Updated at: 18-07-2023 - By: Kim Anderson

In Tanzania, the majority of people live without electricity, yet a third of the country uses mobile phones. Bernard Kiwia, a trained electrician and vocational-school instructor, collaborated with the for-profit social enterprise Global Cycle Solutions (GCS) to design a phone charger from scrap bike and radio parts. Made from spokes, brake tubes, clamps, motors, and capacitors, the device generates power when its roller comes in contact with the bike’s spinning wheel as one rides it.

At MIT D-Lab’s inaugural International Design Development Summit (IDDS) in 2007, Kiwia was introduced to design solutions developed with locally resourced materials. Seeing a real need in Tanzania, he made a prototype of the charger from old bicycle spokes and brake cables. Further refinements came after he partnered with another innovator at the second IDDS, India’s Suprio Das, who contributed his small-scale manufacturing experience when certain parts were difficult to source.

In Tanzania, the devices are sold in urban retail stores and via sales ambassadors in rural villages, and are now also distributed in Uganda and Zambia. GCS, comprised of MIT-educated engineers and social entrepreneurs, sells a range of bicycle-powered products. It plans to distribute the phone charger globally. Kiwia has also designed a phone charger that regulates the voltage coming from a motorbike’s battery to recharge the mobile phone. An open-source design GCS helped bring to market, the bicycle charger costs approximately US$10 and the motorcycle charger approximately US$5.

Designer: Bernard Kiwia, with Global Cycle Solutions. Collaborators: Suprio Das, International Design Development Summit 2009, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Arusha, Tanzania, 2007–present. 470 microfarad capacitor, 7806 transistor (voltage regulator), cell phone cord, 12V DC motor, metal u-bracket, rubber roller, brake pipe, brake clamp, spoke, spring wire, 8mm nylon rod