April 24, 2019

World Bicycle Relief: Barcode Scanners Help Break Down Barriers

Elaine Chang

World Bicycle Relief: Barcode Scanners Help Break Down Barriers

Impact is brought about in many ways – sometimes it’s the delivery of a service, but it can also be through access to “things.” Impact can come from access to things like solar lanterns, medicine, or loaned farm equipment, all of which need to be tracked and managed – increasingly through technology. Here’s how World Bicycle Relief (WBR) uses barcode scanners to manage the distribution and maintenance of bicycles used to break down barriers to independence and livelihoods in emerging markets.

Thanks to World Bicycle Relief® for sharing its story of how they’re creating impact, with a system Vera Solutions designed and built and with the help of TaroWorks‘ mobile field services app. Read our webinar recap below, or watch the full webinar for more details.


World Bicycle Relief mobilizes people through the “Power of Bicycles” and envisions a world where distance is no longer a barrier to independence and livelihoods. WBR designs, builds and distributes rugged bicycles to students, healthcare workers and entrepreneurs in rural regions of developing countries, to better connect them to livelihoods, education and healthcare.

Their Buffalo Bicycles are simple, locally-assembled, durable bicycles that have been specifically designed for rural terrain and can carry up to 100kg on the rear carrier.

World Bicycle Relief
Named after the African Buffalo, WBR’s Buffalo Bicycles are simple, locally-assembled, durable bicycles that have been specially designed for rural terrain. Source: World Bicycle Relief

To date, WBR has distributed over 447,340 bicycles across their global program locations, some of which are sold (along with spare parts) through their social enterprise arm, and some of which are donated to targeted individuals through their philanthropic arm. Additionally, they have trained over 2,201 local bicycle mechanics.

In WBR’s philanthropic arm, the majority of bicycles are distributed to students through the Bicycles for Educational Empowerment Program (BEEP). Education is key to ending cycles of disease and poverty and BEEP focuses on keeping children in school by lessening the barrier of distance. Some children are walking up to 15km to get to school and these bicycles are not only getting them there on time, but also allowing them to do things outside of school that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.

To track how they’re doing against their mission, WBR measures and evaluates these areas of impact:

  • Performance
    • Student attendance and exam results
    • Sense of empowerment – 70% of bicycles go to girls, to foster girl empowerment and keep them in school.
    • Retention
  • Accountability
    • In each BEEP school, a Bicycle Supervisory Committee (BSC), consisting of school representatives and community members, is set up. The committee members receive five days of training and create their local BEEP policy to own this process at the school level. Members also have forms to capture their monthly activities to make sure they’re committed.
  • Durability
    • Students could have bicycles for 3-5 years, so the bicycles need to be in working order during that period. Durability is measured through service logs and conversations with mechanics.
  • Sustainability
    • WBR compares results between participating schools and students, with those who don’t receive bicycles.


As WBR’s program grew in scope and their monitoring and evaluation needs evolved, they identified three main issues that led them to look for a digital system.

Bicycle Tracking

Buffalo Bicycles are manufactured in Taiwan, shipped to the countries of operation, assembled in the central warehouses and then head to schools for the “Bicycle Distribution Ceremonies”. After the bicycles left the warehouses, it was challenging to track the bicycles. The bicycles were manually allocated to students against a paper list, which was time consuming. There was also a gap in their ability to track between the warehouse and the bicycle recipients and they had limited information about the bicycles’ maintenance levels.

Access to Schools

In 2018, WBR worked with 169 schools in four countries. Paper worked up to a point, but as the program grew, it became increasingly difficult to monitor activities at all of the schools and receive data in a timely manner.

Improved data management

Ivy Kabombwe is WBR’s M&E Research Assistant in Lusaka, Zambia, and her role is to manage monitoring and evaluation data. The enormous amount of data that needed to be filed and entered became unbearable with paper. WBR had already been using Salesforce to manage its fundraising and finances, but they wanted to evolve their use of the database further by integrating monitoring and evaluation into the same system. This led WBR to seek help on Salesforce from Vera Solutions.

Data management

Before TaroWorks, World Bicycle Relief had to manage monitoring and evaluation data on paper. Source: World Bicycle Relief


Vera Solutions is a global social enterprise that’s driven to amplify the impact of the social sector through cloud and mobile technology. Vera helped World Bicycle Relief set up their Salesforce instance in 2015 to start basic monitoring and evaluation of bicycle beneficiaries. However, WBR still relied on lots of paper to get information from the field into the system. To remedy this, Vera Solutions built a custom page to upload data into the system, but this method proved to be increasingly time-consuming and challenging as WBR continued to scale.

Taking into account WBR’s growth and increase in data needs, Vera Solutions reassessed the systems and realized WBR needed a robust unique identifier system for tracking individuals and bicycles in addition to working offline, which is why TaroWorks’ barcode functionality became the obvious solution.


With the new system in place, Ivy is able to use TaroWorks on a tablet for tracking data.

World Bicycle Relief

World Bicycle Relief M&E Research Assistant Ivy Kabombwe gathers data in the field using a mobile device. Source: World Bicycle Relief

And she’s not the only one. There are two main types of TaroWorks mobile users in the field:

  • School users – WBR provides schools that meet certain criteria with a tablet, which school representatives use to update information on bicycles and students.
  • M&E specialists – WBR specialists use tablets to assign bicycles during Bicycle Distribution Ceremonies.

Tracking with TaroWorks

World Bicycle Relief is now able to track multiple indicators with offline data, including bicycle allocations to students, bicycle usage, repairs and maintenance, Bicycle Supervisory Committee activities, education outcomes (performance and attendance) and annual school profile indicators. Data logged by the Bicycle Supervisory Committees is sent directly to WBR’s Salesforce system, where they can monitor up-to-date records and reports.

Salesforce dashboard
World Bicycle Relief Salesforce dashboards. Source: World Bicycle Relief

Some analytics that Lawrence Banda, WBR’s Monitoring & Evaluation Technical Advisor, tracks:

  • Bicycle usage and preventative maintenance activities by program country and bicycle services status
  • Student attendance and student performance
  • Common repairs
  • Average repair times in days


One critical TaroWorks functionality for World Bicycle Relief’s operations is the use of barcode scanners. Using barcode scanning has simplified their processes, which means time savings, higher quality data and the elimination of manual errors.

World Bicycle Relief uses barcode scanners for two main purposes:

Assigning bicycles

Bicycles are assigned to program participants during the Bicycle Distribution Ceremony by using the bicycle’s 15-digit serial number. The mobile user scans the barcode using a tablet or smart phone’s camera and that serial number is then linked to a beneficiary automatically. The distribution ceremonies are very busy, filled with lots of people and excitement so by introducing barcoding, it becomes fun for the Bicycle Supervisory Committees but it also allows them to move through the distribution process much faster.

World Bicycle Relief
Bicycle distribution ceremony. Source: World Bicycle Relief

During the pilot use of this mobile technology, 50 bicycles could be assigned to participants in 30 minutes, compared to more than two hours of logging 15-digit serial numbers manually.

Tracking bicycle maintenance[

WBR created a “bicycle service” job in TaroWorks, allowing field mechanics to retrieve a bicycle record by scanning the barcode. When they scan the bicycle code, they can see a list of all maintenance tickets and details about each request including the status of the ticket, when the service was identified and when the service was completed. This information serves as the basis for the reports that management monitors to make sure that students are able to use their bicycles.

World Bicycle Relief
World Bicycle Relief team member scans a barcode from one of the bicycles. Source: World Bicycle Relief.


Some tips that WBR has picked up from using the system at the school level include:

  • Ensure barcodes are visible and easy to locate: WBR ended up changing the location of the barcode on the bicycles from the top of the tube to the underside, to prevent wear and tear on the label.
  • Ensure the barcodes are long lasting: WBR suggests using a protective layer over the barcodes to make sure they don’t come off.
  • Training is key to success: WBR started training on the basics of how to use a smartphone or tablet, including how to take good photos and how to enter information, so the tablets can be used for more than TaroWorks tasks. Bicycle Supervisory Committees were ecstatic to use more functionality on the devices.
  • Starting with a pilot: WBR started roll-out in a limited number of schools so they could monitor the uptake and integration of technology, workflows and how the schools treated the fairly valuable tablets.
  • Document and share learnings
  • Continuous improvement: WBR has gotten lots of insight into when and where to scan bicycles. By continually revisiting their processes, they can become more efficient in their distributions.
  • Emphasize community participation: It’s very important for the schools and Bicycle Supervisory Committees to participate in every stage so they feel ownership of both the technology and the function of monitoring and evaluation. Previously, WBR staff members visited the schools and collected result sheets, but now with tablets in the schools, the schools are empowered to manage monitoring and evaluation directly. By requiring that schools meet certain criteria to use TaroWorks, WBR is seeing that technology can be a motivator because every school wants a tablet.
Community members with their assigned bicycles. Source: World Bicycle Relief


  • Accountability: There are no more excuses for lost forms. WBR has direct proof of whether information is in the system, which allows them to follow up with schools faster if results are not in.
  • Access to real-time data for improvements and quality: With paper, WBR used to wait up to three months to receive forms. Now, they can immediately track whether preventative maintenance is taking place and follow up if necessary.
  • Targeted M&E based on performance: WBR is able to follow up on where there are problems with impact tracking and reporting.
  • Time-savings
  • Improved workflow: By receiving digital beneficiary distribution lists earlier, WBR has changed their workflow so they have more time to verify beneficiary criteria before the bicycle distributions.
  • User-friendly application: The technology makes their processes more fun, which helps to motivate the Bicycle Supervisory Committees to submit the necessary data.



  • Adhere to selection criteria: WBR established criteria that schools need to meet to receive TaroWorks, including at least one year of experience with BEEP, how papers are filed and (at least in the first round) that the school has access to 2G, 3G or 4G connectivity. This criteria helps them identify the schools that are motivated and receptive to the technology.
  • Quality and location of the barcodes.
  • Workflow linked to scanning the bicycles: It’s critical to ensure that all parts of the organization have agreed on a workflow with the new digital processes. For example, if the M&E team starts to verify beneficiary data earlier, the program team should know about the change and confirm they can support the change in their processes.

Scaling Up

WBR is really pleased with the Salesforce system and the benefits of TaroWorks thus far. They’re now thinking about how they can expand this further. Some of the changes they are considering:

  • Lower cost devices to scale to more schools: Purchasing smaller devices (i.e. smartphone or smaller tablet) that are less costly, so more schools can participate.
  • Transitioning into TaroWorks: Since some schools are new to mobile devices, possibly introducing mobile devices first to use WhatsApp and to take photos before providing TaroWorks.
  • At least 10 new schools on board in each country by Q4 in addition to linking real-time data to the WBR website


About the author...

Elaine Chang


Elaine’s background in marketing research and data analytics has shaped her goal of helping organizations use insights from better data to create positive change in communities. She has a BS in Marketing and Finance from New York University, and an MBA from the University of Michigan. Elaine is based in Washington, DC.


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