‘If you can do school runs, you can do Uber’
Blessing Manuel-Smallvoice is a very popular Uber female driver-partner and has been on the app for over a year. She’s also a fleet partner and manages other cars on the Uber platform. A certified Engineer, she’s also a serial entrepreneur with businesses in fashion and consultancy. An indigene of Edo State, she studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Benin, got a master’s degree and an MBA from the same university. She tells GuardianWoman in this interview how lucrative it has been working with Uber app.
How did you get into driving Uber?
I Came to Lagos and had a stint in the banking industry for about 15 years. After this, things happened, I made a few wrong choices and had to start picking up my life again from scratch. About 10 or 11 years ago, things were really bad, but I am someone who believes that it is not over until it is over. Somewhere along the line, I came across a friend who had gone to Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) and had done a course there through a scholarship. She told me I also deserved such and made me apply. At this time, I was running a mathematics clinic to keep body and soul together and so I applied and got it. Few years back, I marked my 50th birthday and my wonderful family gave me a Honda CRV for my birthday.
I was beyond touched, it is a beautiful car but of what use is a car if you aren’t gaining anything extra from it? One day, I was gisting with a family member and we were talking about someone who used his car as a cab for Uber. He used to be a driver for our family and has assisted us so many times. One day, he approached one of my siblings to assist him in getting a car to use for Uber, which the person did and he was given an account number to be repaying the money used to get the car for him (no interest on the money). In about four months, the man had repaid about N400 thousand, and was taking care of his wife and children as well comfortably. This was the first time I was hearing about Uber, I had been so down- trodden and beaten by circumstances that I had little interest in things.
They told me about Uber and I expressed interest. My family refused, saying they wouldn’t allow their aunty drive Uber. I wasn’t happy because I was tired of the little handouts I was getting and wanted to be independent. I wasn’t employed, business was not moving and things were difficult. I was running a farm, it was very far and the work was stressful. Opposite where I was staying, there was a woman selling jewelry and making clothes and through the grace of God, I got involved in that as well. I didn’t even know how to hold a needle but the woman was God-sent; she arranged tailors that would sew the clothes and I added the embellishments.
When I heard about the daily money being made on the app, I was convinced even more that this was what I wanted to do despite my siblings’ disapproval. But when they saw I was determined, they left me alone. Initially, we got a young man, a university graduate who for the past four years had been looking for money to go abroad. I gave him the car and we agreed on a weekly delivery payment. The guy took the car and for the next few weeks, the car was going everywhere in Lagos but he didn’t deliver any money to me and I asked them to remove him from my license. I called Uber, they asked me to do the driver test and, over a year later, it has been bliss.
Do you enjoy what you are doing now, going by some security issues the company had been involved in sometime back?
Absolutely. I tell people, there are more good people than bad in Nigeria, but the bad ones always manage to show up and spoil others. Ninety-nine per cent of our drivers are great. Before leaving home, I always ask God to help me come back happier than I left and God usually does this for me. It has been a nice experience, even though I have had one or two unpleasant experiences. Uber is trying to improve on security but we as individuals should also key into security by using trackers, sharing location, sharing trips on the app and so on. Always let people know where you are, this is important. As a woman, I am always conscious of my appearance and where I am and where I am going. I don’t do night trips as well for my safety. The app doesn’t even let drivers do more than 12 hours daily. Plan yourself properly and you wouldn’t need to drive all day. It is drivers that are greedily looking for cash trips that are always trying to work overtime and circumvent things. I tell women, with the present situation in the country, no matter how much your husband has to give you, you also have to chip in. if you can do school runs, you can do Uber. Plan your going and coming around their opening and closing hours, work around that time and make some money.
What are the challenges you have faced so far?
I wouldn’t lie and say there have been no challenges. Sometimes, I want to go somewhere and wouldn’t want to go empty and figure ‘if someone else pays for my fuel, why not?’ Uber allows us set our trip to a specific location, twice a day, and you would be told you couldn’t do that at that particular period. It’s upsetting and I would have to go empty. This happens if there are too may people trying to do that and if the quota is filled, others would be turned back. Along with the app, I still run my tailoring and bead-making business and I’m about entering the ready-to-wear market as I just graduated from tailoring school. One major advantage driving Uber has given me is the opportunity of flexibility and I have tried to use the time well. You can do good business between 6:am-10:00 am and close for the day. You can go ahead and do any other thing you want to do from then. Any woman can do it.
What would you say differentiates Uber from the yellow taxis?
Uber gives me my customers. If I were driving a yellow taxi, I would have had to source my customers myself. I can be in my room with my app on and wait for customers; I just ensure the car is ready to go. I find out that early afternoon is the best time to do Uber on Sunday, so when I come back from church, I head towards the Surulere area and I am kept very busy. I don’t do regular customers; I don’t do private one as someone that doesn’t know you cannot set you up. It is better to always be on the app where you can be tracked easily in case anything happens. I agree that there can be issues with the app sometimes as any technology is bound to have those as the app works with network. Sometimes, there are down- times but Uber takes care of the drivers.
Are there many women drivers now?
Yes, but we need more. The issues are usually cultural, as the women will tell us that their husbands or brothers or pastors or fathers are saying no. We have a driver, Demilade, she is popular on social media, she left her child at home and she is an Uber driver. It was a struggle to let her go. More women want to but there are a lot of cultural barriers, but seeing people like me encourages other women. My very first Uber ride, the couple were shocked to see me but I put them at rest. I have had riders cancel because I’m a woman. This gives me an opportunity to make money, so, why not? I’m annoyed when I see a woman say she has nothing doing. Can you drive? If yes, why not come and drive Uber? Even if you don’t have a car, show up and we’ll get you a car. I can go anywhere; if there is a road from here to Canada, I will drive it. I would tell anyone, just take precautions because there are a lot of strange people in the country.
How do you cope with the traffic?
I have lived in Lagos for many years, so traffic is nothing new. If you want to work, each job has its challenges and you must make up your mind to deal with them. Keep your mind on the goal by reminding yourself why you are doing this.
What is your advice to women?
Every woman has to be busy doing something, no matter how small. Every woman cannot be an Uber driver, but if you have the opportunity, please take it. Some men may feel ashamed that their wives are driving, but ask him how many friends would help him sustain his family when things are down. As for if Uber is lucrative or not, it is the number of hours you put into it that would determine what you get out of it, but you cannot lose. Even if you’re working, you can fix your trip going and coming from work and use that money to fuel your car and save your salary for something else. When I pick a rider, I usually ask them if I am their first female rider in Lagos or not. I would tell more women to come on board, the more the merrier please.
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