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Innovative partnerships for inclusive mobility

Judith Owigar & Debashish Battacherjee

UN-Habitat is pioneering innovative partnerships with local start-ups to tackle urban mobility challenges, focusing on developing and implementing electric mobility solutions. By leveraging the agility and local insight of these start-ups, UN-Habitat aims to catalyze the e-mobility ecosystem across Africa, exemplified by its collaboration with Ampersand Rwanda in Kigali to develop electric motorcycles and train women as moto-taxi drivers, enhancing income and gender inclusivity. These initiatives underscore the importance of adopting locally relevant solutions and fostering collaborative efforts between global organizations, local start-ups, and governments. They highlight the transformative potential of electric mobility in improving urban transport, creating green jobs, and advancing gender equality in the workforce. Moreover, the role of universities and research institutions in innovating urban mobility solutions is emphasized, as seen in the University of Nairobi's Mobility Accelerator. These efforts contribute significantly to achieving SDGs 11 and 17, showcasing the critical role of innovative partnerships in sustainable urban development.

As UN-Habitat seeks to adopt locally relevant approaches to tackle urban challenges, it has developed innovative and strategic partnerships with local start-ups that are agile and can quickly respond to rapidly changing urban environments with an understanding of the local context and an appreciation of sustainable mobility principles.

To this end, UN-Habitat is supporting start-ups in several cities across the world to develop and implement electric mobility solutions that are catalysing developments across the E-mobility ecosystem in Africa. In Kigali, for example, UN-Habitat is working with Ampersand Rwanda that is developing electric motorcycles. In addition to this, in collaboration with other project partners, Ampersand is training young women to drive electric motorcycle taxis as an income-generating activity.

UN-Habitat has seen the value of seeking innovation outside of its boundaries by engaging with start-ups and stakeholders who would not ordinarily partner with such a large organization. By combining UN-Habitat’s experience working on sustainable mobility, it’s extensive working relationship with local governments and its global partners, start-ups are provided with an institutional framework to work with local government to bring their innovative solutions to address local urban mobility challenges. These innovative partnerships enable UN-Habitat to achieve SDG 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable, and SDG 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.

Innovative solutions to address mobility challenges are quickly emerging in Africa. The application of data sciences has helped to map mobility patterns, leap-frogging the time-taking travel demand and origin-destination studies that were conventionally used in the transportation sector. The results have been used to develop plans for modern Bus Rapid Transit Systems in cities such as Nairobi and Kampala and have the potential to bring together large numbers of informal transport operators to consider strategies for consolidating and modernizing their operations. Furthermore, Africa can harness the abundant potential of its increasingly cost-competitive renewable energy, pointing to the increasing relevance of electric mobility solutions. Already, power generation and transmission companies in Kenya such as KenGen and Kenya Power are rolling out EV charging stations for example.

The need for innovations to address urban mobility challenges highlights the important role that universities and research institutions can play in improving urban mobility. The University of Nairobi, with assistance from UN-Habitat and the GIZ Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative, developed a Mobility Accelerator, a hub for transport and mobility innovations, and positioned itself as a facilitator for the development of new concepts of electric, connected, and shared mobility. One early result following the establishment of the accelerator, for example, has been the development of a prototype of a commercial electric vehicle by an entrepreneur (Auto-Truck Kenya) who was approached to train technicians to convert conventional Internal Combustion Engine tuk-tuks project to electric vehicles operational in Mombasa, and much later in Dar es Salaam, thus showcasing the uptake of new solutions and creation of job opportunities.

A graduate of the Ampersand Electric-motorcycle taxi training program 2022 Ampersand Rwanda

Under an EU-supported project (SOLUTIONSPlus), UN-Habitat is supporting start-ups in several cities across the world to develop and implement e-mobility solutions that also create jobs along the E-mobility value chain. In Kigali, for example, electric motorcycles are being developed by a startup called Ampersand Rwanda. Simultaneously, women are also being trained to drive electric motorcycle taxis to support their income-generating activities. In Dar-es-Salaam, prototypes of electric three-wheelers have been developed in collaboration with the Dar Rapid Transit Agency, and when deployed, these vehicles will serve as feeders to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, easing mobility for people for first and last-mile connectivity. These examples not only illustrate how mobility in cities can be improved but also how a new and green industry of manufacturing and operating electric vehicles can be created.

Electrification bears some transformative potential as it creates an environment for new business models or conditions to access vehicles, and brings in new stakeholders such as assemblers, manufacturers, clearing and forwarding companies, electric vehicle waste recyclers, charging infrastructure providers, battery swapping partners, and requires new skills and corresponding job positions at various phases of the supply chain: design; production and assembly phase; charging or swapping; maintenance and repairs; software development. As women are getting increasingly economically active in sub-Saharan African countries – there is a sharp increase in the number of households having a female household head from 30% in 1989 to 60% in 2011 (Priya Uteng, et al., 2021), it is becoming vital to ensure that mobility barriers do not stop progress made in advancing equality and empowerment in the workforce. Using the momentum of transitioning to electric vehicles can offer the opportunity to re-think the place and experience of women in transport.

Identifying the challenge of the under-representation of women in the transport sector, SOLUTIONSplus partners in Rwanda decided to integrate a strong gender focus in the deployment of supported electric mobility solutions. UN-Habitat, The Urban Electric Mobility Initiative (UEMI), the City of Kigali together with GIZ Rwanda and Ampersand Rwanda jointly implement an electric mobility project to facilitate the inclusion of women as moto-taxi drivers in Kigali.

The project, implemented by Ampersand, developed several components to create enabling conditions for selected women: ad-hoc driving training, financial support to access electric motorcycles at a reduced price, analysis of conditions for previous successful gender-inclusive projects, and research to understand barriers faced by women to provide transport services. Ensuring these enabling conditions led to a driving test success rate of 69%, much higher than previous gender-inclusive projects. 24 electric motorcycles were handed over to the women, who joined the moto-taxi industry. Continuous monitoring of their activities and barriers faced by women will enable scaling up gender-inclusive e-mobility efforts in the long run.

The SOLUTIONSplus project in Kigali aimed to train a cohort of women to become moto-taxi drivers and equip them with electric motorcycle taxis. This pilot intends to reach a deeper understanding of enabling factors and barriers for women to become transport workers, to be replicated at a wider scale if successful.

This demonstration action supports electric last-mile connectivity while providing a partnership framework for institutional cooperation for the uptake of electric mobility among women working in transport, and the electrification of paratransit public transport in an African context. Promoting electric two-wheelers providing feeder services to the public transport system takes the form of electric motorcycle taxis, an electric bike-share system, and electric kick-scooters. This demonstration project in Kigali is further supported with capacity-building activities, peer-to-peer exchange, and site visits, the development of a Mobility-as-a-Service app, urban design proposals, a master plan for e-bus charging in the city, and policy and financial recommendations to scale.

An engineer in the Ampersand Workshop. E-mobility offers multiple job opportunities across the Electric Vehicle Value Chain 2022 Ampersand Rwanda

The project in Kigali offered some lessons on providing gender-inclusive e-mobility solutions in the paratransit sector in Africa. Below are some key highlights: project implementers who may take the form of start-ups, government, or NGOs need to take the time to understand the respective contexts, especially with a specific focus on how women perceive and interact with the chosen form of mobility or technology, in order to design locally relevant and sustainable initiatives. 2. When carrying out the program or initiative a key focus should be placed in the selection criteria where all partners are aware that small cohorts are best to understand and respond to the specific needs of the women.

The environment where the women are carrying out the program activities needs to offer both physical and psychological safety where there are open channels to report any incidences or matters of concern. A key component of increasing the pipeline of women working in the transport sector will include working with stakeholders in the transport sector to come up with structures that will encourage women to be retained within the sector.

The graduates of the gender inclusive e-mobility project 2022Ampersand Rwanda

In addition to this, it was recognized that creating a community of women working in the transport sector through an Association or a cooperative would provide a place where women in the sector can come up with their own initiatives to address their challenges and successfully engage with industry stakeholders to improve conditions for women working in the sector and also improve conditions for women travelers in the respective city. The final key highlight of this initiative involves disseminating the lessons learned to encourage peer learning among stakeholders in the mobility sector on the topics of gender inclusion, paratransit electrification, and the adoption of electric mobility.

While initiating, consolidating, and extending these innovative partnerships there needs to be a healthy measure of trust, patience, and due diligence among all the parties since such partnerships are mostly new and uncharted for the partners involved. Due to the fact that most such partnerships initially start off as pilots, a number of things need to be agreed prior to commencing the project: the purpose of the project, each party’s expectations clearly expectations, the project duration, the respective roles, the expected outcomes, and dispute resolution mechanisms to maintain a positive working relationship during and after the pilot. Finally, on both sides, there needs to be ample optimism and organizational support since the nature of such partnerships are challenging as they involve very different partners with different ways of operating who are co-developing and co-implementing a common project.

For global organizations exploring innovative partnerships with start-ups the following 3 principles can guide these collaborations.

  1. An intrapreneurial mindset within the organization that encourages proactiveness, innovation, and a willingness to take a cautious amount of risk to pursue a partnership with a dissimilar entity such as a start-up.

  2. A collaborative mindset that is open to modifying the approach without changing the purpose of the project in case feedback from the innovative project calls for it.

  3. A local approach with a global mindset so as to customize the innovative approach to the respective local context.

The handover of e-bikes at the Ampersand Rwanda Offices 2022 Ampersand Rwanda

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