Jane Kale started working for Uber in June, 2017. Before signing up to the ride-hailing app, Ms Kale worked as a househelp for a family that later designated her as their personal driver.
Ms Kale, however, was forced to quit the job to take care of her ailing mother. When she returned to see if she could get back her job, the family had found her replacement.
Jobless, Ms Kale stayed home for five months before she was persuaded by a friend to enlist as Uberdriver.
“When you’re doing nothing and there’s an opportunity, you run with it,” she says.
Ms Kale went to Uber offices for screening and to do paperwork. And the 38-year-old mother of one daughter who is undertaking university studies, became one of the people earning a living by tapping into the growing gig economy.
Ms Kale says driving is her passion and turning it into a business came naturally, and since joining Uber she has never looked back.
“I haven’t tried to do anything else,” she says.
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Aside from the experience she gained as a personal driver, Ms Kale says she has learnt a lot in the business and has attained valuables skills regarding cars despite not having a formal training in mechanical engineering.
“When I get a mechanical problem, before I call a mechanic, I first open the bonnet to try to see what’s happening. I also change my tyres,” she says.
“There was a day I was working at night then I got a puncture. Some guys came and asked to change it at a fee. I told them to watch while I changed the tyre.”
Then there was a time she went to a mechanic to fix her car windows. The mechanic told her the controls were faulty and needed to be replaced.
“I told him we could try and fix the controls instead of buying new ones,” she says.
The mechanic, Ms Kale says, insisted on buying new ones but she could hear none of it.
“I asked him for a screw driver and showed him what we could do. To his surprise the problem was fixed.”
From this experience she learnt that “you always have to be smart on the road” for you not to be swindled out of your hard-earned income.
Ms Kale says she chose to work with Uber because it is an international company and she gets to interact with people from all over the world.
“You meet people from all over the world and different cultures. When at the airport and international airlines land from different parts of the world, it’s easy for you to get a trip than say someone waiting with a local app,” she says, adding that “Uber is the pioneer and many subscribe to it.”
Driving is considered a male domain, especially in Africa, and only bold women can break into it. Indeed Ms Kale says she has faced quite a number of challenges, including being targeted by criminals.
There was a time suspicious characters requested her ride late at night. One of them told her he was a police officer and even showed her a firearm.
Ms Kale said she felt vulnerable and immediately cancelled the trip. Fortunately there was a pub nearby and people milling around had already noticed what was happening. To her great relief, the characters left after about 20 minutes. The incident left her shaken and she almost quit the Uber business.
“Some think that you are a prostitute,” she says.
“I once got a client who asked me to go with him to his house saying his wife was not around.”
She says she just ended the trip and told the client to request another ride.
Despite such challenges, Ms Kale says she is happy to be among those employed in the gig economy which is growing to be a major job creator globally.
The pandemic has accelerated the the growth of the industry and spurred other forms of digital transformation.
During the recent Future of Work conversation at Metta Nairobi, Mercy Corps director of youth employment, Christopher Maclay said the gig economy has a huge potential to bail Africa from the biting challenge of lack of jobs.
“I see this area of job tech having a huge potential to create meaningful work for a lot of people and I think within Africa there’s a real opportunity to be impactful and as inclusive as possible from the onset,” Mr Maclay says.
“This isn’t how most people find work here. I think there’s a real opportunity for smart entrepreneurs …”
Riara University Vice Chancellor Prof. Robert Gateru said, “Gig work is a good retirement package as you can work from anywhere.”