The Determination of ‘One’

In a lot of Development indices, “development” is often measured in terms of how much a nation can consume. If we all look at ways to save & re-distribute, the world will be a happier place for all. This lesson applies to all of us that work in the corporate space as well.

The-determination-of-OneEach year Tokyo’s 23 municipalities collect 235,000 abandoned or illegally parked bicycles from the street. Many are reclaimed by the owners, but until 1987 the rest, even those in good repair, were routinely destroyed. That’s when Masahiko Mizushima, then 47, was appointed manager of the bicycle-affairs division of a municipality in northeast Tokyo. Mizushima, disturbed by this waste, wondered, “Isn’t there a use for these bikes somewhere? Maybe they could be donated to developing countries.”

But how could a local official setup an international aid programme?

Mizushima met a Malaysian diplomat who was enthusiastic about his idea. An orphanage was selected as a worthy destination for the bikes. Mizushima chose the best bikes, arranged for retired mechanics to recondition them, and soon 75 were on their way to the orphanage.

Mizushima visited the orphanage a few months later, and was pleased to see children using the bikes to get to school. “The children were very happy, and so was I.”

Encouraged by the success of his initial effort, Mizushima teamed up with the Japanese Organisation for International Cooperation in Family Planning, which had experience aiding developing countries, and in 1988 sent 375 reconditioned bicycles to Malaysia, the Philippines and Zambia. By then his efforts were being noticed by government officials. He recognized a committee of 14 local government bodies and the family-planning organization, which, supplemented by other donations, funded the project. Mizushima was named executive director.

It was hard work. A bicycle shipment could take months to arrange, keeping Mizushima at his desk many nights, away from his wife and children. But he had turned his idea into reality.

Every year the number of bikes sent overseas increases. Since the programme began, more than 10,000 bikes have gone to 24 countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Mizushima is happy with the results of his gesture of good will, he says, adding that like everything else in life, it just took determination. “If you really want to get something done, you can somehow, some way.”