable organizations and RAB is only conceived from the alternatives of transportation. By its forming a partnership with the Childrens Aid society, it makes operation a little bit different than it is expected (Lugo, Happy Anniversary, Recycle-A-Bicycle). The partnership with the Childrens Aid means that the organization is not independent, and the goals are therefore not that much determined since there are a lot of programs to be met and to be educated. The question of credibility is also an issue...
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