In March 2001, Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) founder, Ken Frantz, saw a photo in National Geographic Magazine that moved him to action and spurred the idea for B2P.
The image showed men dangling precariously, using ropes to pull each other across a wide, high and broken bridge span over a portion of the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia. Ken soon discovered that his brother, Forrest Frantz, had seen the photo and had the same thought: “what I want to do is repair that bridge.”
Within three months Ken, who owns a construction company, donated time, money and materials, enlisted eager family members, friends and his Rotary Club to support the inaugural B2P project. B2P’s first bridge project, Sebara Dildi, repaired the bridge crossing along the Blue Nile in Ethiopia and represents a vision that continues to inspire a new generation of bridge builders today.
The Sebara Dildi project also established B2P’s guiding principles that we have followed consistently ten years and nearly 100 bridges later: to work with local communities, honoring their local knowledge, utilizing and sharing locally appropriate technologies, and teaching the technical elements of bridge construction. B2P continues to work in partnership with local communities, international and local non-profit organizations, in-country and U.S.-based universities, and industry professionals to “Build to: educate, innovate and inspire.”
Broad collaboration is a large part of what make B2P’s programs successful and our alliance with Rotary Club International is our longest running partnership in the organization’s history. Since the first bridge project in Ethiopia to present day, more than 30 Rotary Clubs have supported B2P through grants, volunteer efforts and significant fundraising support.
Many of B2P’s design innovations have come from partnering with like-minded organizations working in rural footbridge construction. In 2002, B2P founding members, Zoe Keone Pacciani and Chris Rollins, worked in partnership with the Swiss organization, Helvetas (now HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation.) Helvetas is widely considered an originator of the concept that community bridge building programs are an effective means to reduce poverty.
Helvetas’ bridge building program started in earnest in Nepal in the 1980′s under the leadership of Robi Groeli. His program, based on bridges built in the Nepal Badlung district, would lead to the local fabrication and community construction of well over 2,000 footbridges through 2007. Helvetas’ cable suspended design, which Robi developed and manualized in Nepal, continues to form the bridge design foundation of our program. Learn more about Robi’s accomplishments and his original 1977 report.
B2P could not have enjoyed the program success and growth it has without generous and growing support from our corporate partners. Parsons Brinckerhoff, Flatiron Construction Corporation, and Virginia International Terminals, Inc. are among the more than 20 corporate partners who have fostered B2P’s programs through generous financial and in-kind donations as well as by sponsoring their employees to volunteer on bridge projects.
Message from our Founder
For the last several years, I have shared the following with many of our supporters. If you have never had the opportunity to listen to one of my speeches, here is the introduction to one:
“And, Hulatt, Sost”, I commanded, and the two-ton steel bridge resting on log rollers was Ethiopian villagers. I repositioned myself in the middle of the bridge to get more leverage. Just two to three more pushes and the new bridge army during WWII, connecting the two sides of the Blue Nile for the first time in 65 years.
In that moment, I thought back to how I came to be here, in the middle of Africa, in this one mile deep gorge, miles from the nearest road. I smiled to myself, for the answer was simple: one year earlier, I casually picked up a National Geographic magazine. I put the magazine on my lap and it fell open to a photo of a broken bridge on the Nile River in Ethiopia, with ten men on either side of the broken span pulling on a rope to allow the desperate travelers to pass back and forth. In that moment, viewing that photo, everything crystallized. This is what I had worked my entire life to do: I will build bridges. This is my purpose. This story is important to me, for it supercharged my life into one of adventure, challenge, and grace on a scale I had never know before. And in a deep understanding on how important it is to have passion and purpose in one’s life.
Board Chair and Founder