Insights from a motorbike

On Wednesday 17th October I left on a motorbike for an adventure to The Gambia. We plan to ride 3,000 miles in five weeks; we caught a ferry to Santander, rode through Spain and are now in Morocco.

Ahead of us we have the disputed Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal and The Gambia where we fly home from Banjul.

Many people have asked why?

  • What makes you want to travel to The Gambia?
  • Why do you want to ride your motorbikes that far?
  • Isn’t it going to be dangerous?
  • And how will you carry all your luggage?
  • The main reason was to leave our London lives behind for 5 weeks and experience new cultures. Being on two wheels allows you to visit places most travelers don’t reach, having no set itinerary will allow us to get immersed in local cultures and completing the whole journey on motorbikes means we have a 180degree view the whole way.

    It has taken a few months of planning, mainly bike preparation and paper work organisation but now we are in Africa our adventures really start here.

    The work I do ‘back home’ is all about collecting insights, understanding people and finding ways to help communities. I love being immersed into different cultures and finding out how we can influence behaviours for good.

    So, another aim of this adventure is to document what we see, who we meet and what we experience. We have a Canon HF10 video camera and where possible intend to film as much as possible. This may, however prove hard at times, especially in Western Sahara and Mauritania where reporters and journalists are forbidden. Luckily though, David is a native French speaker which helps for negotiating….

    I’m interested in social innovation and sustainability, especially when focused on communities and making people happy. This is what we’ll be looking out for en route.

  • What brings communities together? and
    How do communities survive, especially in developing countries?
  • What we’ve experienced so far:

    Our stay in Spain was only a few days but while with friends in Madrid, we went to their friend’s house for a birthday dinner. The evening revolved around chatting while eating tortillas, cheese and olives and drinking Rioja. Exactly what comes to my mind when Spanish food is mentioned. When we arrived at our camp site outside of Granada, the owner said we’d just missed the paella! There was a large group of locals sitting around a table with an empty paella dish…

    When we arrived at the Moroccan border at Ceuta there were lots of men trying to ‘stamp our passport’ and ‘help us through customs’. We had been warned of this and knew not to accept their help but they were clearly being very innovative and even had ‘official’ looking name tags around their necks. Morocco came with animals all over the streets, men on scooters piled high with luggage, taxis with broken suspensions and far too many passengers in them and women selling branches on the side of the road.

    From now on we can start looking for local insights and discover what makes each community different and what cultural differences occur. Two things we quickly learnt in Chefchaouen were that ‘every street has a guardian’ and ‘however little you trust a Moroccan, he will trust a Moroccan half of that’. Let’s hope Abdul really is looking after our motorbikes while we stay in the Medina.

    Motorbike focused updates are being posted at and @twowheelexp on twitter if you want to follow our journey, otherwise we plan to have a film edited together in the new year.

    And to answer the questions asked of me previously, here are some quick replies:
    1. Heading south to The Gambia means things become cheaper, the weather gets better and the cultures become more interesting.
    2. We wanted to ride our bikes to Cape Town but political situations are insecure in parts at thr moment and it would take much longer to plan/save up for.
    3. We don’t plan to travel any where ‘dangerous’. We are looking for an adventure but will move on if we feel unsafe.
    4. We have three panniers each to carry our luggage. The saying ‘over packed is under prepared’ is very true and we have packed what we need without going over the top. Yes, we will need to wash our underwear frequently…!20121023-160327.jpg

    Finally, an exciting employee engagement scheme!

    Ecoinomy, the web start up founded by sustainability guru, John Grant has launched! Using employee engagement, service design and exciting innovation, Ecoinomy’s ‘eco.system’ rewards employees for actions they haven’t taken. The employees are then financially rewarded, communities are formed, employees gain a sense of achievement and motivation and the company saves money by saving energy.

    You have to love win, win situations – the environment wins, the employee wins and the company wins!

    I could write about this for hours but instead I recommend watching the launch video. It is great to see a famous dragon on board too to help spread the word!

    For more information, go to the corporate website

    Social enterprise or Sustainable enterprise?

    LSE Lecture: Sustainability in Practice, Sara Parkin, Forum for the Future, 11 October 2010

    Parkin gave a very articulate and engaging lecture which questioned whether social enterprises provide sustainable solutions.

    Because I’ve been working on projects with a couple of social enterprises I found this a very thought provoking question.  The projects I’ve been involved with have been very much focused on sustainability.  The community are involved to create a better place for residents, efficiency has been key so that costs are kept low and manageable but more importantly, the environment has been put at the forefront to make sure it does not suffer.  Parkin prompted debate on the importance of human and economic factors and the effect on the planet when setting up an enterprise.  A true definition of a social enterprise is a business with socially driven objectives which invests its profits back into the enterprise.

    During the lecture, we discussed the definitions of a social enterprise, a conventional enterprise, of an entrepreneur and sustainability which resulted in us questioning whether we should be focusing on ‘sustainable enterprises’ instead.

    This then raises two questions.  What is the difference between a social enterprise and a not-for-profit enterprise and what is the detrimental effect of such things as wasting paper and increasing your carbon footprint by travelling to make the project happen!?

    The lecture would not have been complete without mentioning the Big Society! Parkin talked about her concerns if communities fail to come together once the government have created a business out of decentralising services. Will the communities that currently work together, help each other out and look to make a difference, be squashed? Let’s hope not!

    My conclusion is that social enterprises are becoming more accepted, better understood and, fingers crossed, better funded.  Yes, we need to consider all pillars of sustainability for a sustainable outcome but educating communities to be more socially aware is fundamental to achieving this.