Egypt's first 'all-female' ridesharing service takes on Uber and Careem
- 25 February 2019
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There have always been many barriers to women drivers in the MENA region, but they have overcome many roadblocks recently: Saudi Arabia issued the first driving licenses to women last year, and the racing sports’ community recognizing the first female rally and F1 drivers from the region, to name just two examples. Yet many other challenges remain unconquered.
Childhood friends Mostafa El Kholy and Abdallah Hussein, who studied business administration at Hult International Business School in London together, noticed firsthand the striking difference in the role women can play in the workplace in the United Kingdom compared to their home country.
“They can work any job and take risks in their lives. This made us both always want to come back and do something that empowers women,” Abdallah explained. After graduating in 2015 and moving back to Egypt, he and Mostafa set out on a mission to help women realise their potential and tackle social and economic barriers at the same time: they encouraged them to become chauffeurs.
In December 2018, the duo soft-launched Fyonka, a ridesharing platform where women car owners can apply, get trained and registered, and then connect with women customers in the same area who are looking for a ride. Similar to the likes of Uber and Careem, the platform is available as a smartphone app on both the Apple App Store and Android Play Store.
“Out of 400,000 drivers, only 10,000 are women. This [is] mainly due to social or safety barriers,” Abdallah told My Salaam, elaborating on what he describes as a “shockingly” small percentage of female drivers with ridesharing services such as Uber and Careem. Fyonka aims to address this by providing a safe and high-quality on-demand ridesharing service that is exclusively for women.
In order to achieve this, Fyonka runs a strict three-step recruitment process for all prospective drivers, including a security and background check, a personal interview, and a training programme that guides drivers through the features of the app as well as the basics of providing high-quality service.
While it may still be too early to judge how successful this concept will be, Nesma Sharara, the cofounder and head of strategy at branding platform Brandberries and a user of ride-sharing services herself, believes the idea will resonate with female consumers in the region.
“As social norms are still adapting to roll back harassment in all its forms, female ride-sharing apps would both empower women and provide female drivers and riders with an option that ensures safety and security,” she said.
Fyonka’s aim, according to the founders, is not only to help its female customers get from point A to point B, but also to inspire and empower women to improve their quality of life. Besides securing a source of steady income for its female drivers, company allocates a healthy portion of the profits to projects for underprivileged women.
“We collaborate with relevant associations and work with them on women empowerment projects throughout the year,” Abdallah told us. “We are currently working on two projects; [one of them] is reading and writing classes for illiterate women in villages in Upper Egypt.”
The startup, which is currently run by a small team of six, including the co-founders, operates across eleven different neighborhoods in Cairo, from New Cairo in the East to Sheikh Zayed in the West. Fyonka currently has a database of 250 registered women drivers, but for the current initial phase of their operations, which kicked off officially on January 28, they are only putting 50 drivers on the streets.
But the team has a very optimistic expansion plan and is expecting to have all of the Egyptian capital covered by the second quarter of 2019. They also intend to start running Fyonka scooters in Egypt’s second biggest city, Alexandria. After that, they plan to go beyond Egypt into other MENA markets.
“The first market we mainly want to enter is Saudi Arabia, because of the ‘drive with women’ movement that has been initiated there recently,” Abdallah said. “We believe this will help strengthen our initiative and make it ideal for the Saudi culture.”
(Writing by Ahmed Gabr; Editing by Seban Scaria firstname.lastname@example.org)
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