Reflections from my (virtual) African bicycle…
I was riding on my Uthango bicycle – at Virtual Africa in Second Life and it struck me that I (Alanagh in SL) have never been the one riding any kind of bicycle in our real world projects here in South Africa. Enakai Ultsch (SL) and our other staff members have been much more mobile and in touch with communities in that way – also much more active! We have always used bicycles in the communities where we work: We buy them from the local ship-container-turned-shop and keep them in the projects’ office to jump on and go visits clients in the townships. There is therefor much symbolism for Uthango in bringing a bicycle to Second Life – the bicycle being appropriate ‘technology’ for local enterprise facilitation in many ways. The discovery of all the African bicycle pictures on FLICKR, also promoted us to start a pool called Bicycles in Africa, dedicated to this form of African innovation and ingenuity, and already showcasing 137 beautiful photographs taken all over Africa:
There are numerous organizations that specialize in empowerment through bicycles, and we wish to shine the light on some of these efforts that really make a difference to ordinary Africans. In our own work, we have come across BEN (the Bicycle Empowerment Network) sponsored by our own favourite founding sponsors Rotary, and we have supported them by purchasing some bicycles from the organisation for our own use. It is no small significance that the Rotary Club that supported the original Award-winning Uthango Enterprise Project also initiated the now internationally known Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay CYCLE TOUR (held annually in Cape Town) and passing our offices here in Kommetjie. (As a quick aside, UTHANGO has just been invited by MIT to present its enterprise development project – in Spain – as one of four global case studies towards sustainable development and we are currently seeking the financial resources to make the trip in March this year possible).
As part of Uthango’s awareness campaign for African ‘content’ in virtual worlds, we have to date sold more than 250 uniquely modeled African bicycles created by Shukran Fahid (SL). We have also found sponsors for six (6) real world bicycles, and can’t wait to get ten (10) sponsored in total in order to purchase and deliver them to some of our beneficiaries, that are desperate for the real thing that would get them around quicker, and change their quality of lives at the turn of a few wheels! Two of our project supporters and also sponsors of our real world bicycles are Gillian Carthage and her husband Carter Liveoak, who runs the beautiful Heron Island together in Second Life, described in Gillian’s own words as “a peaceful spot, set over the water… with an exciting and growing program of live concerts. The music is real!” I discovered Heron Island during a Grace McDunnough performance (or should I say, ‘experience’). I have asked Gillian about her support given to our project, and she commented: “What higher use of Second Life can there be than to change the lives of those in need?“
Since we started the [e]bizikile (African bicycle) project in SL, we have made a few changes – one being to source a cheaper real world bicycle in South Africa from DUNLOP. Also, we have implemented the brilliant viral vendor from HIPPO TECHNOLOGIES that enables any Second Life user to rezz a vendor and support our project by selling to other users. Feel free to contact Wilberforce Rau in-world!
The bicycles are designed by Shukran Fahid of !BooPeRFunK! (incidentally discovered, while I was looking for authentic African hair!!) and bikes can be used to participate in a grid-wide virtual bike-a-thon that we plan for 2008. “It takes the sale of 108 or 167 virtual bicycles to buy one real world DUNLOP or RALEIGH bike,” says co-executive director Erna Sittig who is Enakai Ultsch in Second Life. “We hope residents will help us meet the greater needs by purchasing a real world bike in addition to – or instead of – a virtual one”. It seems that the favourite bicycle at the moment is the BLUE LADY, selling at L$250 (approximately $1 USD), buw we predict that the upgraded version selling at L$750 will exceed the sales within a month of two. Then again, we are optimists!
The [e]bizikile fund raising event brings attention to how bicycles fit into the economy in African cities and rural towns. It is, much more about creating awareness for the real world/second world vision of Uthango than actual fund raising, and we believe that we are achieving that goal. We have had wonderful exposure by SLCN and continue to get requests for interviews about our vision for Africa in virtual worlds. The [e]bizikile fundraising event is supported by Charitable Hearts, one of the largest charity groups in Second Life advocating for the work of a few selected charities. Uthango also has a small satellite office based at CAPE POINT (SL), and interestingly, the real world Cape Point is driving distance from Uthango’s office in Cape Town!
The bicycles are available from Uthango’s office in Second Life or from dedicated affiliated businesses. Free vendors are still available to interested companies, organizations or individual landowners in Second Life. Please visit our office to find a vendor. Just click on the picture beneath to be re-directed to Second Life:
The virtual bicycles are being enjoyed across ‘the grid’ already and we have had some amazing events and offers to do some special activities in the future. At Elysian Isle, we had a group of people go crazy with their bicycles, and I have heard that the residents of Cookie already raced each other on the walkways. We have also had a great idea from Crap Mariner about a possible 3-sim race, but more about that later…
The idea is (of course) to also secure a corporate sponsor for this SL endeavor, and specifically for a grid-wide bicycle race. In the mean time, we are enjoying the pure joy that the bicycle is bringing to many digital people and we want to thank everyone that has taken this opportunity to purchase a bike (or more!!) and also set up a vendor (or two! like Luna Bliss and lynsey Fleury of another good music venue, Woodstock – both featured beneath with my warthog avatar). We appreciate the generous hearts of our supporters in working with us towards including more and more African content in virtual worlds….
So, many thoughts ‘raced’ through my mind as I drove around on that funky African bicycle at our yet-to-be-launched African 3D-environment: The notion of raising funds in SL for RL projects comes and goes from time to time and we still believe that there is some potential, but we have decided that virtual worlds are not intended as ‘fund raising’ or (even) ‘money-making’ platform. By design, it is far better to see a space like Second Life as adding value and depth to existing real world strategies and approaches. If innovation, collaboration and social networks – oh! and having fun! – are core values in your business model and integrated in the way your organisation truly works in the real world, then virtual worlds will be an easy fit. This has certainly been true for UTHANGO, where we have always encouraged team members to just have a good laugh and enjoy each other’s company and the extensive social networks in which we operate. Given the poverty and social injustice we deal with, and in which our clients find them daily, we have managed to find and encourage the lighter side of life together with them. Having a bicycle on which you can that can fly like super(wo)man in Second Life is certainly delightful to all of us closer to home.
On Saturday 26 January 2008 at 2 pm SLT (PST) UTHANGO will launch the upgraded animated African bicycle at the lovely Muse Isle, home of RDV Animations – the company that wondrously animated the peddles and wheels and added a feature or two to make it a great experience for racing. The musician kelvinblue Oh will perform for an hour and we are looking forward to a great event! Come join us at MUSE on Saturday! RDV Animations are best known for their Rendezvous couples animation tool! And yes, we are indeed looking at future collaboration with the RDV Animations team…as we found a commonalities between us early on:
We have decided that we will continue to sell the African bicycle throughout 2008 and use it to distribute our name in Second Life. With the exception of one individual with questionable motives, the initiative has so far been positively received by the SL’ers and we have ONLY had positive feedback on the quality of the bike to date – and value for money! In terms of the real world bicycle we think it is simply amazing that someone in America, or Canada, or Japan, or Slovenia or wherever (!) can buy a bicycle in Africa for the price of a house made of pixels – and thereby change the lives of a family in Africa in a measurable way. Yes! We will be streaming in the beneficiaries in the form of photos and/or footage! Long live the BICYCLE!