Inspired by a South African runner’s victory in the Atlanta Olympic Games, at which he was also competing, Ryder’s vision was to take a South African cycling team to the sport’s top level. To be closer to the heart of competitive cycling in Europe, the team set up its headquarters in Brabant, in the Netherlands, in 2020.
“I really believe in the potential of Africa,” states Ryder passionately as he describes what his dream looks like. “In my late 20s, I thought maybe we could create an African cycling team that could take on the rest of the world, transform the sport and do incredible things.” As he travelled around, however, Ryder realized that there were very few bicycles in Africa. “I thought if we could create a hero on a bike, then we could make bikes cool, and we could mobilize the continent and also show that Africa deserves to be in cycling.”
In 1997, he created his team with the goal of ultimately entering an African team in the Tour de France – an ambition he finally realized in 2015. This incredible, almost 20-year journey involved colossal efforts from all concerned. “At the end of 2015, we were the No.1 second-division team in the world and then got an opportunity to be a World Tour team, and we’ve been there ever since,” states Ryder, at the team’s facility in Oosterhout, Brabant. By competing around the world, the team is raising awareness of the mobility platform that is cycling and creating hope for others. It is a mammoth operation involving 286 race days in 26 countries across five continents. The purpose is to create not only social mobility from a physical movement perspective but also to enable men, women, and children to travel, educate themselves, be entrepreneurial and change the fate of Africa. Ryder’s dream has never been more critical, with COVID threatening the lives of many on the continent.
The symbiotic partnership with the Qhubeka charity is a thing of beauty. Qhubeka helps bring bicycles to Africa via structured programs. For example, through its ‘Shift’ programs, Qhubeka aims to distribute 5000 bicycles per year to a specific geographical area for five years to move the entire community forward. The programs are measured against sustained impact over a decade. The bicycles are earned in various ways, for example, through Eco-programs where bikes are earned by recycling waste, or planting trees, or Craft programs by producing handicrafts. However, its activities are much broader than this alone.
Nelson Mandela stated that sport has the power to change the world because it connected with people in a way that governments or religions couldn’t. “I think we are ahead of our time – we have always been a purpose-led, high-performance team that has used its success to create hope for others,” Ryder asserts. The team recently celebrated ten years of working together with Qhubeka and has received significant endorsements from the IOC, ECI and WEF. Even with COVID and the search for a title partner throwing up extra challenges, the team is confident of the road ahead. Ryder cites the boom in cycling that COVID has stimulated around the world, with governments spending tens of millions on cycling initiatives and infrastructure, “the bicycle boom is happening, and Africa deserves to be a part of it.”
However, Ryder notes some changes in perception. “The world has become focused on ego and not upon impact. We are about return upon impact. Sadly, sport is often about ego.” He highlights that younger generations are highly aware, looking for stories, a strong ‘why’ driving an organization’s ambition. Team Qhubeka is not about raising money for a mundane corporate entity hungry for media exposure. Instead, Ryder and his team are raising the bar, tying purpose in with the UN Sustainable Development goals, allying success with social mobility, and capitalizing on performance to pay societal dividends.
The rationale to locate in the Netherlands was easy. “We always had a really passionate connection to the Netherlands. Pon Holdings in Almere was our first partner, so we first operated from there. We were looking around for a permanent location in the Netherlands, and one of our mechanics came from Oosterhout. So, we started looking and soon realized that Brabant is a place where many international businesses were located because of excellent links into Europe, so we ended up finding premises in Oosterhout. We’ve been here for two years now, and we’re really happy. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we landed in the heart of cycling in the Netherlands – we’d landed in the crown jewels! There is so much richness of intelligence and global companies located in this region.”
Locating in Brabant confers many benefits – the region was identified as the World’s Most Innovative Region in 2016 and has the highest patent density in the world. Team Qhubeka has already established working relationships with the Fontys University of Applied Sciences in nearby Eindhoven – an area rich with the technological legacy of global multinational Philips. “Because our team cares so much and we are purpose-driven, we have become pretty innovative in the way we do things. We are always looking for new ideas and bringing people in. Starting in September, we are creating internships within our team environment at our wonderful facility here, which is perfect for collaboration. I want to look at how we can use our technologies to connect people better, work with our Central Intelligence Office, and look at topics such as energy management and high performance.”
“Our team story is so difficult to tell because it is so big. It doesn’t fit on the back of a napkin. We are very focused and have enjoyed partnerships with blue-chip brands such as Microsoft, IBM, and NTT. We have exhibited return on business, return on brand, return on experiences. Through our merchandising alone, we support a community of 25,000 in the northwest province of South Africa. So, this is much bigger than a cycling team. We have made such an impact that the organizer of the Tour de France adopted our charity, Qhubeka, and the youngest team in the event, as the official charity.”
Ryder is unequivocal about the level of support from the region. “The BOM has helped us connect with incredible people, whether it’s financial planning or resource management things like that. It’s an incredible organization. For example, when we arrived here, Eelko Brinkhoff reached out to us to let us know that there was a community ready to help, and just knowing that, as a foreigner, was incredible. They put us in contact with like-minded organizations in different industries; it was so helpful. It’s a very well-connected network, and it made being here and setting up the company here very easy. It also gave us huge peace of mind because there was always somebody we could talk to when we needed assistance.”