Pedals for Progress

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{Trailer for Bicycle City: A film telling the amazing story of how the humble bicycle transformed a war torn community into a thriving economy.}

David Schweidenback has been named a CNN Hero, earned the Rolex Award for Enterprise, Forbes Enterprise Award, Shriver Award, and Discovery Award among many others. But what he wants you to remember is that he is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and the experience changed his life.

Today, David is the founder and CEO of Pedals for Progress, a not-for-profit organization that recovers used bicycles in the United States to provide affordable transportation in developing countries and stimulate economic growth. So far Pedals for Progress has shipped 132 thousand bikes to the developing world. For many, this is the first bicycle they have ever owned. Sitting in David’s small office in New Jersey he becomes passionate when he talks about the impact a bicycle can have in a community.

“What we are talking about is the introduction of the wheel.”

I visited him in New Jersey to learn about the experience that had been so transformative for him – the Peace Corps.

In 1977 David served as a land surveyor in Ecuador in the Amazon. During this time, oil companies were seizing indigenous land for drilling as no formal ownership existed in these remote areas. The government halted this practice until titles could be granted to indigenous tribes that lived on the land.

David would be dropped off by plane in the deep reaches of the Amazon and spend the next month making his way back. Because you couldn’t bring sufficient food for the journey he learned to fish and hunt along with the indigenous people. He fished for piranhas and slept under the stars by a fire to keep dry.

David called Sucúa a remote village his home. In this town only one man owned a bicycle. He was a carpenter and while not particularly skilled was more prosperous than others. “It dawned on me why this guy was so successful. He had mankind’s greatest invention – the wheel.” While others could only work within the limits of the village he could bike 10 miles outside for work.

David founded Pedals for Progress because he saw that providing the means for transportation was a way to alleviate  poverty. I walked away from the interview with David inspired to try to find a way that Mari and I can use our skills to do the same, continuing the Peace Corps legacy in Ecuador.

Paul

Than you: Greg Sucharew, for the video Lisa Euker for the carpenter story and of course David for your kindness, openness, and generosity.

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