‘Women drivers key to green mobility, but policies and training fall short’

‘Women drivers key to green mobility, but policies and training fall short’

India’s transition to net-zero is estimated to create 50 mn jobs, but mobility industry is not built around policies to encourage women to be a part of the workforce, says Mowo Fleet CEO Jai Bharathi

MOWO Social Initiatives Foundation (Mowo Fleet), a not-for-profit social enterprise, conducts 2 & 3 wheeler training programmes for women. It is working with other like-minded organisations to open up jobs in delivery services for women. Jai Bharathi, Founder and CEO of Mowo Fleet, is on a mission to redefine urban mobility in India. Inspired by a motorcycle expedition through Southeast Asia, she saw the potential for women to drive positive change in the mobility sector. In an interview with The Hans India, she discusses the challenges and opportunities of integrating women into a traditionally male-dominated industry.

What inspired you to start Mowo Fleet?

As an avid motorcyclist, I led several national and cross-country motorcycling expeditions covering more than 1 lakh km across South East Asia and the United States. On my 17,000-km cross-country motorcycle expedition in South-East Asia during February 2018, I found inspiration while travelling through Thailand seeing many confident women driving on the roads providing mobility services.

That is when I realised that it is important to deconstruct socially defined gender roles and enable women access to economic opportunities. Through Mowo Fleet, our aim is to redefine India’s urban mobility by adding women to the mobility workforce.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced in the beginning of this initiative?

While the last-mile logistics and commute sector provides abundant livelihood opportunities for women, many women lack the awareness and driving as an employable skill. A non-existent supply of skilled women drivers, low retention, and low motivation are significant challenges that keep women from India's thriving $90 billion mobility industry.

As our work focuses on enabling women in the predominantly male dominated workforce, it becomes imperative to imply more women at all levels possible to build strong and supportive backend team. This further reduces the pool of talent acquisition process. As an entrepreneur, most of my time goes into initial recruiting process and training them continuously.

Where do you see the future of MoWo and how does your vision align in playing a role in the future?

Women challenging the socio-cultural barriers and breaking the glass-ceiling through driving, is an innovative approach in building resilient livelihoods and giving them access to economic opportunity. We are tackling gender imbalance in the mobility sector which has direct economic impact for women and businesses. Safer streets are a wonderful outcome to increasing the number of women accessing public spaces.

Could you reveal us the adaptabilities of your business in the coming years?

We are building fleet services by women, to redefine the multi modal urban mobility landscape in India. Our unique approach to use technology to optimise the last mile logistics and commute services, mitigates empty rides and maximises the productivity of the women drivers. Thus offering our women drivers to earn better livelihoods and contribute to the mobility economy in India. Our women drivers are trained to drive electric twoandthree wheelers following all road safety measures, providing equitable access to mobility and thus adding gender inclusion to sustainable mobility.

What is the biggest opportunity and challenge that lies ahead in your current industry?

India's transition to net-zero is estimated to create 50 million jobs and contribute about $15 trillion in economic impact.The mobility industry is not built around policies to encourage women to be a part of the mobility workforce. While the last-mile logistics and commute sector provides abundant benefits for women, many women lack the required awareness and skilling.

Non-existent infrastructure and policies for gig (platform) workforce leads to setting up new processes and invest more time in learning better practices for long term retention of the women in the workforce. As the industry in itself is at a nascent stage, lack of existing infrastructure and policies further leads to non-existent pool of talent. This takes a lot of time in recruiting the operations team and further training them to adapt to this workforce.

What services does Mowo Fleet offer?

• Women seeking safe and convenient commute options: By bringing gender inclusion into the mobility workforce, many women who need last mile ride hailing services can benefit from using our fleet driven by women. This helps in the overall safety of women in the urban areas.

• Parents of the children seeking safe commute options: There are limited options parents have when it comes to children commute. With Mowo Fleet offering specialised services with safe women drivers, parents can manage children’s commute with peace of mind.

• Businesses: There is a strong business case for women drivers with safer driving practices, reliable and better overall performance. These businesses want to make sure the workplace is welcoming to women and is understanding of their realities.

How do you see your startup contributing to the growth and economic development of the region?

Mobility reflects the state of gender equality in a society. In India, women are over 600 million strong, and they are making significant strides in many fields but when it comes to mobility - personal or commercial, the degree of disadvantage is spatially visible on the streets. They have been restricted in their mobility on account of socio-cultural barriers and security. Restricted movements of the women affect not only their personal and professional growth, but also adversely impacts the economy on a broader scale.

Advancing gender equality through mobility as an employment skill for women improves their access to amenities, community and above all opportunity. Women challenging the socio-cultural barriers and breaking the glass-ceiling through driving is an innovative approach to building resilient livelihoods and giving them access to economic opportunity. Women drivers value personal progress. We coach women on how to progress in the field which offers a variety of opportunities for increased earnings. In the initial 1-2 months, women drivers do have challenges in adapting to the work culture and related anxieties. The intervention will also create a safe and reliable commute option for women in their neighbourhood and influencing many women around them to pick up livelihoods in mobility.

Any plans to expand your services?

This year, our focus is to build a pool of 300 women drivers in Hyderabad, offering both B2B logistic services and last mile commute services using two- wheelers and three-wheelers. Parallelly, we plan to venture into two more cities in South India.

How influential was the community of TiE Hyderabad and how did it help you?

I feel fortunate to have been nurtured by the TiE Hyderabad, one of the city’s oldest community for new generation entrepreneurs like me. The continued support from the members has propelled our journey right from the initial years. The curated programmes through TiE Women &TiE Global have added many layers of learning in my own journey as an entrepreneur. It gave an opportunity to connect with global networks and bring light to the work we are doing.

Anything you wanted to add more on...

My best wishes to TiE Hyderabad on growing this network over 25 years, building a strong foundation to foster entrepreneurship.

(World Trade Center Shamshabad & Visakhapatnam have joined hands with TiE Hyderabad to start a new startup series wherein prominent entrepreneurs will be featured. This is the first interview under the series)

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