ONE OF THE MOST PROGRESSIVELY DEVELOPING CHARITIES IN HUNGARY IS FOUNDED BY BIKE ACTIVISTS. THEY HELP PEOPLE IN NEED, INVOLVE LOTS OF VOLUNTEERS AND STUDENTS, AND THERE ARE MORE AND MORE COMPANIES AMONG THEIR PARTNERS AND SUPPORTERS.
I first met the activists of Budapest Bike Maffia at the farmer’s market in Szimpla Kert a few years ago. They were standing at the entrance; handing out empty shopping bags to the people entering the market, and collecting full bags from the ones who were leaving. The system was simple and transparent: I received a bag, that I could fill with groceries for a family in need, while shopping for my own family. When I was done with shopping, I gave it back to them. In the afternoon the activists delivered the packages to the families on their list.
This simplicity and effectiveness characterizes them ever since. The non-formal group was founded in 2011, now they operate as an asociation, and in its short career it already received several awards fro it’s innovative and effective projects. We interviewed the organization’s founder at their new base, Food Truck Court.
WE ARE PUNKSWHY BICYCLES?
“People who know who we are, and what we do probably also realize that we are punks, in a good sence.” Zoli said in a previous interview. The Bike Maffia, though it became a formal association through the years, kept its bottom-up characteristics and methods. They came with an existing experience from the Critical Mass movement, and continued with continuous organization-development, working out their specific methodology and image. They react to concrete problems with concrete answers, they are great in mobilization, and use the power of subculture well.
Their efficient function model is close to being the opposite of what Hungarian civil society organizations started after the changes in 1990. They don’t write grant applications, do not maintain an office with permanent staff; at the moment Zoltán Havasi is the only member responsible for the management of the association ‘full time’. They mobilize and make projects solely based on volunteer work first, and then they start to look for resources – involving private donations, voluntary fundraising contributors, companies. A lot of classic (formal) civil society organizations try to add these methods to their existing organization structure – and they are struggling with it. Probably because they are building their house upside-down, and try to add the walls to an existing roof. The classic NGO solution is: identifying a problem and then throwing resources at it. In this sence the Bike Maffia activist are punks: they don’t think that way.WHY MAFFIA?
STARTING WITH NOTHING
Their first actions that in time evolved to permanent activities, were jump-started without using money. All they needed was an idea and voluntary work. Asking people to do some shopping for those in need, gathering and rapidly distributing fresh food left over from various events, organizing a common cooking event. In time, other, more complex projects evolved on the go – their current, diverse projects and network.
So what doeas the Budapest Bike Maffia do exactly? To keep things simple, we divided their activities to two groups: permanent activities and projects. The 3 permanent activities:
Have you ever thought about how much fresh food gets thrown out after weddings or conferences? BBM’s activists rescue food since 2014 from events, restaurants, companies and private offerings and deliver it quickly, while fresh to those in need.
Vitamin Commando is a rapid action force: they distribute incoming food from BBM’s storage in one, or at the longest two days to people in need. Their cargo is primarily healthy, vegetable and fruit based packages. They swing into action at least once a week, and when needed – as they say: in times of donation-tsunamis – several days a week.
Community cooking is organized every second Saturday. They prepare food from donated ingredients, package portions and deliver them on bicycles to homeless people and families in need.
In this project homeless people get disposable cameras, and they make photos of Budapest from their point of view. The pictures are collected into a calendar and an exhibition. The calendar is distributed for money, and the income goes to the homeless creators.
CORPORATE TEAM-BUILDING WITH PUNKS
Volunteer mobilization is not the only strenght of Budapest Bike Maffia, they nurse fruitful relationships with companies as well. They implement several projects with the help of corporate partners like Cofidis, MOL, the Hungarian oil company, Decathlon… The secret of their success is probably that the Bike Maffia does not approach companies with appeals. They are not asking support, they treat them as partners or clients in a social enterprise. They offer a popular service: organizing team-building days. Two birds with one stone: the Human Resources and the Corporate Social Responsibility departments are both happy, it’s a good deal. The well-planned and developed team-building days are connected to the work of the Vitamin Commando, the staff of the company spends most of the day with volunteer work, while getting to know BBM well, and after that they receive an awareness-raising workshop.
They catch their clients with the difference. Their offer is different than other services available on the market, and their feedback is really good. One can go to shoot at each other at a paintball-court, or play an exitgame, but BBM’s team-building events offer a strong added value. “And it really looks good in your CV, where you volunteer.” Zoli adds.
“I see a positive shange.” he says, “I see that people have a need for this. We just simply need to provide them a platform to able and to know how to help others.”
ON CIVIL SOCIETY
“There should be radical reforms on this.”, Zoli says, when he talks about the role civil society organisations in society. He underlines the CSOs should have a say in decision-making on a system-level. “We are not here only to criticize, to show a mocking glass to state institutions. Organizations, the people in civil society who work with beneficiaries directly, see them and their problems on a different level. They have a different relationship, and they offer different solutions. It’s crazy they don’t get involved in decision-making processes.” There are cases when BBM meets local decision-makers who realize this, and they have fruitful relationships and partnerships with those, but as he emphasizes: “This should be on system-level.”
And when talking about his personal motivations, and his story, how he decided to launch the Bike Maffia, he mentions his fury against apathy and detachment. “When I talk about this, I usually like to qute Rage Against the Machine: anger is a gift.”
At the beginning people joined because of the cause, Zoli explains, and then later they keep coming back because of the community. Community is the primary cohesion of BBM.
And this community keeps growing: there are local groups in Debrecen, Pécs, Szeged and Miskolc, this spring they visited Bucharest to help launch one. The furthermost cell from Budapest is in Perreira, Colombia. A Colombian student joined the Budapest group, and he liked it so much, he started one when he got back home.
Each new group is started up with a know-how package, delivered by BBM activists. They plan to evolve to a network in time, but instead of a vertical growth, they believe in horizontal. The Budapest group is not going to become a bloated bureaucracy, Zoli says, referring on the frequent allusion of Budapest as the hydrocephalus of Hungary. This is not going top-down.
Text, video, sound, story editor: HUNOR KIRÁLY
Interview, photo: BÁLINT MERCKLE
Photos: BUDAPEST BIKE MAFFIA