Bernice Dapaah has traveled 6,000 miles to Philadelphia for bamboo bikes – 2,500 of them to be manufactured in her home country of Ghana over the next five years.
The 35-year-old entrepreneur from Kamusi is on a week-long tour of Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington to raise funds with the Philadelphia-based African Bicycle Contribution Foundation. The money is then used to purchase bikes from Dapaah's Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative, an eight-year-old business venture that manufactures and sells the sturdy, eco-friendly bamboo bikes across Ghana.
Dapaah recalled Monday how, as a child, she struggled to get to school, sometimes walking two to three miles. By the time she reached her destination, "You are tired," she said.
Thus was inspiration behind her organization.
The link to Philadelphia was marketing and branding executive A. Bruce Crawley's love for cycling.
Crawley, 71, the CEO and founder of Millennium 3 Management Inc., bikes about 15 miles daily before he heads to work and 25 miles on the weekend.
His partner, Patricia Marshall Harris, knew Crawley wanted to bridge his passion for cycling with philanthropy. Harris created the African Bicycle Contribution Foundation and appointed Crawley chairman for the board for his birthday last year.
The couple saw a video of Dapaah's work in Ghana and discussed a partnership with her for several months. This led to the Sept, 18-25 fund-raising and awareness tour that began in Philadelphia.
"We wanted to help her do more," said Crawley. "She's a woman of great character who has been doing amazing things."
"We wanted to have bikes that were made in Africa and someone who is African who will benefit economically," Crawley added.
The tour includes events such as Monday night's "Why Women Should Have A Set At the Table: A Panel Discussions with Global Implications" or "It's Deeper Than Travel" a young professional networking gathering Wednesday night at Ambrosia's Kitchen in Philadelphia. Dapaah will be present at each event and all proceeds will go to the African Bicycle Contribution Foundation.
Because of her work, Dapaah has been named an honoree by the Most Influential People of African Descent. There will be an awards ceremony at the end of the month in New York.
Even though she has been honored by numerous organizations, Dapaah always remembers why she created the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative, "I looked back and realized the unemployment rate in Ghana was very high," Dapaah said. "Especially among women."
Dapaah, who studied business administration and specialized in marketing at Christian Service University in Ghana, connected with engineering students to build the first bamboo bike prototype for her business.
Since partnering with Crawley and Harris, they've been able to donate 140 bikes to students, educators, healthcare workers and small farmers in areas such as Accra, Kumasi, and Koforidua. The bikes are hand-made by young workers, which Dapaah says continues the cycle of economic and youth empowerment.
"One of our goals is to help her to produce more bikes, hire more people and help the Ghanaian economy," said Harris, who serves as executive director of African Bicycle Contribution Foundation.
Harris traveled to Ghana last year to personally meet Dapaah and connect with the community.
"They just embraced us, " said Harris. "It's making a difference. The gift of mobility is life changing,. You're not just donating to Bernice. You're giving to the people."
"The schoolkids who are receiving the bicycles are so happy," said Dapaah. "One girl called me saying "is it true the bike is going to be for me? And it's going to mine forever?"
"I said, 'that is yours forever." said Dapaah. " I was quite emotional."