Hira Batool Rizvi: Transforming Transportation for Women in Pakistan

Nov 13, 2017, 09:00 AM

SheKab is transforming how women travel to and from work. When SheKab Founder and CEO Hira Batool Rizvi started working in Pakistan, she realized just how much of a problem transportation was for working women. She estimates that about 90 percent of her colleagues felt unsafe going to and from work each day. This led women to stay home or to pay four times as much as men for safer travel options. Public transportation options for women in Pakistan are limited, with one seat for women available for every 27 seats for men. If they do manage to get a seat in a public van, about half of all women who use public transportation in Pakistan report cases of harassment, Hira said. Cabs and other types of private travel are overpriced, putting women in the tough place of choosing between safety and finances. “This results in women losing their jobs or leaving their jobs or spending up to 40 percent of their income for safer travel,” Hira explains. “There was a huge problem that needed to be addressed and unfortunately no one was doing anything about it.” Hira is transforming the transportation system with SheKab, a ridesharing service for women. Hira originally hoped to create a network of all-female drivers but quickly realized that there were not enough female drivers to make that happen. So, she pivoted, using technology to optimize existing taxi resources. She knew that much of a cab drivers’ time was spent waiting around for passengers. By clustering women together for rides through a website, cab drivers could work more efficiently and lower their rates as a result. Riders register on the SheKab website with their pickup and drop-off location and time. Then they are clustered into groups of 3 or 4 for pickup. Ride fares are paid through a monthly subscription fee. All of the drivers and their cars are thoroughly vetted to ensure that they provide safe rides to passengers. The process includes an in-person interview, background document check, and a ride in the car by a member of the SheKab team. “We make sure that each of us sits in the car and understands that it’s as good as a car we would like to ride in so we can maintain quality,” Hira said. From Engineering to Business Hira was not sure she would ever work as an entrepreneur. She has a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in science and technology from Georgia Tech. She was studying climate policy on a Fulbright Scholarship when she saw the impact that ridesharing services were having in the U.S. She found herself wary of getting into cars with people she didn’t know, especially late at night, and thought that there had to be a way to make the process feel safer for women. She also knew that, for a ride-sharing company to be successful in Pakistan, they would need to be more culturally and religiously sensitive than they were in western countries. Around the same time, Hira participated in a hackathon at Georgia Tech and pitched the idea that would become SheKab. Her team took second place but received great feedback from investors who understood the need for the service in southeast Asia. As she completed graduate school, Hira started receiving job offers but knew the time was right to pursue her business idea. Rather than accepting a job in the U.S., she moved back to Pakistan three days after graduating and started working on the business. Upon returning home, Hira’s family was surprised to learn that she was launching a business, but were nonetheless supportive of her endeavor. She used that family support to come out of her shell and transform from an introverted engineer into an extroverted entrepreneur. Building a Business Hira connected with other entrepreneurs in Pakistan but did not wait until she had a full understanding of the marketplace before launching She`Kab. She already knew from her experience at Georgia Tech that the idea was viable and wanted to get it into the market as quickly as possible. “One thing entrepreneu...