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Pakistan

September 14, 2018
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‘Roshni Rides’: An affordable carpooling service for women in Karachi

One of the many impediments that our society unfortunately possesses is the deficit of opportunities that we provide our women with. Safe and affordable access to transportation is one of them. While study finds out that the women in Karachi are four times less mobile than men, the statistics in rural areas are even more startling.

A possible solution to such issues lies in pilot projects that provide relief and benefits to a target audience. With an aim to bring an end to the transportation woes that women in Karachi encounter on a daily basis, ‘Roshni Rides’ is one such mission. A brainchild of four Pakistani-Americans from New Jersey namely Gia Farooqi, Hasan Usmani, Hanaa Lakhani and Moneeb Mian, ‘Roshni Rides’ is deeply rooted in research that infers there exists a huge transportation crisis that female commuters suffer from. To alleviate the problem, ‘Roshni Rides’ provides a carpooling platform that connects to a network of nearby riders and dependable drivers. In Karachi, it is a cost-effective, easy-on-pocket means of transport that caters to women hailing from all walks of life, irrespective of their socio-economic affiliation, particularly labour workers, office workers and university students. 

So what really led this group of young individuals to launch a venture that proposes solutions to a much greater problem at hand than many actually realise?

Their distinct journey started when they were required to create a start-up entrenched in social entrepreneurship. They wanted to give back to the country their parents had migrated from. The passion to bring about change and create an impact, thus led to the birth of ‘Roshni Rides’ that initially addressed transportation issues of refugees. Senior Gia, new graduates Hasan and Moneeb, and alumna Hanaa of the Rutgers Business School then competed in the prestigious Hult Prize Competition and eventually bagged the winning title. They were rewarded with $1M USD by former US President Bill Clinton.

Left to Right: Moneeb Mian (CFO), Hasan Usmani (COO), Gia Farooqi (CEO) and Hanaa Lakhani (CMO) of Roshni Rides after winning the Hult Prize 2017.

Team ‘Roshni Rides’ has since then been incubated at Karachi’s Nest i/O after moving to the city to launch the venture. On Thursday, the team hosted a panel discussion that was centred on mobility issues that women go through, which eventually impact their economic stability and financial independence. The panel consisted of distinguished guests, mostly women, who have been working to spread awareness, educate people regarding various ills that prevail in the society. The discussion brought into limelight the absence of sustainable infrastructure related to transportation provided to women at present and the attitudes in people, particularly men, that adversely affect security of women - who tread out of the comfort of their homes for educational or employment opportunities - such as harassment, rape incidents coupled with other aspects.

Panelists from right to left: Moderator Gia Farooqi, Arif Hasan, Lubna Lakhani, Ayesha Kariappar, Saba Gul, Afiya Zia.

Eminent entrepreneur Lubna Lakhani, CEO and founder of Raintree Spa, stated that the provision of infrastructure and the changing attitudes towards women travelling are highly co-related: “If there is adequate infrastructure, the attitudes will follow. When a bus driver knows that less than half percentage of space is reserved for women, he will never stop for them at stops during rush hour, he will always give priority to men. Giving at least half of the space in buses to women will inculcate a sense of responsibility in drivers that a significant portion of their income comes from them.”

CEO-Roshni Rides Gia Farooqi, shedding light on her experience of living in the States as compared to in Pakistan, shared, “I am from New Jersey which is known for its scenic beauty, crystal clear lakes and lush green trees. It is quite normal over there for everyone to walk around, maybe to the bus stand or to any specified destination. When I came to Karachi, I felt I couldn’t do that anymore, and so I started to feel suffocated. That’s when I thought about all the inconveniences that our mothers, sisters have to go through while getting access to an affordable, reliant ride.”

Responding to a query regarding the solution resting in either a mass transit system implemented on macro level or in private projects, Gia stated, “I am not disagreeing with the fact that the state should initiate development plans that cater to the masses. However, the realisation that the government is not going to care and there are individual efforts that will lead to a massive difference should come sooner than possible. This is one of the reasons why we came up with ‘Roshni Rides’.

Hanaa Lakhani, co-founder Roshni Rides, further said, “Although it is a mere 20 minutes’ drive from her place to work, Gia spends almost 40 to 45 minutes trying to book a taxi, spending most of the time giving direction to the driver of where she wants to get picked from. If we go through such hassles every day, we cannot even begin to imagine the problems women from lower classes struggle with."

Channelling their collective experiences in a joint effort, this dedicated team of young social entrepreneurs under the umbrella of 'Roshni Rides' believes in increased women empowerment through accessible transportation, a dream they have almost achieved. 

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