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Lessons from Gender Inclusion in Mobility

WRI India organised an Accelerator on Gender Inclusion in Mobility in Chennai on 16th and 17th November 2018, in partnership with Shell Foundation, Chennai Metro Rail (CMRL), Chennai Smart City Limited and Urban Design Collective. The primary objective of the programme was to promote discussions on innovative mobility solutions which incorporate women-centric travel patterns and address issues related to women’s commute. The accelerator, which includes Bikxie, M-Auto, sRide and Womencabs, aims to promote a holistic and sustainable mobility ecosystem for increased, integrated and seamless mobility options for women commuters.

Key Takeaways

Day 1:

Session 1: Opening Session on the Gender Inclusion in Mobility initiative

During this session, the WRI India team kicked off the Accelerator and Mr. Sudeept Maiti, WRI India set the context for the initiative, sharing how WRI India is looking at gender inclusion in research and how this aspect will be a part of the agenda at the bootcamp.

The speakers for the opening session were Mr. Raj Cherubal, CEO of Chennai Smart City Limited and Mr. Deepak Goel, Business Development Advisor of Shell Foundation. Mr. Cherubal elaborated on why Chennai should be perceived as the social startup capital of the country. He discussed the ways in which data in mobility is essential for the multimodal integration of transport and the design of smart infrastructure.

Mr. Goel spoke about the significance of gender inclusive sustainable mobility and shed light on the 4 KPIs used by Shell Foundation to recognize sustainable transport, i.e. universal, affordable, clean and reliable. According to him, Shell Foundation is looking to expand access to urban mobility solutions in rural areas and encourage solutions that will make transportation accessible to underserved markets.

Session 2: Women-Centric Entrepreneurship and the Startup Guide for Raising Investments

The speakers for this session were Ms. Paula Mariwala, Managing Director of Seedfund and Mr. Rohan Choukkar, Investments of Bharat Innovation Fund. Ms. Mariwala highlighted her experiences as an investor in the mobility space, her learnings while investing in redBus and how VCs are viewing the mobility sector as a possible hot investment sector. In her opinion, it is imperative for startups to build trust with consumers as well as suppliers and build a model for success before approaching investors for funding.

Ms. Mariwala spoke about the challenges faced by women founders and investors in the industry and how it may be viewed as an opportunity, rather than a challenge. She also mentioned the importance of gender focused funds when it comes to empowering women founders in approaching investment discussions. A key takeaway she had for early stage startups was that they should not look at gender as the driving force behind a business model, but instead build business models that focus on gender inclusion as a foundational business principle.

Mr. Choukkar stated that entrepreneurs should not have a one-size-fits-all pitch when approaching investors, but instead make the effort to study the investors’ specific interests and ongoing activity in the sector. He extensively spoke on the factors that are assessed by a VC when considering a startup to invest in. This included factors like scalability, defensibility, unit economics, team dynamics, market size and competition dynamics in the sector. Prateek Diwan, WRI India also spoke about how each startup should identify and focus on their USP, and how it should come out when startups pitch to investors.

The session concluded with startups describing their pitches to both investors and taking their suggestions during the pilot discussions.

Session 3: Building Pilot Designs

In this session, the startups had discussions with Ms. Azra Khan and Mr. Subhadeep Bhattacharjee, WRI India. The startups gained a deeper understanding of major travel patterns and safety concerns in Indian cities, with the help of WRI India’s Bhopal study and a detailed review of the mobility landscape in Chennai. The conversations also focused on what startups should point out when they present their pilot ideas to CMRL, IT parks, hospitals and colleges on Day 2.

The teams went for site visits to the DLF IT Park and Alandur Metro Station to understand the challenges faced by commuters on ground and the infrastructure that would be made available for their pilots.

Day 2:

Session 1: Stakeholder Meetings for Pilots

Day 2 started with the startups visiting CMRL Bhavan in Koyambedu and having an in-depth conversation with CMRL officials. The representatives of CMRL spoke about the features offered by the metro rail and the facilities, targeted safety measures for women, and the possibility of expanding the service in future. The startups pitched their ideas to CMRL and other stakeholders, while focusing on specific solutions for each partnership. This was followed by a one on one discussion between startups and the stakeholders, where they benefitted from the feedback on their solutions and explored pilot plans.

• The startups spent approximately 20 minutes each with each stakeholder. The conversations focused on how the startups and stakeholders can collaborate, the issues that can be solved by startups, the specific requirements of each stakeholder and the future steps for engagement.

• Each stakeholder spoke about how they have been taking measures to ensure equitable access and safety of their employees as well as students.

  • DLF IT and Tidel IT representatives elaborated on the shuttle service which they have started with CMRL to Alandur metro station.
  • Stella Maris College representatives spoke about the importance of new mobility solutions which can play a pivotal role for students commuting to college.
  • All stakeholders stated that with access to safe mobility options, there will be a rise in women commuting long distance, for education and employment.

Session 2: Challenges and Opportunities in Women Access and Safety in mobility in Chennai

The speakers for this session were Mr. Sandhiyan Thilagavathy, Founder at AWARE Foundation and Ms. Vidhya Mohankumar, Founder at Urban Design Collective. Mr. Thilagavathy presented key findings from their survey on women safety in Chennai. Some of the notable findings from the study were:

  • 50% of the respondents faced harassment during travel
  • 65% of the respondents said it was unsafe to take transport after dusk
  • 80% said risk of women being sexually abused was higher in a crowded vehicle

The startups had an opportunity to discuss how their solutions were addressing the issues highlighted in the survey and learn from each other to include more safety measures. Ms. Mohankumar spoke on the individual differences in travel patterns of men and women in Chennai and their ongoing initiatives in Chennai through Friends of Public Transport, a community dedicated to people that use public transport and for those who are trying to make the shift. The session was concluded by Mr. Pawan Mulukutla, urban transport expert, who requested each startup to describe their pilot plans to CMRL for them to understand how best they can support the pilot initiatives.

Through this accelerator, WRI India hopes to measure the impact of various mobility solutions from the perspective of accessibility, safety and employment in the mobility space, while working with the startups on their pilot deployment in the city. Next steps for the accelerator include piloting the solutions with different partners and conducting a study on current mobility trends and patterns in Chennai.

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