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The Startup That's Bringing Abandoned Bikes to Burmese Children

As ofo and oBike bumble towards bankruptcy, thousands of bicycles are finding their way to poor communities in Myanmar.

Mike Than Tun Win, a Myanmar entrepreneur living in Singapore has collected 10,000 bicycles to donate to needy students in rural villages in Myanmar, according to a story in Today Online. He obtained the bikes at auction and warehouse sales following oBike and ofo's abrupt cease of operations in Singapore.

Win remembers having to walk long distances as a child to go to school and conditions have not improved since then, with students sometimes having to stroll 30 to 60 minutes each way. "I thought if we could just reduce the time they take, they could spend more time studying, gain more knowledge and increase their chances of getting out of poverty," he said when explaining what led him to found the Lesswalk, the non-profit that is managing the donations.

When the two dockless bicycle sharing companies went into liquidation following business failures and inability to adapt to changing legal requirements, their inventory of bicycles were piling up in "bike graveyards" in China and Singapore, waiting to be sold off to scrap companies. Win explained, "To think that these bicycles would be dismantled, and sold for around [CNY60–70] (SG$11 to SG$14) to the recycling companies, I just thought it was quite wasteful, as the bicycle originally costs so much more to make."

Win made some modifications to the bikes including removing solar panels and replacing the digital locks with manual ones that make more sense for rural life. He encountered various challenges including shipping tariffs and legal payments. Purchasing, shipping and refurbishing the bicycles is estimated at between US$350,000 and US$400,000. Lesswalk is bearing half the expenses with corporate sponsors chipping in for the rest.

Ofo's failure to gain footing in the US is benefiting poor communities in North and Central America as well. Some will be donated to needy citizens in cities they were introduced into while others will find themselves being sent outside the nation to places like El Salvador and Guatemala. Meanwhile, gluts of damaged bikes are being made into scrap in Malaysia.

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