Bodas-bodas in the digital age

Launy Dondo
04 May 2018
Driven by an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to throw myself into meaningful projects, I have always had a taste for adventure and discovering new horizons. Every project and encounter taught me a great deal and gave me the necessary experience to co-found SafeBoda. Today, our start-up is growing and developing every day.

Who?

Maxime Dieudonné, 33 years old, from Wallonia

 

What?

Co-founder of Safeboda, a safe motorcycle taxi organisation

 

Why?

To improve road safety in Uganda by promoting helmet wearing and training the Boda-Boda drivers

My personal journey

After studying economics and having an interest in micro-finance, I became better acquainted with this field during my internship in Argentina with a micro-credit institution. In 2008, at the time of the financial crisis, I co-founded a meeting platform for Latin American social entrepreneurs, who could benefit from financial support to launch their social enterprises. I discovered the vital role that finance can play in meeting social needs.

While I was working in a more conventional environment, at Deloitte for two and a half years, this desire to pursue a more meaningful career continued to appeal to me. So I decided to put my skills at the service of One Acre Fund, which allocated a project in Rwanda to me. One Acre Fund is an American organisation specialising in micro-credit which provides specific tools to farmers: training, agricultural products and techniques to optimise yields, solar solutions, water cleaning tablets, etc.

Living in the Rwandan countryside for two and a half years allowed me to discover the operational and concrete side of the business. Up until that point, my knowledge was mostly theoretical. This more American outlook, where risks represent opportunities, allowed me to discover an entrepreneurial dynamism, which was different to the more conservative ethos of European companies. It was very rewarding to work on pilot projects which, even if we failed, were used as learning tools for the future.

This more American outlook, where risks represent opportunities, allowed me to discover an entrepreneurial dynamism, which was different to the more conservative ethos of European companies.

Safeboda

When I arrived in Uganda in 2014, I experienced the local motorcycle taxi, more commonly known as the "Boda Boda", which is the easiest and most popular way to get around town. It was a terrifying experience, because it is a completely informal and extremely dangerous industry: anyone can become a Boda Boda taxi driver in 24 hours, just by buying a motorcycle and taking passengers, without providing helmets. The solution to this problem seemed obvious to me: create an organisation to improve road safety and promote helmet wearing, while giving training to the Boda-Boda drivers.

To successfully accomplish this project, I was lucky enough to meet my two partners: Alastair, a Scottish friend I had previously met in Rwanda, and Ricky, a motorcycle taxi rider himself, but someone with entrepreneurship in his veins who already had a small motorcycle taxi company in Kampala. At the same time, the increase in the use of smartphones gave us the idea of incorporating an Uber-type model to match taxis and passengers. Using an application allows passengers to avoid having to negotiate a price, and they can pay with their mobile phone (mobile money). Moreover, it is accessible to everyone. Safeboda was launched in 2014, and there are now more than 1000 bodas-bodas on our platform, all proud ambassadors of the brand, and a robust technology which makes it easier to match drivers and passengers.

The solution to this problem seemed obvious to me: create an organisation to improve road safety and promote helmet wearing, while giving training to the Boda-Boda drivers.

Formation de conducteurs de mototaxi
© M. Dieudonné

Impact on road safety

In Uganda, road traffic accidents are the second leading cause of death after HIV/AIDS. They are mainly due to a lack of respect for the highway code (helmet wearing, etc.).  But Uganda is far from being an isolated case and this industry is still informal in many countries including Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and other West African countries. With SafeBoda, we have found a commercial solution to one of the most pressing social problems. We have been able to bring reliable partners and investors on board, and we experienced exponential growth in 2017. We are now expanding our operations in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, and plan to have a presence in 3 countries by the end of 2018. Our goal is to continue our rapid growth with SafeBoda and cover the entire region within 5 years.

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