Cycle On

How Ofo is making waves in the worlds of bike-sharing and charity.

Despite being founded just a few years ago, in 2014, Beijing-based bike-sharing firm Ofo already boasts a valuation of close to US$3 billion. Its most recent round of fundraising saw the group raise more than US$700 million, counting Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group as one of its heavyweight investors.

The start-up joins an assortment of bicycle-sharing schemes in Singapore, including MoBike, oBike, SG Bike and GBikes. On a global scale, there are about 600 such operations, with a market that could grow by 20 percent per year to generate as much as US$5.8 billion in revenue by 2020, according to the Roland Berger consultancy.

Indeed, measuring its wealth in billions has given Ofo an added advantage to grow rapidly in 150 cities and in 15 countries, namely China, Singapore, the UK, the US, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Russia, Italy, the Netherlands and Australia. But the money is not only used to unleash millions of Ofo’s signature ready-to-ride bright-yellow bikes across urban sprawls. The tech ‘unicorn’ (a term coined in 2013 by venture capitalist Aileen Lee for rare start-ups valued at over US$1 billion) has taken a noble turn, going the extra mile by giving back to the community and the environment.

Ofo was founded by Dai Wei in 2014 while he was still studying at Peking University, and came about thanks to his desire to find an environmentally friendly way to travel. It’s a mission that also targets environmental issues and, as a result, as Dai’s business develops and evolves, he finds himself doing a lot to explore issues not only in relation to climate change, pollution and other environmental challenges but also education and equality.

Dai, who became a young multimillionaire in a span of only three years, spent one year as a volunteer teacher after graduation, in the poverty-stricken region of Qinghai, China. The experience made him believe that education is the only way to lift people out of poverty and change their destiny. He was been quoted as saying: “I believe in unlocking every corner in the world with equal access to education, as well as with our bike-sharing scheme.”

As a result of his charity focus, earlier this year Ofo teamed up with Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF), an organisation started by the singer in honour of her grandparents, Clara and Lionel Braithwaite, which funds education, health, and emergency-response programmes. The partnership between the two is named 1KM Action and will see Ofo donating bikes to young Malawians — a valuable resource to combat some of the regional transportation challenges, which contribute to Malawi’s high school drop-out rates.

There are approximately 4.6 million primary-school-age children in Malawi and transportation across long distances is an issue, hence only 8 percent of students complete secondary school, with girls especially finding themselves at a disadvantage. So far, more than 1,000 bikes have been put to good use in Malawi, with more bikes being delivered for this five-year programme.

Speaking of the partnership, Rihanna said: “I’m so happy about the new partnership because it will help so many young people around the world receive a quality education, and also help the young girls of Malawi get to school safely, cutting down those very long walks they make to and from school all alone.”

In addition to the collaboration in Malawi, Ofo also carries out the 1KM Action plan to support CLF’s Global Scholarship Program to provide scholarships to students from China, Brazil, Barbados, Cuba, Haiti, Grenada, Guyana and Jamaica who are accepted on an accredited four-year college or university course in the US. Ofo will provide scholarships to students, particularly to those interested in studying topics related to the environment and sustainability.


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