Innovation past mentality – Can we achieve that?

Innovation past mentality – Can we achieve that?

Last night, I got home with an interesting Uber driver. After calling him about 5 times trying to direct him (yes, Ugandan Uber drivers and use of Google Maps are like oil and water. They just don’t connect), he found where I was. And guess what he had a passenger. This was a lady with a baby. Rather odd – but I figured it was his wife and their baby who was not more than 5 months old.

It was rather late, after 10pm – so I didn’t understand why the driver was with someone that seemed to be his wife and baby. But I am sure – bottom line for him was that he had to work, so whoever it was, had to wait, or it was bring your spouse to work day. And I thought – very unique. But also that this totally is against all work norms as we have always grown to know them.

When Uber had just started in Uganda – I was driven by a woman from one place to another. I was very intrigued, so I asked questions. She said she has just left her desk to take this trip. She had signed up as a driver and was looking to make just 5 trips a day within the city center.

She sat on a different floor from her boss, so when she wasn’t busy – she would pick up a trip, leave house keys and purse on her desk, walk to the car park, take the trip and be back in no time without anyone ever noticing she was gone. This was the second week since she signed up. And she was making a profit of about $80 and for her – that was good enough for her nails and upkeep during the week.

We then continued to talk her work and future prospects. She liked her job but was okay to leave it anytime, that is why she had chosen to take on Uber to spice up her days while she earns more income. She told me that she also had a farm that was doing well and that she was planning to leave her 8-5 desk job to go farming. Her plan was to do 4 days at the farm then come back and do Uber when she was not at the farm. But the biggest hindrance was: 1. She wasn’t sure that her father would approve that she leaves and her desk job for full time farming. 2. She hadn’t told her father that she was doing Uber because that would be a no-go area for her. “How does my daughter drive a ‘taxi”? – Her father would not approve.

I use my Uber experiences because in Uganda if you were to explain the ‘future of work’ – these scenarios fit perfect. Uber is both technology savvy and when used diligently very profitable. Almost easy clean money. But the Uganda work ethic is very relaxed I have to say. There is absolutely no sense of urgency; people love to take their time, compared to our neighbors in Kenya for example. And it is ingrained in us. I know this from when we were growing up in High School.

If you were ever walking in the school compound and it started raining, you were told not to run through the rain, because they would say you are losing your ‘digi’. Short word for dignity. This would explain why when it rains in Kampala especially – people just don’t move even when they have cars. They will wait until after the rain. Then everyone will just start moving. People will show up 2 hours late to work because – it rained. Where else is that acceptable?

This is more a mentality thing than it is a social, or economic issue. The power of intellect. The power of the mind. There is no doubt that many young people who may or may not have gone to school have benefited from Uber in Uganda. However, the company is not doing as well – at all. Once again because of the mentality issue alongside other issues.

There are many forums that are encouraging governments to innovate, because it makes life easier for the populace. While Uber is not a government initiative I think it touches the core of what governments would want to be involved in if they were to come up with great initiatives. So – if governments go ahead and innovate and innovate they will – how do we make sure that it is not just a thing of the elite in regards to functionality? With or without illiteracy, we should be able to still access, use and be part of innovation – right? But how do we innovate past a certain mind shift?

Does anyone know how? Because that is a movement I would like to be part of.

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Paul Shalala ZNBC

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