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The bicycle diary

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I'm trying hard to refrain from making a reference to that underwhelming film “The Hangover Part II” when I introduce Tristan Gautier, Antoine Savoie and Charles De Lorgeril. Well, clearly not trying that hard because here I am, referencing; they're three tanned young men, travelling across the world by bicycle and they need to make it home in time for Charles' sister's wedding in July. How could you not think of Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis juggling travel, weddings and general debauchery? Except there's a fairly crucial difference. Theirs isn't some extended bachelor's excursion — the three economics students are currently travelling across the world for a cause: to raise money and awareness for social microfinance institutions.

Touring the world on a bicycle, the three 20-year-olds aim to support, promote and gather research about microfinance institutions. “We're economics students in our third-year of university at the Political Sciences Institute of Paris,” explains Antoine, “and all third-year students are required to spend a year abroad. Most intern or enrol at a foreign university but we wanted to do a project that would involve travel.”

“Microfinance institutions have had quite a bad reputation recently,” he continues, “and the crisis has considerably damaged the image of microfinance in Western Countries. Microfinance had once been seen as the solution to fight poverty but more recently it has been seen as having betrayed its ideal, and as a way of making a profit from the poorest people. However, we believe that responsible microfinance is possible and furthermore, a very useful way of fighting poverty.”

After raising funds for over six months in France, the boys have financed the creation of activities in the different countries they visit. “We have financed more than 300 activities for the first year, but the good thing with microcredit is the repayment is always used to finance new loans. The aim is now to meet the people we have financed, to see if their living conditions have improved, thanks to the loan, and to show that microfinance is still efficient.”

They are also trying to meet every possible microfinance institution in the countries they visit, even if it's just for an hour. “We're going to gather some research,” one of them explains, “it isn't scientific research, because we don't have the level or the time, but it's just visiting each institution and understanding how it works. We're trying to compile all this information into a report so that we can make comparisons between the different institutions.”

Undertaking to travel the world on a bicycle seems quite a daunting task, and one only for seasoned cyclists, so I'm surprised to learn the boys aren't, well, seasoned cyclists. “Although, after these eight months, I think you can definitely say we're experienced” laughs Charles, “It's quite a sporting challenge, travelling across 10,000km. We only trained for three days prior to our departure, although we used to play rugby a lot, which I suppose helped in terms of general fitness.”

In India they have visited Kolkata, where we have financed projects thanks to NCRC, a small microfinance institution, partner of Entrepreneurs du Monde. “It is one of the most impressive institutions we have met since the beginning,” says Antoine, “They are doing a wonderful job and implementing exactly the kind of responsible microfinance we want to promote.”

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2019 11:05:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/the-bicycle-diary/article2987975.ece

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