BEN Namibia's Managing Director Michael Linke
BEN Namibia’s history is connected to the history of its Managing Director, Michael Linke.
Michael is an Australian whose previous work was in magazine publishing. Two of his major jobs were editing Australian Cyclist, which at the time was Australia's largest circulation cycling magazine, and ReNew, a magazine aimed at people designing, making and using solar, wind, and bio fuel energy devices, lowering their energy consumption and designing environmentally sustainable houses and businesses.
He also lived in the UK where he worked as a mechanic (and rider) for a bicycle rickshaw hire company in central London. At the same time he was volunteering with a charity called Re~Cycle that collects unwanted bikes in the UK and ships them to various African partner organisations. Michael had plans to start a similar organisation to collect and ship bikes, but first undertook a trip to Southern Africa in 2004 to visit the organisations that use the bikes to better understand their needs.
That was when he visited BEN in Cape Town. They import second hand bikes from overseas donors, train and support people to become community based bike-shop entrepreneurs and in that way distribute bikes at affordable prices. They also do a lot of work in improving conditions for cyclists in Cape Town.
Prior to his visit to Southern Africa, Re~Cycle received an email from VSO, the UK volunteer service. They wanted bikes for a project they support, TKMOAMS in Northern Namibia. TKMOAMS have around 700 volunteers visiting people living with HIV/AIDS in their homes, delivering counseling and medical and sanitary supplies. Most of these volunteers walk long distances, so Michael’s idea was for a one-off project to help get them bikes. But soon he realised that it would be a waste of time to give people bikes without ongoing mechanical support.
He then thought about forming an organisation that could combine donations of bikes to healthcare volunteers with capacity building/establishment of community-based bicycle workshops, preferably working with existing shops. He contacted BEN in Cape Town about the idea and was offered a partnership, and the organisation became BEN Namibia. Michael then went back to the UK and through donations from charitable trusts and friends raised enough money to get started. It took nine months and he almost gave up several times, but by May 2005 BEN Namibia was a registered section 21 company and had received its first load of 100 second hand bikes via Cape Town.