Egypt's female entrepreneurs are tackling their country's growing transportation issues with a number of out-of-the-box ideas.
“Many female entrepreneurs have found that they can come up with creative solutions, just like their male partners in the transportation industry, to help reduce daily sufferings on the road,” said Rania Ayman, founder of Cairo-based nonprofit Entreprenelle, which supports women-run start-ups.
At Entreprenelle's event, "Girls on Road," female entrepreneurs shared their success stories and ideas for solutions to transportation issues. Such issues include a lack of safe public transportation, and Egypt's adherence to traditional ways of commuting that have become too expensive due to high fuel costs.
Samira Negm, a co-founder of the carpooling app Raye7, told Al-Monitor that the inspiration for the app was personal.
"At first, I was living in the uptown district of Heliopolis, where transportation is available everywhere. But when my family moved to al-Obour City, which is one of the new cities far from central Cairo, then my issue began," said Negm. "What made it worse was the fact that my work was in Smart Village in the 6th of October City, which was also a journey that might take three hours by road."
Samira and her brother, who cofounded Raye7 (Arabic for "I am going"), recognized that many Egyptians suffer from the same commuting problems, so she said, “Why should three cars go to the same place if one car can do it?”
With their app, several commuters can join in on a ride if they are all going to the same place. Although carpooling is not common in conservative Egyptian society, the government has started to ask Egyptians to try to decrease the number of cars on the road by joining a carpool. In 2016, the Egyptian government started a campaign calling upon Egyptians to think green and decrease their consumption of energy.
Cairo is home to 20 million people, 2 million cars and 23,6000 miles of road. A 2010 World Bank study of Cairo's traffic problems found that the annual cost of congestion in the greater metropolitan area amounted to around 50 billion Egyptian pounds ($2.7 billion) a year: 4% of Egypt’s entire gross domestic product.
Innovative transportation projects are not just taking off in Cairo, but also in the coastal city of Alexandria.
In November 2015, Sherine Ewase launched Careem, an app that connects commuters with the nearest drivers, in Alexandria and was the Dubai-based company's first female fleet manager.
Ewase worked in human resources for 11 years until she decided to launch Careem Alexandria. She said the app was largely welcomed in her hometown, even though many commuters were afraid to ride in private cars. Ewase said she helped change peoples' perceptions.
"One of the most difficult challenges that I faced at the beginning was dealing with male drivers or male car-owners." She said she had to persuade some of them to show proper respect to women.
She started with just two cars, but the fleet in Alexandria has now reached 4,000.
When asked about how Egypt's transportation issues can be solved, female entrepreneurs said that individual citizens and officials have to tackle the problems in their own ways. Ewase noted that individuals said the government should amend laws that support creativity and new ideas.
Ayman said the transportation industry has been dominated by males for too long, but that now females are proving themselves in the industry.
Egypt's entrepreneurial scene has grown following the 2011 revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. The difficult economic circumstances at that time served as a catalyst to young generations, who then looked out of the box for solutions to their problems.
In a 2014 report, the Global Entrepreneurship Development Institute, a think tank based in Washington, examined how easy it was for women to start businesses around the world. Egypt did not fare so well, as it ranked 28th out of 30 countries.
Yet according to a 2013 report from the Egypt Network for Integrated Development, Egyptian female entrepreneurs are on the rise. Over a period of nine years, females have come to make up 10% of the country's managers and entrepreneurs.
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