A Pull in the right direction

A UAE based charity initiative has launched a project to turnaround the lives of impoverished rickshaw pullers in Madagascar.

Monyati Initiatives, founded by German philanthropist and model, Monja Wolf has brought a social business concept to the South East cost of Africa with the aim of helping young rickshaw pullers and their families escape the poverty trap and become self sufficient.

Rent-to-buy rikshas

Madagascar is one of the few countries left in the world that still uses men on foot to pull rickshaws-the primary mode of transport for locals, as opposed to a bicycle or motorized version that is common in other African, Asian and South American countries.

Generations of fathers and sons have long seen ‘the trade’ of richshaw pulling as a vehicle for survival to put food on the table for their families and help to pay for their children or siblings education. Dozens of impoverished males rent a rickshaw, (known locally as a “pousse pousse”) on a daily basis from a local businessman known as a patron.

After speaking with a friend Amelia Johnson who had just returned from the country, Wolf conceived the micro-loan-system for rickshaw pullers to help make their grueling daily journeys less tiresome and more efficient in terms of profit.

“As a first step we provided 20 bicycle-rickshaws to allow pullers an upgrade from their current foot-rikshas. This makes their job less physically demanding,” explained Wolf.

A second step was to offer bicycle rickshaws on a rent-to-buy basis. “They pay a smaller daily fee than what they currently pay to the patron and once repaid they will be the owners of their own pousse pousse,” explained Wolf.

The men pay the equivalent of $2.50 (Dh9.25) a day, which comes out of their earnings of $3 to $6. They have to survive on the money that is left, yet many are still homeless so they sleep on their rickshaws and store all their belongings under the seat.

The idea is that by supplying bicycle rickshaws for rent for $2 a day, after 312 days the ‘puller’ takes ownership of the vehicle, making him a business owner with a higher daily income.  “His standard of living is marginally increased, which allows them to fully support themselves.

“We wanted to empower them to have their own vehicles so they can increase their daily income and run their own micro-businesses.

“Once we recoup the costs for purchasing the first patch of rickshaws through the daily repayment fees, we will buy a second patch and so forth. Therefore this project will be sustaining itself and will empower more and more riksha pullers for years to come,” said Wolf.

The first 20 rickshaws were handed over in August in the town of Tulear in the south-west of the island. The emphasis of the project is that 100% percent of the money received in daily payments will be used to buy more rickshaws. “Their lives are incredibly basic, so whatever we can do to improve the quality of life for them is a help.”

Wolf says that one of the most significant changes that she witnessed on her recent trip to Madagascar since the social business concept was introduced was the effect it’s having on the community as a whole.

“We’re not just helping the individual rickshaw pullers, we’re seeing the effects of our social business on the whole community. “One of the boys Vorisoa who is 14 years old and previously worked as a riksha puller can now afford to go to school again. This is something he always dreamed about but could never afford because he was forced to work to support his family,” said Wolfe.

Monyati who have received backing from Etihad Airways, has completed projects in India, Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Bangladesh, Mexico, Sudan, Ethiopia, Nepal and Brazil.