KWABENA DANSO - THE MAN BEHIND THE SCENES
Bamboo bikes by “My Boo” from Kiel, North Germany have made a name for themselves among bike fans. And the company’s social engagement is no secret either. However, hardly anyone has heard of Kwabena Danso. And yet he’s intrinsically linked to the success of these bamboo bicycles, which are showing how bikes can transform society.
In September 2019, Kwabena Danso finally saw his efforts bear fruit. A new school built together with My Boo was finally opened. At first, it was not clear how many children would attend the Yonso Project Model School in Appah. In the end though, it welcomed 206 new pupils. For Danso, this is a great success – and the result of years of hard work. “Many children here had no access to education. Now, they have the opportunity to realise their goals through our education programme,” he explains happily. The school was built with money raised by the non-profit organization My Boo Ghana School e.V. and through sales of bamboo bikes.
Kwabena Danso himself also comes from the area surrounding Yonso, a small village in the middle of Ghana. He was privileged enough to be able to go to school and then on to university. Many of his friends did not have the same opportunities. Ghana suffers from high levels of poverty and unemployment. Many parents are without a regular income and have no way to afford an education for their children, and sometimes show little interest. In addition, teachers and resources are in short supply. After a university project in 2005, Danso decided against leaving to work abroad and instead chose to use his expertise and contacts to benefit his local community. As a result, the Yonso Project was launched, initially with book donations. “I had three goals: to promote greater economic independence for the young, rural population in Ghana, to create a sustainable and international means of transport and to provide education opportunities in our community,” he says of his ambitious plan to build a school financed through the sale of bamboo bikes.
The giant, woody grass (correct bamboo is a form of grass) grows in plentiful supply in Ghana and is a sustainable raw material. After American frame builder Craig Calfee demonstrated the potential for bamboo bike frames, Danso spotted an opportunity to create employment in his home region. The idea for Booomers International was launched. In 2012, it started developing bicycles made of bamboo. Around the same time, founders Maximilian Schay and Jonas Stolzke were looking for a partner to build bamboo bikes for the German market. “We decided to look for a partner in Ghana because we wanted to create added value for the local population there,” explains Felix Habke, who has been My Boo’s company spokesman from day one. Kwabena Danso became a key figure. The company had talks with another manufacturer too, but was won over by Kwabena’s enthusiasm and especially by his commitment to social issues. “It was definitely the right decision,” says Felix Habke.
However, both sides found that they had a lot to learn at first. Ghana’s infrastructure is not comparable with European standards. The nearest large town to the factory is 50 kilometres away, involving a journey of around one and a half hours. To reach Accra, the capital of Ghana at the coast and the harbour takes five hours. “We had no idea how difficult it might be to transport a container of bike frames from a village in Ghana and ship it to Kiel in North Germany,” reflects Felix Habke. It proved important for both sides to make compromises. “We had to learn not to just focus on our own goals, but also to look for the best solution for all parties. Conversely, Kwabena and his team had to learn to see things from our point of view – and this is still something that we still benefit from enormously,” concludes My Boo’s company spokesman.
Today, Booomers International provides some 50 young people between the age of 18 and 29 secure employment, something that is scarce in Ghana. Over 4,000 bikes have already been manufactured. “From 2021, we aim to build approximately 2,000 frames a year. This is what are gearing up our capacity for,” says Kwabena Danso looking to the future. 15 per cent of profits made by Booomers is donated directly to the Yonso Project. Thanks to the success of the initiative he has become well-known figure – well beyond the village borders. He was selected as one of the 200 “Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa Program”. In 2018, he was introduced to Prince Charles at a business reception. The British heir to the throne was highly impressed by the project and the bamboo bikes. And he promised to buy one. “He’s not purchased it yet, but I’m working on it,” chuckles Kwabena Danso.