For Gillian Kobusingye and Sharon Rutega , when one door closes, another one opens. Like many parts of the world, Uganda also had its own negative economic effects of COVID-19 pandemic which led to loss of the logistics business of Gillian and Sharon. However, the two friends never allowed the pandemic to kill their entrepreneurial spirit. The duo forged ahead and came up with Diva Taxi, which is a technology based start-up aimed at improving the transport sector in the East African country. The transport services company helps women achieve social economic empowerment as they have a platform to supplement their income by using their vehicles to chauffeur passengers at a fee.
Sharon Rutega is the Executive Director of Diva Taxi, Uganda. Speaking exclusively to Sunday Oyinloye, Publisher, Green Savannah Diplomatic Cable Sharon says Diva Taxi does not compromise safety, standard, and the drivers are always well behaved to the clients. On the economic side, the Executive Director reveals that each driver makes 30 trips a week on the average and takes 85 per cent of the proceeds from the trips.
Why Diva Taxi?
I started Diva Taxi with Gillian Kobusingye because we needed to let women out there know their worth, and their space. We started Diva Taxi during COVID-19 pandemic and fully launched it on the 25th of June, 2020. Basically, Diva Taxi is ride- hailing startup that focuses at women .We help women achieve their economic goal through driving skill. We want ladies to find brighter days after Covid-19 darkness. Here in Uganda, during the pandemic, we got a total lockdown and everything was at a standstill. But we realized that there was still the need for transportation of goods and services; there were still needs for movements. We were affected, and personally, I was affected. I almost got terrible depression. Before the pandemic, we were dealing with women and into deliveries, but because of the lockdown, we couldn’t do the kind of businesses we were doing before, that was how we thought of starting Diva Taxi; making sure that we bring on board other women that were affected. You realise that men have been the bread winners of most homes, so during lockdown, everyone was at home, and that increased a lot of violence against women and child abuse and so, it was a total darkness. Therefore, we thought if we brought those women on our platform, they would have different streams of income and better their lives. If a lady is empowered, children will benefit and the whole family will also benefit. That was why we started Diva Taxi
For ladies who don’t have cars but registered with you, how do you take care of them?
We have people who lease their cars with us and we assign the cars to drivers. Basically, that means that the drivers and the owner of the cars share the proceeds. We register them in the system, such that when someone leases a car with us, we know who to assign the car to. Some people have more than two cars in their compounds; they might decide to lease the cars with Diva Taxi
How do you check the vehicles to be sure they are in proper shape and how do you engage the drivers; is it free for everybody?
We are looking at all classes of women; those who have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Registration is free of charge and as long as you are of age to be able to drive and acquire driving license. One of the prerequisite is to have a valid national Identity card, then driving license. We also ask you for a letter from the police; a clearance of good conduct and we have highly professional mechanics who check these cars and oks them in the system before the vehicles can be on the road. After that, you do verification and we take you through training on customer care, safety, and financial literacy.
Is it a sustainable business venture?
It is a very sustainable venture because there’s a constant need for transportation of passengers, goods and services.
What are the main challenges facing your organisation?
One of the challenges is that most people don’t have smart phones and some of those who have don’t have the capacity to navigate through the software and be able to use the service, so it’s still a challenge .But when they come on board, we take them through the training and then they are able to use the App. You realise that the business is purely software, once the software is not handled properly, you will not be in business. The other issue is funding. Because it’s a start-up, even financial institutions at the moment can’t trust us to be able to give us a loan; more so, the interest rates are really high. Therefore, we prefer to have a grant than having a loan. Funding is basically a big challenge because we need enough cash flow to be able to run this business. The other issue is visibility; there are women out there who would want to join us but are not yet aware and you know it’s so expensive to do marketing in Uganda. Another challenge is African culture of thinking that female gender cannot do some things, so there is that limitation. Even in the corporate world, they think that women cannot be CEOs. They believe that some positions and occupations are for men. Some still believe that women cannot be behind the wheel. These are some of the challenges.
In what areas do you need partnerships and collaborations?
We need partnerships mostly in spreading our wings around Africa and across borders through possible franchises.
And your projection, say in the next two years?
We hope to have our own fleet of cars and about 20,000; women riders signed up on our platform to provide excellent services while professionalizing and empowering themselves
What lessons can young Ugandan ladies learn from what you are doing and what is your advice to them?
Young Ugandan women should know their worth, keep their hopes and curiosities alive and ultimately interest themselves into social enterprises as a source of safe livelihood and protection from violence, abuse and exploitation.