Andrea Coleman

Riders for Health

Andrea Coleman

Andrea Coleman co-founded Riders for Health, which helps life-saving medicines and care reach patients in rural areas through a commitment to motorcycle maintenance and rider training.

Their vision is ‘a world in which health care reaches everyone, everywhere.’ Riders is making a huge difference to health services, with programmes in Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and the Gambia.

Ogunte: When did you first realise you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Andrea Coleman: I don’t think you decide. It is just the way one’s mind works.

Ogunte: What is your proudest career moment to date?

Andrea Coleman: Seeing women health workers, who had previously been unable to reach their rural patients, safely and competently riding their well-maintained motorcycles out to remote communities, taking the health care that is so desperately needed.

Though mechanical vehicles such as motorcycles and trucks are bought to support health in Africa there is no automatic support infrastructure for maintenance in rural Africa. So beginning in 1989 the team that would become Riders began to work out and to pioneer systems that would enable those cars, trucks and motorcycles to work as well and as cost-effectively in rural and some cities in Africa as the do anywhere in the developed world.

Ogunte: How do profit and social impact work together in your mind?

Andrea Coleman: Social impact can only be sustainable if it pays for itself. Profit enables reinvestment and sustainability. A business will only be drawn into the mainstream if it is profitable to individuals. Making a social business ‘not for personal gain’ is essential to maximising impact - this is different from profit and not-for-profit models.

Ogunte Coleman: What was the biggest obstacle you faced at the start of your journey?

Andrea Coleman: People resisting change. The development community is averse to change despite their apparent interest in innovation.

Ogunte: What are three key pointers to keep in mind when trying to make a social business more visible and engaging?

Andrea Coleman: 1) Keep the focus. 2) Keep telling the story. 3) Keep it practical.


Ogunte: How did you manage working across cultures, especially when transitioning into Riders being owned and run by local teams?

Andrea Coleman: From the outset, we made sure that each entity was locally owned and managed. We focused on having a good selection process and good training for staff.

“It is important to know that it is not the preserve of people from the ‘developed’ world to have all the answers – our central belief is that sustainability can only be brought about by local people”.

Ogunte: What advice would you give to someone who wants to change people’s world?

Andrea Coleman: When you see a problem, start asking questions. Who is going to pay for it? How are you going to make sure it is paid for? Will this work support and co-ordinate with the work of others?

Keep focused, keep it simple, keep it practical, and believe in local ability.

Get rid of people who don’t believe in and work towards the mission, sooner rather than later.

Ogunte: Who are three women who inspire you with their work?

Andrea Coleman:

1) Jenny Bowen, founder of OneSky, which transforms the lives of the world’s most at-risk children.

2) Maryam Bibi, founder of Khwendo Kor (Sisters’ Home) which empowers tribal girls on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border through education.

3) Jasmeen Patheja, an artist working in India who uses her art to fight rape culture and sexual violence. Blog: Blank Noise.

Interview produced by Naomi Pyburn for Ogunte.
Learn from other ImpactWomen interviews here.



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