Dubai-based ride hailing application Careem is gearing up for expansion in Saudi Arabia and looking to hire thousands of women in the kingdom, as the law lifting the ban on women driving comes into effect this summer, co-founder of the six-year-old company said.

“ We foresee a very strong growth in Saudi Arabia, both in the cities where we already have presence today and in the new cities we plan to expand to as well,” Magnus Olsson, co-founder of Careem, told Zawya in an interview on the sidelines of a UAE Innovation Month event held in Abu Dhabi last week.

In September last year, King Salman ordered that women be allowed to drive cars, ending a long-standing rule banning females from taking the wheel. The decree ordered the setting up of a ministerial body to oversee the process and implement the order by June 24, 2018, according to the Saudi Press Agency. The move means women will be able to join the ranks of captains at Careem from this summer.

“We are very excited about this June, it is a big milestone for the country. We have already started training female captains and we hope to get up to 100,000 female captains on board within a year from June, “Olsson said.

“We had a significant number of Saudi women getting training for the captain role and there are already 1,000 Saudi women who signed up to be captains at Careem,” he added.

Saudi women face high unemployment rates with over one million of them currently looking for jobs, making up around 80 percent of the kingdom’s Saudi job seekers, according to the latest official figures. Read more here.

Last year’s decree means more women will be able to actively engage in economic activities in the kingdom, which Olsson sees as potential growth for Careem.

“There is still so much room for growth in the Saudi market. Small parts of the population in Saudi are using services such as Careem, and, as economic activity increases, there will be more need to move around, whether for jobs or other private activities,” he said.

Move towards Saudization

However, it is not just women who will benefit, Olsson revealed, saying that the company has seen a rise in the rate of Saudi nationals joining their fleet.

“Currently, 99.5 percent of captains in the kingdom are Saudis. We were very excited to expand hiring of Saudi captains because there are so many Saudis who have cars and would love to drive just for few hours a day to make an extra income. But at the beginning, we were not sure that this would be culturally acceptable for Saudis,” he said.

“Just 2 years ago, all of our captains were expats which is somehow traditional in this industry, but then people realised that this is an honourable way to make some money, a great way to meet other people, and it is very flexible where you can work on your own time and be your own boss,” he added.

The Saudi government made it legal for any Saudi that has a license and a proper car insurance to work for platforms like Careem, the co-founder noted.

“Saudi has been very open and they see this as a way to create employment for the local population,” he said.

In November last year, Saudi authorities went one step further and issued a new requirement that all drivers working for ride-hailing apps must be Saudi nationals. Existing non-Saudi nationals already registered with ride-hailing companies like Careem are allowed to carry on working.

There are currently 20 ride-hailing applications licensed to run in the kingdom, according to the latest figures for the first quarter of 2018 issued by the Public Transport Authority. Read more here:

However, Olsson said competition was healthy and Careem was performing well in the market: “Competition is good for the market, but we are leading the competition in Saudi,” he said.

(Reporting by Nada Al Rifai; Editing by Shane McGinley)


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