This article was written by Jacob Pomeroy
Despite almost unparalleled wealth in natural resources, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with its chief export coming from mineral mining, remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The blame resides mostly with the country’s lack of general infrastructure, coupled with seemingly endless political instability. Kinshasa, the capital city, is home to more than 14 million residents, making it the largest French-speaking city in the world. The capital itself shines an unflattering light on much of the country’s turmoil. Even within its large underclass, women remain disproportionately affected, with 61% of women living below the poverty threshold compared to 51% of men. In addition, Congolese women’s contributions to society, which have been indispensable and nationally recognized, remain marginalized.
Outside of the largely impoverished streets of Kinshasa, however, is a visible and steadily-growing upper class. Walled off from the conditions surrounding them, and living in gated communities that offer a more traditional “Western” style of living, some of these residents have taken aim at working to improve conditions for residents of the city. Among them is Patricia Nzolantima, a Harvard and Stanford educated entrepreneur who holds high hopes for her fellow Congolese women.
Patricia, tuned in to some of the unique challenges that traversing Kinshasa entails, decided it was time for a change. Like many large cities, the roads can be confusing and difficult to navigate. However, unlike many of its counterparts, the majority of roads remain unpaved. Also, the patrolmen (and women) assigned to direct traffic frequently provide contradictory directions, making travel for those not intimately acquainted with the seemingly limitless roads and passageways an impenetrable task. Patricia, however, has been the first entrepreneur in the city to provide a new solution.
A striking contrast to all of the other cabs in Kinshasa, bright pink cars driven exclusively by women, have begun to turn heads. They offer clients snacks and drinks to make the otherwise stress-inducing drives around the city more pleasant, and also offer female clients a safe and secure method of travel. One rider states- “I’ve always been a bit scared to drive in Kinshasa because it’s complicated, but seeing a woman behind the wheel, it really gives you confidence.” As only one of Patrica Nzolantima’s startups, Ubiz Cabs, has thus far proven her most immediately successful venture. For her it is not only a practical business model, but also a way of offering other women in the country stable and relatively high-paid employment. “Ever since I first became an entrepreneur, I’ve believed in women,” Nzolantima says – “I believe African women will succeed where men have failed. Believe me, put women in positions of power and they’ll change the world.”
Aiming to make a big impact on the transport sector in the Congo, Ubiz has set up its own training academy, graduating over 100 women drivers in 2020 alone. Academy lessons include standard aphorisms from the service industry, including the old tried and true – “the customer is always right.” Most trainees and drivers for UBiz were previously unemployed, as one trainee exclaims – “first of all, there was no such thing as female taxi drivers here in the DRC, so when I saw they were hiring women I thought to myself, well this could be an opportunity for me.” One trainee, Moukembi, previously employed as a nurse, stands to triple her salary if hired as a driver at Ubiz.
Ubiz cabs has already found success serving Kinshasa’s exclusive, but growing upper and middle class. However, it can also hopefully contribute to further diminishing the city’s wealth disparity, not only providing dozens of Congolese women with stable employment, but also encouraging and inspiring other hopeful entrepreneurs, both female and male, to help bring greater economic stability and prosperity to the country. In the case of Congolese entrepreneurship, the future most definitely seems to be female, rocketing towards a brighter future in a pink taxi cab.