SMC students assist women Jordanian entrepreneurs
Rebecca O'Neil | Monday, April 13, 2015
A Saint Mary’s professor and two students traveled to Amman, Jordan, to observe and assist the inception and future growth of SheCab, a startup taxi service designed for and by Jordanian women.
Associate professor of political science Sonalini Sapra accompanied junior Eleanor Jones and sophomore Emily Beaudoin abroad, a trip that followed the two students’ participation in the Study of United States Institute (SUSI) on Global Women’s Leadership hosted by Saint Mary’s the previous summer.
The SUSI, organized and facilitated by the College’s Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL), closed its five-week long program with a capstone project in which students designed a program geared towards helping women in their home country. Jones and Beaudoin said they were unsurprised when the SheCab proposal was chosen as the best of all the participating groups in the 2014 SUSI.
“Each team developed great ideas for their project, but SheCab was the clear winner,” Jones said. “I remember Emily predicting their success before it was announced that they had won. Their mission was clear and their action plan was something that was tangible.”
Not only was their design tangible, but it was one the Jordanian group encountered in successful action during their stay in South Bend, Jones said.
“Gail Hickey graduated from the Spark Program that is hosted at Saint Mary’s by Martha Smith,” Jones said. “Through her participation in this program, she started her own female cab service in the area. The Jordanian delegation met Gail when they were here and they used her idea as the springboard for their own action plan.”
Beaudoin said the transportation demanded and supplied by women in South Bend and appropriated for use in Amman speaks to an international interest in women’s safety.
“SheCab is part of a larger global movement for female-only transportation,” Beaudoin said. “Mexico, Afghanistan, India and even New York City have already implemented systems of female only public transportation.”
“This is a service much needed in Amman, as women oftentimes speak of harassment and feeling generally unsafe in taxis driven by men.”
Beaudoin said the the group’s end result was a taxi business — female-purposed and female-serviced — with a mission to provide safe and accessible transportation for women.
“Once SheCab is officially launched, the cars will be driven exclusively by females and offer their services to females,” Beaudoin said.
Jones said SheCab’s creators have garnered a lot of attention through media outreach since they left the U.S. in August.
“Although they have not officially launched, SheCab’s greatest strength thus far has been their outreach,” Jones said. “They were on the front cover of one of their national newspapers, and they have been interviewed on several radio stations.”
Although the two Saint Mary’s students did not contribute to SheCab’s initial design, Beaudoin and Jones said they were able to witness and help their international peers’ business model come to life during their trip to Jordan.
“Emily and I were able to attend a meeting at the U.S. Embassy in support of the SheCab team,” Jones said. “There, they were announced a finalist for an Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) grant from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
“ … While we were there, they also got the first call from a potential investor.”
Beaudoin said the Jordanian entrepreneurs intend to use the SheCab’s media attention to raise the money it needs for an official launch. She said she realized that the most significant way she and Jones could contribute to the growth of SheCab was to provide them with additional funding that would ensure the business’s quick and effective launch.
“SheCab is in need of funds to purchase cars, market their business and continue to grow,” Beaudoin said. “Right now the SheCab team is working to finalize their business plan, attract investors and market their business so that when it does come time for the official launch the public is excited and willing to ride in their cabs.”
Beaudoin said she was impressed by the Jordanian delegation’s ability to see this feminist-activism project through as a potentially profitable business model.
“Personally, I think SheCab won because it was a very specific, highly feasible idea that is part of a larger global movement for female-only transportation,” she said. “The fact that it was entrepreneurial, that the Jordanian team wanted to launch a new business, distinguished it from the other country projects.”
This “feasible” idea is ensured by need, Beaudoin said. She and Jones experienced the dangers of male cabbies firsthand during their trip to Amman, she said.
“As we spoke with several women who live in Amman and experienced some harassment at the hands of a taxi driver ourselves, it was evident that SheCab is a much-needed service in Amman,” Beaudoin said.
Jones said SheCab will not only protect, but empower women.
“I wanted to help contribute to this program because in my mind, these women leaders have already succeeded,” Jones said. “ … They not only identified an issue in their community, they are finding a solution. They are finding and sparking confidence in others.”
Jones said the opportunity to witness and contribute to SheCab and the rise of the women entrepreneurs that designed and implemented it was inspiring.
“Although our institute this summer was only five weeks, I think we developed great bonds with these women,” Jones said. “Being able to watch them succeed in change makes me proud to have been able to watch them develop this dream from the beginning and to have been a small part of their journey.”