Last week someone asked me where I had been. I was carrying masses of papers and my iPad, under my arm, cycling from appointment to appointment in the city. I must have looked ecstatic, even more than usual, and I explained to him I had been at an unusual meeting.
The meeting was with individuals who have put aside a lot of their daily work and spare time for a project. A project that is cool, fast, sharp and above all heartwarming.
Recently, I’ve felt overwhelmed with saddening news of refugees fleeing their homes, leaving behind family, their belongings, friends, the life the used to love so much, because of war and uncertainty. Looking for a safe haven, a place where they can love again, and support their families, while building on what they treasured so much before the Arab spring war commenced.
I was in Aleppo, just a year before, and saw the breathtaking ruins, and the people in the city, from various religions living together in peace. In the mean time in Africa, the civil wars continue and all forces go the finishing the further spread of diseases like AIDS and now Ebola.
Lessons from Africa
Luckily there is also a lot of improvement particularly in Africa like changing governments, focused on simple things like registration, schooling, food and education. Not that this attracts a lot of media, as that is the way it should be going, according to press anyway.
Small changes in a country like Nigeria, the biggest African nation, impact many lives, and have a big influence on surrounding (and the remainder of the) African countries.
I have personally traveled to many African countries and developed a personal bond with the culture, and the amazing people who live there. Initially, I visited with my parents the more touristy places (e.g., holiday destinations in Tunisia and Morocco).
I remember being in Soliman with my parents and my brother. I was young, but I remember sitting at the police station with my father, complaining that we had paid too much for a piece of bread, and felt ripped off. We had to walk from the resort along the beach to a small town that day.
My dad and I felt as though we had walked for hours. It was very hot, but at the end of that walk, there would be that small town, with a small market so we could enjoy something else instead of all that low quality, all-inclusive hotel food.
The market was very impressive indeed, people with their own home grown fruit, vegetables, bread, meat (chicken and fish). I remember it was small, but there were so many people. I was intrigued by the friendliness and the happiness; the music that came out of every corner. Happy colors, clothes for sale and yes, even that one guy who ripped my dad off for bread.
We got the money back from the police, and were sent to a different baker, who sold us bread for one tenth of the price the other person charged us. Now, many years later I wish I could go back and buy bread from this guy again, and pay him ten times more than the price he ripped us off for, because now I understand him, much better than I did then.
Girls in Ghana
I feel lucky to have seen and experienced so much of Africa, the townships outside Cape Town, the contrast between wealth and slums outside Addis, one of the ten largest Mosques in the world in Casablanca, the new capital of Nigeria, Abuja and it’s developments, and Algiers, with it’s dangers.
I remember landing in Addis. I was picked up in a limousine, and later an old Volvo, driving through the poorest parts of potentially the world. I have always been the one that left the car, decidedly to go out in the evening in Abuja, or out of the compound early in the morning, to explore because of that feeling I shared earlier.
Stumbling upon Happiness
When you travel abroad, you realize there is a limitless amount of happiness in spite of so much misery. The energy of the people, the appreciation of help or assistance or simply a conversation is beyond belief.
I was at the charitable Carlsberg factory in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. Technology in the brewery was kept old style and the conveyor belt, when it worked was watched by at least 50 people.
The factory employed almost 800 people, who came from far, very far by bike or walking along the sandy roads, every morning and every night. On the profit & loss statement at the end of the year the company made profit, about 12 Euro’s.
When I was introduced to the engineer, I asked him about his family, he smiled at me, he was happy, and explained he had 3 kids, but started with 5 kids, 2 of them had died of diseases. He did not frown, and his smile remained on his face. While my thoughts and face showed misunderstanding, sadness and chock.
For them it is the most normal thing in the world: you get 5 kids and some of them just die young. That trip changed much, much of my perception, my respect, my understanding of life.
Later that week, when we stopped to buy African art at the side of the road, I stopped negotiating prices, every time we opened the car, more than 20 kids came running towards the car and grabbed all they could, empty water bottles to play with or metal cans to make toys.
Back in Europe, in a polished office, I am surrounded with entrepreneurs, with amazing backgrounds in sales, marketing, branding, social media, professional cycling, production and design.
Zipping a cafe crème, we realized it is the first time we are in one room, even though we have met here and there, but never as a team. The introduction comes from Jimmy (the founder of this project), a fabulous man, with a character that can turn tables anywhere.
He put us together, to create a bicycle.
Yes you heard right, a bicycle. Not a normal one, a designer one from extreme design produced in the country of bicycles, La France. First reaction: pretty risky business, a new bicycle brand, low margins because of high design, distribution and production costs. Or is it?
Looking at the skills Jimmy put together, I believe we will be able to sell ice cream in the North Pole. But that was not the motivation; the motivation was also what caught me instantly. Besides the very sophisticated brand we are putting into the marketplace, there is a story.
For every bike sold worldwide, one will be donated to a girl in Ghana, a country in the west of Africa. UNICEF is our official partner to ensure that every process is overseen in the best possible manner.
These girls are living in the highest risk group of disease and rape, and an age where most girls start working instead of an education, simply because they have no transport. Education is one of the most important ways to improve a countries well-being, by developing economic resources.
The Start of Something Great
You might wonder, what does a Hotel & Spa professional like me have to do with this? Which was also the second question of that guy I met, who asked me about where I had been before the meeting with him.
The branding, the strategy … is not so different with regards to the process and most certainly leading a team is very similar. With the incentives as high as these, I can’t tell you how much drive and enthusiasm there is within the team.
We will be working with selected brand ambassadors and brand icons worldwide. Some of them already in place, with a passion to do good. The process started long time ago, but I got involved April 2015, after a casual meeting with Jimmy, and a follow up meeting with the board members.
Now we are launching mid September 2015, with a brand and operational strategy in place. Within sales we have consumer and retail, as well as corporate and hotel sales. The corporate and hotel sales is aimed at companies who want to make a difference together with their employees, clients and guests, to shift to sustainability by taking cars of the road in an elegant way, motion for employees and the girls in Africa.
Our social plans fare focused, for starters it includes a global Instagram #bikeitforward campaign featuring bloggers within travel, fashion and design that will be launched a few weeks after.
This team, the core team, the board, the ambassadors are so extremely excited about this opportunity that my personal biggest challenge will be to manage that enthusiasm. Not a bad position to be in I would say.
The name of the company is Vélosophy, urban commuting. You will be seeing us in your city or town some time soon, because I know that with your drive and support you will help us make that difference.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Jeroen Gulickx is originally from Holland, where he obtained two business degrees. Later in life he also certified as black belt in Six Sigma. He is the Managing Director of Mocinno International, a hospitality consulting company that started in 2006, focused on delivering incremental revenues for hotels, spa’s and hotel suppliers. Jeroen is well travelled and has extensive experience in the luxury travel segment. The main capabilities vary from streamlining cost and operational models, strategy, yielding, business development, and marketing. Connect with @MocinnoIntl on Twitter.