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Using bicycles to change the lives of young girls in India: the innovative project of IOC Young Leader Pragnya Mohan

International Olympic Committee

22 March 2024 – While Pragnya Mohan always had access to bicycles growing up for both playing and commuting, she realised this was not the case for many young girls struggling to travel to school in her home town of Ahmedabad, India. Now, with the support of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s Young Leaders Programme, Pragnya has created a project that provides bicycles to young female students for daily travel. As she aims to empower 1,000 girls in 2024, she reflects on the inspiration behind her initiative.

As India’s first and only athlete to compete at the Triathlon World Cup and the current South Asian and national triathlon champion, Pragnya Mohan has always wanted to support the less privileged through sport. After her successful application for the IOC Young Leaders Programme in 2023, she set out to identify the main challenges affecting young women in her hometown district, and discovered that there were high dropout rates from primary to secondary school, limited public transport options, and subsequently few employment opportunities available to women.

Ensuring access to education through safe transport

This inspired “Ek Beti, Ek Cycle”, a project that means “one daughter, one bike”. Pragnya saw an opportunity to use social media to encourage people to donate their unused bicycles, which could then be refurbished and handed over to young female students for commuting. Volunteers would also lead training camps designed to build the students’ confidence to cycle on public roads.

“During the first year of the programme, I learned that, around my city of Ahmedabad, girls who graduate from the eighth grade have to travel as far as six kilometres each way to school,” said Pragnya.

“With curfews, limited public transport and parents not having the money to buy a bicycle, many girls are forced to drop out. Education has the power to change lives, so it wasn’t right that they could miss out because of those issues.”

As an IOC Young Leader, Pragnya launched her pilot project in November 2023 with 22 ninth-grade female students living in the area. They each received a donated bicycle and attended a six-day camp focused on road safety and bike maintenance. In 2024, “Ek Beti, Ek Cycle” aims to reach 1,000 girls around Ahmedabad, with the ultimate goal being for every girl in India to have access to a bike.

Making a positive impact in local communities

Open to 20 to 28-year-olds, the IOC Young Leaders Programme is aimed at young people who are passionate about solving local problems through grassroots sport-based initiatives and sustainable social business models. Pragnya was encouraged to look back on what helped her along the way as a source of inspiration.

“I always had a bicycle growing up,” she explained. “The main purpose was to play and commute, but when the first opportunity to race came, I needed a ‘fancier’ bike. I didn’t want to invest in anything new, so I found a spare bike. It was in a bad state, but my father took it to a repair shop; USD 20 later and it was almost perfect. I trained on it for six weeks and won the race.

“This was long before I started competing in triathlon, and it stayed with me. I knew there were so many bicycles lying wasted in my home town, and I thought that if I could do something about it one day to benefit others, I would.”

Pragnya has already noticed the positive impact that the feeling of independence has had on the girls who received a bike through her project. “A lot of the girls had so much enthusiasm,” said Pragnya. “We had some incidents during the camp in which girls fell while cycling on the public roads, but they still showed up the next day. One month after the programme, we visited the girls’ school. We saw that they had such gratitude towards us and society in general.

“These girls came from five different neighbouring villages, and they’d never travelled to see each other outside school either. They were so happy to have the independence to travel alone. We were later told that the girls now cycle together every day.”

Giving back to others

This sense of responsibility to give back has come naturally to Pragnya. Before launching “Ek Beti, Ek Cycle”, she used her visibility as an athlete to positively influence others through such means as TEDx talks, promoting exercise and highlighting the importance of education in shaping girls’ futures.

“Having received so much, I always wanted to give back. Initially, I wanted to use my platform to raise awareness about my sport and the struggles behind it, but I started to understand the importance of promoting fitness and well-being in my own society.”

Pragnya Mohan – IOC Young Leader

Alongside her journey in triathlon and helping to elevate the profile of the sport in India, Pragnya is now also aiming to qualify for the Olympic Games Paris 2024.

Pragnya hopes that the milestone reached at these Games, with equal representation of female and male athletes on the field of play for the first time ever, will inspire additional changes.

“I hope it will have a trickle-down effect on the sports and nations that need more female representation, including coaches and administrators who are vital to creating a safe environment for girls to train.”

IOC Young Leaders Programme contributing to Olympism 365 days a year

Launched in 2016, the IOC Young Leaders Programme empowers young people to leverage the power of sport to make a positive difference in their communities. The programme contributes to Olympism365, the IOC’s approach to using sport as an important enabler of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and specifically to Olympism365’s innovation portfolio, which aims to identify, sustain and scale innovative sports-based approaches that deliver concrete impact in targeted communities.

So far, with the support of the IOC, these inspiring young people have delivered over 160 sport-led projects in communities across the globe, promoting education and livelihoods, equality and inclusion, health, peace building and sustainability, directly benefitting more than 37,000 people.

Learn more about the IOC Young Leaders Programme and the Olympism365 strategy.

Worldwide Olympic Partner Panasonic’s continued support

The IOC Young Leaders Programme has been supported by Worldwide Olympic and Paralympic Partner Panasonic since 2017, and this will continue through to 2024. Panasonic, as the programme’s founding partner, is committed to supporting the IOC Young Leaders through various initiatives, for example providing its creative and technological expertise, along with its network of influencers and ambassadors, to inspire the Young Leaders and equip them with the skills and tools they need to enhance their projects.

Find out more about Panasonic’s support for the programme and sign up for the “IOC Young Leaders in Action” newsletter to get the latest updates.


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