As director of Mobiel 21, Jan Christiaens dedicates himself to reducing transport poverty, a situation in which people cannot afford to own a car or ride on public transport. His organization helps people learn to ride bikes so may find new opportunities for education, work, and social connection. As a participant in the International Visitor Leadership Program through the U.S. Embassy in Belgium, he traveled to the U.S. to raise awareness of his mission and network with others in his field.
Jan explains that “transport poverty is essentially a wicked problem which prevents people from developing a fruitful life.” Owning a car, acquiring a driver’s license, and riding the bus can be prohibitively expensive for some.
Sustainable mobility is the best answer to transport poverty, Jan believes. Learning to ride a bike can change someone’s outlook, and even their future. With a bike, underprivileged people gain the power to reach new destinations and new options for education, healthcare, and jobs. “Sometimes people only need a little extra push to become more than they ever dreamed of,” he says.
Bike riding even helps people’s sense of well-being by giving them access to supportive communities. “Community building, I think, is one of the reasons why people are coming to us,” Jan finds. “When you’re new to a country you lack a network.” Jan was delighted at the turnout for Mobiel 21’s Cycling School Family Day. Participants “came to just have a drink or talk about bicycles. They could test new bikes or just have a chat with us. It was a fantastic day.”
“Roots don't mean that much to me. It’s the person that counts.”
Jan finds personal satisfaction in connecting with people of different backgrounds who share his dedication for this humanitarian work. “No matter what country you’re from, if there’s a connection we can work together. For me identity is more about what you do than what you are.”
Raising awareness about transport poverty is Jan’s priority. The U.S. Embassy of Belgium supported him in this goal with an invitation to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program. “It’s been a fantastic experience for us,” Jan said of the 10-day tour of the U.S. “The recognition we got was absolutely amazing. It really strengthened our belief that what we are doing is a good thing – value,” Jan says. “We came back from the United States with so much enthusiasm, so much motivation to make sure this project reaches even more people than we do now.”“My hope for the future would be to end transport poverty.”