…Marjorie Saint-Lot, Country Manager for Uber Ghana and Ivory Coast is leading a disruptive company that powers mobility in Africa and is passionate about the advancement of women in tech.
Marjorie Saint-Lot’s passion for the power of technology and the advancement of women in society is palpable. With more than 15 years of experience in sectors including telecom, e-commerce and transport, she has front-view access and knowledge of the transformative abilities of technology and representation.
Saint-Lot is currently the Country Manager of Uber Ghana and Ivory Coast, joining in November 2019, where she helped launch the American transportation conglomerate in Abidjan, the first Francophone market for the company in Africa, and successfully put the city on the global map.
She also helped launch new cities in Ghana (Tamale and Sunyani) and new product offerings such as Uber Connect, a peer-to-peer delivery option, UberX Share – a shared rides offering allowing riders to save up to 30 percent of the trip fare, and Uber Comfort – a bespoke offering designed for riders looking for an upgrade to their everyday ride with extra comfort.
As the country lead, Saint-Lot is responsible for managing all the operational functions of the business in Ghana and Ivory Coast, with a focus on growth, policy engagement as well as community engagement. Marjorie also facilitates unique earnings opportunities for drivers – through both innovation and technology. She is also Co-Chair of Women at Uber in SSA and a member of Uber’s EMEA Women at Uber, where she promotes the advancement of women at Uber through the network, access to leadership, professional development, and peer mentoring.
Saint-Lot previously worked in strategy and development for Orange Côte d’Ivoire, with a key highlight being the leader of the company’s external growth and diversification programme.
Born in Côte d’Ivoire, she has a passion for disruptive technology and business models made for Africa’s sustainable development and believes in building an inclusive and sustainable culture to power mobility in Africa. She has a Master’s degree in Economic and Financial Engineering from the Université de la Reunion.
Business & Financial Times (B&FT) recently spoke with Marjorie Saint-Lot (MSL) in her Accra office.
B&FT: Who is Marjorie Saint-Lot, and what is your current role at Uber?
MSL: My name is Marjorie Saint-Lot. I’ve been at Uber for about three and a half years, going on four years in November. I started the business by launching the business in Ivory Coast, building very strong relationships with both regulators and the industry. It’s quite a regulated environment in Ivory Coast. A bit different from Ghana.
Now I’ve been in Ghana for about a year and a half, going on two years covering both countries. And my role is to find ways for us to build a business sustainably – both strategic priorities and how we roll it out operationally on the ground.
I fit into that world that decides to have these idealistic dreams about their home countries. I am Ivorian and Akan, with roots in both Ghana and Ivory Coast. And I decided to move back to West Africa about 11 years ago. I’ve been working for the last 11 years in the region, actively building and adapting to new business models to the region. I’m incredibly passionate about tech and the impact it can have on the region.
BFT: Where does your passion for disruptive technology stem from?
MSL: I’m also half Haitian and grew up in Haiti and then in Canada. After starting my career in Canada, I also had an opportunity to work in the Caribbean, and I walked into the tech industry in 2007, working for a Telcom operator in Haiti.
And I saw the magic of Mobile Money and the magic of having connectivity, and how it just transformed people’s lives from the market lady to the plumber to the CEO. And I just knew that the rest of my career would have to be in tech. I think we’re just now tapping into the possibilities of what tech can unlock in emerging markets.
I have had those eyes growing up in North America. I actually believe that what it will unlock in our minds and in our countries is comparable to what it has done in developed countries. So it really has grown in me both a passion for possibilities. You know, I’m not an engineer. I’m a business lady, so it’s like the passion of seeing, ‘Oh my God, this can transform our world’ and trying to find the abilities or the various ways of being able to create value through tech.
BFT: You are passionate about seeing the growth of women, and Uber also has initiatives in place to support women. How do these two intersect, and what have been some of the results?
MSL: Personally, being a woman in tech and now in transport or being a woman in leadership, I can understand the challenges or the sense that we have as women that opportunities may be more restricted. And as much as I felt the passion around tech for emerging markets, it’s the same passion that –very early on because I was so ambitious – made me feel there was an opportunity for women just like me as I was creating my own opportunities.
And I found that these values are lived by within Uber both in the way that we find ourselves integrating our women employees and growing their skill sets so that they can also grow as strong leaders and have access to the same opportunities, and also in how we create opportunities for women drivers.
And so early on in my journey at Uber, I decided to co-chairwomen at Uber for Africa. And I’m also now very much involved in the woman driver programme within EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) – which I was sponsored for some time and I stepped back a little bit more, but I still lead it for the region in Africa – on how we can grow our products for women drivers.
And the exciting thing here is that the IRC (International Rescue Committee) has issued some robust reporting on what ride-sharing can unlock for women drivers. And we saw that the women drivers felt that both the level of independence and flexibility that ride-hailing offered them was something that they could really capitalise on. And where they felt that there might be some concerns around safety, I guess it wasn’t specific to ride-hailing but more to transport as a whole.
I think, as a business, we have responded very well to how we’ve built our safety products. And one of the ones that we’ve recently launched in Ghana and other countries in EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) including Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa is a woman-preferred product, which allows a woman driver to choose only to have woman riders.
And it’s a great promise to say that she doesn’t need to have that all day – she can just decide that at night “I only want to have women riders”. I guess that brings ansense of safety in addition to everything else that we do in the business. It’s great to be able to work on these kinds of products.
BFT: What are some initiatives you’ve managed as a way of supporting women?
MSL: In my role as head of (Uber) Ivory Coast, for example, we’ve built a specific social service fee for women-owned fleets. Ivory Coast is a fleet market. So when a fleet used to have predominantly more women drivers as opposed to men drivers, they would get a preferred service fee, for example.
L-R Adoma Owusu, Vanessa Bannerman, Femi Asante, Nanama Botchwey and Marjorie Saint-Lot addressing the role of technology in promoting equity at the UberTechConnect Africa 2023 IWD panel
We also partnered with Ecobank on both markets for financial inclusion courses because we realise it is not only about vehicle access, but I think independence and knowing how to manage your money and how to build your business is often areas where there needs to be a little bit more capacity-building. And I felt that the programme offered by Ecobank already corresponded to that – to have a suite of financial services products that are suited and built for women. And it just makes sense that we partner to tackle these issues.
And then we try to build awareness. Recently, we organised a really big women in tech event here in Ghana. So it wasn’t specific to women drivers, but it was, to a large extent, for women in tech as a whole, where we partner with Tech Connect Africa and broaden the ecosystem here. And we have those discussions often with these kinds of panels and events. I was in one a couple of weeks back at the start-up forum speak about the place of women in tech and in leadership. I’ve done multiple events like this.
Again, I think capacity-building is carried out in many ways. It’s in how you speak about it so I often say that young ladies in our region can’t even imagine having a job in tech just because they don’t see enough women speaking about it. I, therefore, speak on TV, on panels, or speak in schools. I’ve done multiple engagements in schools in Ghana and in Ivory Coast, but it also allowed us to put a face to women in tech and democratise that in women young ladies’ minds. For me, it really starts there.
Mentoring is another important factor. I mentor quite a number of women, young ladies, and older ladies in those two countries and other countries in Africa. Again, I think it’s just a side of being a woman leader. I’m also a mother. How do you make sense of that career in our culture? How do you advocate for these things? So yeah, I try to work on these different elements at every level within the business and outside the business.
BFT: You recently joined Ecobank as a board member. What do you think you add to the company? How does that shape the efforts of the bank, especially with regard to supporting women?
MSL: I joined a bank that believes in diversity. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I was happy about the opportunity.
Sometimes you feel like you’re just a number but this case, there’s a true diversity strategy starting from the top. I think the impulse I’m going to give to the business outside of what they could do is within the women’s initiatives, which they have done quite a bit. It’s really linked to my skill set. My skill sets are around cultural adaptations of business models, digital acceleration, and market entry. And how do you adapt? We’re going toward new models and digital models in our markets.
Specifically in these kinds of segments – banking and traditional kinds of services – we are learning to be digital in our usage. So how do you manage change management both internally and externally? And how do you build products and services or adapt them to the usage that we’ll have in our countries in the next few years? So yes, in that space, I think women will have a much more vital role to play in finance and in everything. I’m actually the youngest on that board. It speaks to the opportunities that are there for women again as leaders. I’m grateful that I was given this opportunity, but I’m also grateful for what it shows these young women out there about what can be done.
BFT: What excites you about the future of Uber and how it is helping with the efficiency of transport systems on the African continent?
MSL: We’ve just untapped the opportunities that ride-hailing can bring to transport as a whole. One number that just really excites me is 3 million opportunities. Creating jobs in Africa since we’ve been here.
That’s just when you know the level of unemployment rates that there are in our countries, both the official ones and the unofficial ones. And we’re not even looking at the indirect opportunities that have been created. So you’re thinking about a woman entrepreneur who’s baking in her house and she’s able to deliver to her customer base through ride-hailing.
Marjorie giving welcome remarks for the enterprise launch
So we’re not even looking at these other things that we’re working on unlocking and how these uses are being completely dematerialised through ride-hailing. So I think what’s really interesting is how we’re approaching the way we’re working with our cities and the way we’re working with regulators to shape that new world to gain much more efficiency.
The discussions I’m having right now in Ivory Coast, for example, are around multimodality. Multimodality because there you have transport, mass transport, and both. You have a traditional – very strong taxi industry; and you’re going to have a subway.
So we’re shaping cities that are going to be moving millions of people. You look at a city like Lagos – its 20 million people. You look at a city like Abidjan – its 8 million people. And we are shaping that efficiency that we need to build. I can’t imagine a better place to be than in ride-hailing. And I’m really excited about the opportunity that it creates both for our businesses and the citizens of these cities as well as the policy-makers.
BFT: Is there anything exciting at Uber that we need to look out for?
MSL: When I joined [Uber] Ghana, I was shocked by how vital safety was for our drivers. You always think that when we talk about rides here, you always talk about safety from a rider’s perspective.
And I think personally, from a drivers’ perspective, I was stunned to see how it was so top of mind for them and how there are unfortunate incidents that happen. And so we have a full suite of safety products that we’re very proud of. For example, being able to share your ride, the whole GPS tracking, the insurance that we offer to our drivers and our riders to be able to strengthen what we do with the emergency button through this partnership that we’ve all launched in Ghana; and it is fantastic.
Marjorie Saint-Lot and Nigel Nunoo COO of Enterprise
In addition, we’ve launched this partnership with AURA, a private security service that’ll be available for both drivers and riders in case of an emergency. And so there is an emergency button that we’ve made available for every rider and driver in Ghana. You’ll have private security that will be able to get you in a very, very short amount of time.
And in the event that there is something, they’ll be able to coordinate with the police and the emergency services locally to support our riders and drivers. So you can imagine. You must have seen [the news] on social networks in the last year of unfortunate incidents that happened; so to be able to have immediate support, I find it really exciting and reassuring in a lot of ways. I’m really happy that we’re able to unlock this partnership for the cities particularly in Ghana.
I was at a round table yesterday and some of the drivers brought this up, so I talked with them about it and their eyes were just opening like: ‘What do you mean somebody’s gonna come?’ Somebody will come to them within minutes to make sure that they’re safe. We’ll be able to find help and unpack that unfortunate situation. We’ll be able to coordinate with everybody – all the other stakeholders.
And there is one thing that they don’t need to worry about –the Emergency Button. It’s in our security suits. On your app, there’s a shield, a blue shield, and a couple of options there. The third option is the emergency button. So on the back of it, there’s a call centre that’s supported by a private security team that has a full suite of both emergency response and first aid response.
BFT: In what ways do the differences and similarities between Ghana as an English-speaking country and Ivory Coast as a French-speaking country help you in your work?
MSL: My profile is a bit different. In the sense that before joining Uber, I was already covering countries like Liberia and Burkina Faso, so I had developed a regional view of digital usage outside of ride-hailing. And in doing that, you identify similarities among our countries within West Africa and Central Africa, whether they either speak English or French; and then you start seeing the fundamental differences between Anglophone and Francophone cultures.
Moreover, as I mentioned earlier, I have Akan roots in Ivory Coast and Ghana. And so you can see the influence of our traditions and culture both in usage, in price sensitivity and other things and how one reacts to things. One also clearly sees the influence of francophone history versus English history.
What do I take from this experience? It just consolidates my learning. It just strengthens my understanding of our region. And it allows me to build better products for the region – scalable products. I think the real question, even for us as a business, is how to build products that are scalable across regions. And you’re only able to do that more when you’re able to understand the similarities and the nuances among countries.