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Microfinance Loan Officers Go Green with Electronic Bikes

By John Larson

Opportunity International’s loan officers are going green. They are traveling to loan client locations with the assistance of electric bicycles. If electric cars are the epitome of a culture that is constantly trying to reduce its carbon footprint, then electric bicycles (e-bikes) rank in the same category. That’s why Daryl Skoog, Opportunity International’s SVP of technology, is so enthused about deploying e-bikes to the field.

According to Skoog, “With ourrural expansions, we recognized that transportation would become a challenge in getting our loan officers to their customers. We were seeking a low-cost mode of transportation with a target of 5 cents per mile, versus the 50 cents per mile it costs us per officer today. Bicycles are a common mode of transport throughout the world, so finding a way to use bicycles that would transport our loan officers and leave them with energy to do their job all day long led us to this innovation.”

Currently in the pilot phase of implementation, two e-bikes each have been sent to partners in Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Ghana, India, and Malawi. Kenya and Uganda are also set to receive e-bikes soon. The purpose of the pilot phase is to obtain feedback from the users as to how well they are working, get an idea of how reliable they are, and how much maintenance will be required. In the future, regional maintenance contracts may be established with local businesses which will also help stimulate growth in local economies.

In addition to the 350 Watt rear hub-based electric motor, the rider can pedal the e-bike like a regular bicycle, or use a combination of both to go even faster. Using the electric motor alone, the e-bike is capable of attaining speeds of up to 18 mph (29 km/h), but with pedal-assist it can go as fast as 30-35 mph (48-56 km/h). Depending on the hilliness of the terrain, the battery has a range of 15-18 miles (24-29 kilometers), and charging takes 3-6 hours.

The initial feedback coming from users has been overwhelmingly positive. Skoog states, “Early comments coming back are telling us that hills are a lot easier to climb with the e-bike. Just like with that special head-turning automobile, an e-bike also turns heads. People notice that you are not riding just an ordinary bike, but something special, and when you can go uphill almost as easily as on flat ground, it gets their attention.”

Hopefully many more loan officers will soon be turning heads as the e-bikes work their way into the mainstream of tools that help them accomplish their jobs more effectively and efficiently.

-Written by John Larson, MIS division, Opportunity International

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