Without a doubt, the global ride-hailing company Uber is a well-known and highly visible brand. The company and its actions, therefore, are often under the spotlight and subject to scrutiny. Managing the public image of a high-profile brand like Uber can be challenging, as any missteps or controversies are likely to attract significant attention. Uber operates in a complex and rapidly changing business and regulatory environment which poses even additional challenges in terms of managing the company’s public image.
In this interview, Lorraine Onduru the Head of Communication for Uber in East and West Africa discusses her role and responsibilities in developing the communication strategy for Uber in these regions and some of the challenges affecting the company in Africa.
As the Head of Communication for Uber in East and West Africa. What does an average day look like for you?
I lead communications for Uber in East and West Africa, two diverse, unique and exciting regions in the continent. I am responsible for developing the strategy that informs how and what is communicated to various audiences.
My day is informed by the understanding of my role and the impact I have as a communicator. So as I look to understand what lies ahead in my day, how I will address the issues and challenges that come up and the consistent message that I need to convey. For this reason, no two days are the same.
What sparked your interest in communication? Can you describe the moment you realised this was a field you’d like to pursue?
From the time I was young, I have always had a love for using words to communicate different thoughts and ideas. I started experimenting with writing when I was 8 years old. My love for communication intensified as I got older, especially when I understood the impact of communication on the world around me. Think about it, we arrive at the strong opinions we have about issues based on words we have heard that morph into thoughts, which when meditated on, shape our approach to life. Today we live in the reality of words and ideas that have been articulated and packaged into laws and governing principles to determine the pathways the society at large should take.What is the biggest work-related challenge you have dealt with so far?
I believe that approaching life, including work, from the standpoint of who you are is really important. Working from a central understanding of this permeates through everything you do. The biggest challenges have been when I have not understood this and weaved into my approach to life.
Recently, the Kenyan government opened a discussion to regulate the commission rates charged to taxi drivers by cab service providers. What are your views?
Over the past seven years, Uber has remained committed to using the platform to help unlock thousands of economic opportunities for drivers in Kenya and providing enhanced mobility options for Kenyans.
While Uber is supportive of progressive regulations, these regulations are not conducive to doing business and are not good for drivers or riders as it limits our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the Kenyan mobility sector as well as many other key economic sectors.
Are Uber drivers employees or freelancers?
Drivers are independent contractors. Through surveys, roundtables and engagements with drivers, Uber has learnt that the vast majority want to work independently and choose this earning opportunity because they value the flexibility the platform offers including their ability to use the app when they wish and to earn using other platforms and other earning opportunities.
What are the similarities and differences between the regulatory environments in West and East Africa?
Regulations across West and East Africa are unique and differ from country to country. While there is no one size fits all regulatory policy, we have seen governments and stakeholders in these markets start to formalise the transport industry. This is a commendable step aimed at introducing frameworks to position the ride-hailing marketplace for growth, especially for the drivers who earn an income from it.
Technology has shaped how people and goods move across these regions, and we need to work collaboratively to transition the sector towards this future-fit ecosystem.
We believe that regulations should be tailored for a future-fit ecosystem. For digital entrepreneurship to be sustainable, wider policy reforms are required to improve the ease of earning a living in a gig economy. Uber is committed to establishing partnerships with cities to bring about economic benefits, sustain critical industries and improve core city functions.
What’s the future of the gig economy and more particularly the ride-hailing sector?
We believe that technology is a catalyst in bringing to life an ecosystem that provides alternative means of earning a living, where digital entrepreneurs can freely emerge and thrive despite a strained economy. As an industry, we can use technology as an enabler of growing businesses to create jobs by improving the quality of independent work. This is premised on the notion that:
- Informal work is the dominant form of self-employment. Platform work aggregates this type of work, thereby professionalising gig work and increasing access to earning opportunities.
- Small business growth is key to creating jobs and digital entrepreneurship accelerates this growth by aggregating access to markets.
- Technology has shaped how people and goods move, and we need to work collaboratively to transition the sector towards this future-fit ecosystem.
- While we talk about the changing ways of work in the future tense, it’s important to acknowledge that the future of gig work is already at play in various shapes and forms. We need to look at scaling this further because improving access to social protections of independent work while preserving the flexibility of independent workers is the next frontier.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about your job?
It is not always understood that there is more to communications than simply putting stories in the public domain. For a story to resonate, it’s important to consider the audiences that will receive the information and make sure that it’s adding value to them. In the same way that there are multiple sides to who we are as individuals, so must the information we put out there be diverse and consider the varied needs of the audiences receiving it.
Finally, what do you wake up looking forward to? What’s next for your career?
I look forward to becoming an even better communicator, charting new pathways and being the purveyor of reliable, accurate and unbiased information, which is critical to providing diverse audiences in Africa with a basis to shape their plans for the future.