Mehnaz Sarwar is a nascent entrepreneur and the founder of An-Nisa, an online taxi-hailing business specially designed by women for women. She shares her journey of empowering women through her venture with MONICA MBOGO.
When motherhood came calling, Mehnaz Sarwar had no qualms leaving formal employment to look after her children especially since she wanted to homeschool them. Her quagmire, however, was that she still wanted to be financially independent. Having made up her mind to quit employment, she was left with only one option: start a business.
The next step for Mehnaz was to figure out what type of business to invest in. She was also interested in a business that would have a social impact. She had many business ideas, but none was strong enough to prick her into action. Then it hit her.
“I always felt unsafe in a taxi with a stranger, especially if it was a man. Being in the passenger’s seat was plainly putting myself in a vulnerable scenario. I was never comfortable and was always in search of a female driver. It dawned on me that a good deal of women felt the same way,” says the mother of four, adding that she had heard and read horrific stories of women being attacked by male drivers.
Mehnaz’s assertion corroborates studies that have shown the lack of women drivers and the threat of sexual harassment remain key barriers that limit women’s use of ride-hailing apps. Women travelling alone are particularly conscious of personal security risks, which are generally higher at night. She’d thus found a social problem and her business would be the panacea to it.
This revelation birthed An-Nisa – a women-only taxi hailing app. An-Nisa is an Arabic word meaning ‘for women’. Mehnaz explains that An-Nisa’s end goal is two pronged: empower women by creating jobs for women in a male-dominated workspace and making it safe for women and young children to move from one place to another.
However, as soon as An-Nisa was launched in 2018, they ran into headwinds. Their business model, which was disrupting the status quo, was bound to ruffle some feathers and it did.
“The taxi industry is male dominated and being a women-only taxi hailing app and riding on the premise of safety for women and young children, An-Nisa was going against the grain. Of course, there are many good male drivers and it’s only a handful that are giving others a bad name. An-Nisa is about women taking a safer option and not willing to take a gamble,” she shares.
Women, on the other hand, welcomed the app with open hands. The company received astounding feedback with more than 1,000 downloads and over 150 female drivers registering in the first week.
An-Nisa’s effort to empower women is also witnessed in the company’s operations. While other cab companies take between 15 and 25 per cent of the money the drivers make, An-Nisa takes only 10 per cent. She says that the goal is to benefit the drivers and customers who need a safe ride.
“If our drivers are happy, our customers are happy. We need to make sure we look after our drivers who will in turn look after our customers,” she states.
Even with challenges with the app, which sometimes forces them to resort to pre-booked manual rides, feedback has been positive as female drivers are more understanding and maternal in comparison to male drivers, making customers feel at ease, safe and comfortable.
Additionally, joining An-Nisa as a driver is easy for qualified drivers as once all the information needed is verified, a short training is conducted after which An-Nisa will accept you as their partner. Their biggest headache at the moment is finding good web developers but she assures their clients that plans are in place to fix this.
The company’s next huge step is to expand to other cities and to have a fleet of branded cars although this will be done strategically to protect drivers from harassment. With so many options for men, An-Nisa is not planning on extending the service to them.
“Our priority is solely female passengers and young children,” Mehnaz concludes.
This article was first published in the February Issue of Parents Magazine
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