In the world’s remote farmlands, walking is the primary mode of transportation. The World Bank estimates that nearly a billion people lack access to a road that is passable year-round, due to rainy seasons that are both critical to agriculture and dangerous for the very people that rely on those seasonal rains. When rivers swell, reaching school, the doctor, work, or the market can become life-threatening without a bridge to cross. Studies from rural communities throughout the world have demonstrated that safe access to reliable pedestrian transportation infrastructure can have dramatic effects on the ability of residents to meet their own needs, care for their families, earn stable incomes, and build resiliency against unpredictable weather (Rural Access Index: A Key Development Indicator, World Bank, 2006). Recently, the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS) published a report on how infrastructure supports the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), highlighting its role in connecting populations, interventions, and resources for economic growth - “Networked infrastructure is shown to influence 72% of the 169 SDG targets…This broad array of influences emerges due to the vital role networked infrastructure plays in delivering essential services to communities, working as the life-support to many of societies functions” (Infrastructure: Underpinning Sustainable Development, UNOPS, 2008).
In creating significant, long-term disparities in access to education, healthcare, emergency services, and economic opportunity, failing to address the need for physical connection disenables other investments intended to more directly (but singularly) address key development indicators, such as improved teacher training, low-cost fertilizer production, or innovation vaccination delivery methods. Entire communities are unable to reach these resources for months of each year, significantly decreasing the return on these investments and increasing the perception of insecurity for the residents of those communities, a factor that has been shown to directly correlate with a perpetuation of the generational cycle of poverty (UNOPS, 2008). When residents are not certain that they will be able to cross a river to reach markets, schools, or clinics, they are less likely to invest in farming more of their land, prioritizing school attendance for their children, or accessing preventative healthcare. They make decisions based on the risk of being cut off from resources and this perception of risk can cripple potential opportunities to improve key outcomes (Design and Appraisal of Rural Transport Infrastructure: Ensuring Basic Access for Rural Communities, World Bank, 2001).
A root cause of the lack of investment in rural infrastructure is capital scarcity. Efforts to resource the cost of rural infrastructure have largely been geographically localized, with district- or municipal-level governments responsible for determining how to prioritize connectivity for their own constituents. Municipal-level governments are not able to raise public debt to finance critical infrastructure, however, and thus rely on limited annual national budget allocations which are insufficient to serve the core needs of constituents. Federal-level ministries rarely contract for rural assets outside of regionally-networked power, water, or road infrastructure, and as such, there is a significant financing gap to provide infrastructure to the rural poor.
Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) works by targeting a key, common driver of many of the factors culminating in rural poverty: isolation. With a single innovation (footbridges), the organization is able to target a root cause of poverty that affects rural households across multiple dimensions. Footbridges are a cost-effective, scalable infrastructure intervention that connects rural communities that face extreme isolation to road networks and urban centers. This connection creates consistent access to critical economic, health, and education opportunities, expands the market of beneficiaries and the efficacy of services for surrounding development interventions, and serves as a demonstrable solution for alleviating poverty.
The populations served by B2P footbridges traditionally are isolated from urban and peri-urban centers for at least a portion of every year due to lack of safe access over or a river or canyon. Residents of these isolated communities typically live on less than $2 USD per day, and work as subsistence farmers, cultivating crops or raising livestock to support their families.
Mission and Vision
Bridges to Prosperity believes that the problem of rural isolation is solvable within our lifetimes. The organization aims to connected isolated communities in the world's last-mile with critical resources, creating transformative change across a myriad of development indicators.
With experience in 20 countries, Bridges to Prosperity has connected more than one million people globally with safe, reliable access to critical services through the construction of over 300 footbridges. The organization partners with local governments, partners, and communities to deliver low-cost infrastructure on-time and on-budget. B2P has developed a simple, efficient, scalable model to deliver safe, reliable footbridges to the world’s most isolated communities. To address the fundamental barriers that prevent governments from providing rural citizens with critical access to regional transportation networks, B2P takes an innovative, two-pronged approach: providing technical and operational expertise that significantly reduces the cost of a footbridge project, and aggregating a national portfolio of footbridge need that creates a transaction size at which federal-level government can meaningfully participate, and in which global funding partners can invest.
Technical Expertise: Bridges to Prosperity has engaged leading experts in the engineering and construction industries to develop a set of standard footbridge designs that are uniquely tailored to be constructed in the most remote environments in the world, with no access to sophisticated tools or equipment, and utilizing a largely unskilled labor force sourced from the local community. B2P footbridges incorporate low-cost, locally-sourced, and repurposed materials, and are built to last decades, creating community resilience in the face of volatile weather, a changing climate, and shifting market conditions. Over its eighteen-year history of bridge building, B2P has established a network of suppliers and streamlined its supply chain for bridge components that cannot be locally-sourced, including steel cable, pipe, towers, and decking. The ability to efficiently source these materials drives down the overall cost of a bridge and drives up the return of impact on every dollar invested.
National-Level Approach: B2P aggregates all needed footbridge projects into a portfolio of rural infrastructure investments, which reduces overall contracting costs and improves implementation quality and safety over a project-by-project approach. Aggregating projects into a portfolio also creates an investment size large enough to be of interest to federal-level government ministries. When this investable deal size is paired with demonstrated impact, global funding partners are also able to leverage their investments, in partnership with local government, to create transformative, systems-level change for an entire country.
In the spring of 2019, the organization signed a historic partnership with the Government of Rwanda to co-finance the construction of 355 footbridges over the next five years, connecting Rwanda’s more than 1.1 million isolated residents and marking the organization’s first national-level government collaboration. The consortium of Rwandan Government ministries and agencies has committed to cover $11.4 million of the estimated $28 million USD total cost of the program. The program in Rwanda will serve as a template for national-level partnership moving forward, which will allow B2P to scale its work rapidly to solve the problem of rural isolation globally.
The United Nations has reported extensively on the shift to urbanism in frontier- and emerging-market countries, and the concern that as low-income nations modernize, their carbon emissions will increase substantially. Footbridges are a proven path for individuals in these countries to advance their quality of life outside of the seemingly inevitable shift from a walking society to one that is reliant on combustible fuels. In short, when it comes to transportation infrastructure, a footbridge epitomizes the old adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Globally, more than 900 million people travel by foot but lack access to pedestrian infrastructure that is passable during all seasons. B2P believes that for remote communities, a footbridge is not a stop-gap solution to be put in place until a government invests in widespread motorized-vehicle infrastructure, but an affordable resolution to sustain a way of life that has served farmers and their families for thousands of years.
A recent study released by economists from the University of Notre Dame and Yale University shows that communities receiving a B2P footbridge demonstrate a 30% increase in labor market income, a 75% increase in farm profits, a 60% increase in purchase of farm inputs, a 59% increase in women entering the labor market, and a 32% increase in household income, compared to communities not receiving a bridge. In creating access to the critical services rural residents need to thrive, footbridges provide members of isolated communities a pathway to resiliency.
Planned Goals and Milestones
Bridges to Prosperity launched its first national partnership in Rwanda in July of 2019, and is working to construct 355 footbridges in the country over the next five years. This national-level approach will be replicated in other countries to scale the organization's work and connect the rural last mile around the world. We hope to launch two more national programs in the next five years.