Higher Gear customers will recognize the Renauds. Tom and Ruth-Anne have been top fundraisers on the Wrigley Field Road Tours, they are regulars on our group rides and they frequently share tales and photos of their cycling travels and adventures.
Based on their enthusiasm for cycling, one might think this dynamic duo has been pedaling together for years. It turns out that they only began cycling in 2007, after Ruth-Anne “sold” a nonprofit client on the idea of a charity bike ride.
In reality, it was Ruth-Anne’s work that introduced the couple to the world of cycling and, now, in return, cycling has worked its way into her career.
With 20 years’ experience in the corporate sector – and after some persuasion and several “kitchen counter chats” with her husband – Renaud decided to make the pivotal plunge into the nonprofit sector.
First, she worked with large-scale national nonprofit organizations to build and expand their fundraising and donor bases. While doing so, exposure to big players like the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Livestrong Foundation introduced Renaud to the intersection of athletic challenges and charitable causes – and this was when and how the Renauds first took up cycling.
Renaud was consulting with a new client on a campaign to raise funds for cerebral palsy research. The campaign encouraged participants to commit to riding 200 miles by bike over two days, with the idea that “anyone can do this, regardless of his/her ability.” After successfully selling this campaign to her client, Renaud went to Tom and said, “We have to do this.”
The Renauds weren’t hard core athletes; they didn’t ride; they didn’t even have proper road bikes. But Ruth-Anne realized that she and her husband were exactly the people this campaign was designed to attract. They trained all summer long for the 200-mile, 2-day event. “We became the proof that, truly, anyone can do this – even if you’re not super fit, even without experience and even if you don’t have the right equipment.”
Next, Ruth-Anne went on to serve the largest membership network of women’s foundations in the world. This move allowed Renaud the opportunity to go deeper into the philanthropic world, focusing on social justice issues on a global scale as well as issues unique to women and girls.
During this time, the Renauds learned about the Wrigley Field Road Tour. Tom participated in the event in 2011. Then, the two teamed up to raise money and ride together. Their combined efforts helped them become top fundraisers in 2012 and 2013, raising over $38,000 in the three years for both the Chicago Cubs Charities and World Bicycle Relief (WBR).
The Wrigley Field Road Tour was Ruth-Anne’s introduction to World Bicycle Relief. While she had no idea she would soon find herself working directly for the organization, the mission of WBR certainly paralleled the work Renaud was already doing and certainly spoke to her passions.
In general, Renaud sees charity work, at any level, “as a way for us to combine our passion for doing good with issues that matter to us.” For her, WBR’s priorities of “providing essential transportation for education, healthcare, and entrepreneurs” aligned with her own passions. When the opportunity arose for her to make a career move to WBR, Renaud jumped.
In retrospect, Ruth-Anne’s career progressed in a way that makes it appear as if it were a straight line to her newest role as World Bicycle Relief’s Director of Global Marketing. Her nonprofit work journey took her from consulting to large-scale global organizations, then back to building community engagement at an intimate level while making the connection from local to global issues.
Throughout all of her work with nonprofits, Renaud saw the same struggle: “How do you create social change?” This question become even more complex when considering it through the lens of people – a country, a community, a family or an individual – who don’t have the opportunities that we often take for granted and in places in the world that don’t have the same infrastructure we have here.
World Bicycle Relief is a social impact organization that began in 2005. While it has always been based here in Chicago, its programs and initiatives have a global impact, reaching communities in Africa, Southeast Asia, Peru and Columbia.
When WBR was created, FK and Leah Missbach Day asked the following questions: “What does this place need and what are the barriers?” In the places WBR reaches, Renaud tells us, “The biggest barrier is distance and lack of suitable transportation.” She continues, “A bicycle is simple, but it’s a rather compelling solution.”
Of course, the bicycles that WBR delivers aren’t just any bicycles. WBR’s pièce de résistance is the Buffalo Bike. Renaud tells us, “What is particularly innovative about WBR’s approach is, through FK Day‘s leadership the intentionality – to build a rugged bike specifically designed for the terrain and the people it’s trying to serve.”
Renaud explains that the Buffalo Bike is built to withstand the terrain, the heat, the flooding and the quicksand-like sand. “It’s a simply constructed bicycle, designed with fewer pieces. It’s a bike that is deliberately designed, repeatedly tested, iterated upon to be made better and more cost-effective.” Renaud adds that FK’s “entrepreneurial spirit directed toward social change is a unique attribute in the nonprofit arena.”
This fall, WBR passed a big milestone: 200,000 bikes distributed through its efforts. Renaud tells us that this milestone “demonstrates sustainability and durability as well as the impact” that WBR and its Buffalo Bike has. Renaud further explains her last point. “For every individual who gets a bike, the impact is multiplied by five.” She adds, “That means that those 200,000 bikes have impacted one million people.”
A bike undoubtedly makes a difference in an individual’s life. We’ve seen that in WBR’s past campaigns. Through the Higney’s Africa Rides trip last year, we met Ethel, whose Buffalo Bike cut down the time it took her to commute six miles to school, enabling her to have time for her chores and her homework and allowing her to continue her education.
Renaud explains the effect this one bike has. “The Buffalo Bike is an asset to a young girl. The value of that asset increases her value in the home. She can get her tasks done more efficiently. She can now get to school and be ready to learn. She can help her siblings get to school. Her father can use the bike to get product to the market. Her mother can use the bike to get water. The family dynamic shifts; her role in the family shifts.”
The bike’s reach goes further into the community, beyond the family. Mechanics are trained to maintain the Buffalo Bikes, creating local employment. “Farmers are now able to expand their production, diversity their crops and even send their children to school.” A bike delivered into a community, Renaud explains, equals potential – “potential for increased education, business growth, family economic stability.”
In essence, Renaud tells us, “This is an intervention into a community, changing perception, value and opportunity.”
“You’ve not just changed one young girl’s life, but the lives of those around her. Her community now has a higher likelihood to foresee a better and more sustainable future.”
One bike donated, on such an intimate scale, multiplies the impact on the community five times. All this from a bike. A very simple tool. A tool that, Renaud points out, was so powerful to each of us as kids and still is as adults, “bringing us joy, physical fitness and access to places that are farther away.” It’s something that we can all relate to.
“It’s magical when you have the ability to participate in something like this, to learn and see the value and to realize that, for 134 dollars, I can make something like this possible.” Renaud was given the ability to witness this impact up close. About a month after WBR reached their 200,000-bike milestone and (as Renaud is first to point out) on the International Day of the Girl, Renaud arrived in Zambia with this year’s Africa Rides group.
The most intimidating part of the experience for Renaud was building a Buffalo Bike. “It was a daunting task. I’m not mechanically inclined.” After her successful build, Renaud then rode that bike over the next several days and as she and the group of Africa Rides travelers visited villages and schools. “I physically experienced that heat, that distance and that path that felt like it was never quite going to end – to get home or to get to water. I saw what it meant to be constantly chasing daylight.”
For Renaud, this experience tied together all the efforts of her marketing and business career path that led her to WBR. “I got to experience how hard that distance is, making it now all that much more meaningful and powerful.” Witnessing the work in action, she says, “makes it real for people.”
Of the people Renaud encountered in her Africa Rides experience, Florence stood out. Florence is a healthcare worker in an HIV/AIDS community outside the capital, Lusaka in whom Renaud saw “resilience and fortitude.”
Florence is a widow with HIV, raising three children while living in a dirt hut and makes her modest living as a farmer. “Yet, she makes time to go to the farthest corners of the village to make connections with those who are shamed by HIV. She encourages her neighbors to come to the clinic, to get the drugs they need and to join the support group. With everything working against her, she makes that journey.”
When Renaud was struggling to ride through the heat and the terrain, she thought to herself, “If Florence is getting on her bike, in her skirt, carrying her water… If she can do it, I can do it for just one day.”
In Florence, Renaud saw “a brave woman trying to create a safe place in her community, caring for her children and others.” She tells us, “There was no selfishness there, no ‘woe-is-me.’ It really takes us outside of ourselves.”
Renaud points out, we all have places where we spend our energy: raising a family, pursuing a career. At any given time, “anyone of us is deciding how to spend our time and our gifts.”
For Renaud, issues like social justice, education, and stability are important. The way WBR packages the ability to positively impact these issues in a $134 bike offers a solution in “a pretty well-defined way.” Renaud adds, “And, heck, if you like riding your bike, you realize just how cool this is.”
Renaud’s experience has taught her: “That last mile is such a barrier.” For her, a Buffalo Bike is the perfect tool to break down that barrier. She’s quick to add that “You, too, can be part of [the solution].” And now is the perfect time, with donations to World Bicycle Relief being matched dollar-for-dollar through year-end!*
Donate today at worldbicyclerelief.org/POWER.
Donate today and your gift will be matched.*
Learn more about World Bicycle Relief and Africa Rides and how you can be a part of the solution:
- Meet Tamara and see how the Buffalo Bike changed her life.
- Visit WBR’s website.
- Check out Bicycling Magazine’s feature on the Buffalo Bike: “When evaluating the Buffalo Bicycle, don’t count grams—consider the number of lives improved.”
- Learn what makes the Buffalo Bike more than just a bike.
- Get to know Ruth-Anne Renaud even better.
- To learn more about Africa Rides, visit their website and view their brochure.
- Don’t miss reading about friends of Higher Gear, the Higney’s adventure with Africa Rides.
- And Ruth-Anne would want you to know more about International Day of the Girl.
* The first $1 million in global donations, received by 12/31/2014, will be matched thanks to generous gifts from a small group of anonymous donors.
Meet more Higher Gear customers who pedal for positive change:
- The Higney family experienced The Power of Bicycles in person.
- Rahsaan Bhati rode out of the inner city and helps others find their way out.
- Dan Ephraim goes the extra mile for challenged athletes.