Meet The 4 Pakistani-Americans Changing Refugees’ Lives With E-Rickshaws

How do we build a sustainable, scalable startup enterprise that restores the rights and dignity of 10 million refugees by 2020? This was the question posed at this year’s Hult Prize competition, an international social entrepreneurship competition that gives students from around the world a chance to start up their own business aimed at solving a social issue.

In an era of Donald Trump, this question especially stood out to 4 Muslim, Pakistani-Americans. With an administration that incites hate and fear when it comes to immigrants and refugees, these 3 Rutgers Business School Students and 1 alumna want to change that sentiment with E-rickshaws. Meet the founders of Roshni Rides:

Gia Farooqi; CEO: My name is Gia Farooqi. I am graduating in December of 2017 and majoring in Supply Chain Management and double minoring in political science and women & gender studies.

Hasan Usmani; COO: Salaam. My name is Hasan Usmani. I am a senior graduating in May 2017 majoring in Supply Chain Management.

Hanaa Lakhani; CMO: Salaam my name is Hanaa Lakhani and I graduated the Rutgers Business School in May 2016 with a major in Supply Chain Management

Moneeb Mian; CFO: Salaam my name is Moneeb Mian and I am a senior double majoring in Supply Chain Management and BAIT

This year’s theme “Refugees – The Reawakening of Human Potential” brought forth company pitches that focused on “restoring the rights and dignity of people and societies who may be, or are forced into motion due to social injustices, politics, economic pressures, climate change and war.”

In early March, after 40,000 applicants, Roshni Rides won in the regional competition against 60 other teams moving them up to the finals where they’ll compete against four other teams for the $1 million prize in September.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Gia and Hanaa to talk about their company:

Muslim Girl: Tell us about Roshni Rides.

Gia/Hanaa: Roshni Rides is a solar powered electric rickshaw service that provides transportation for those who need it the most, when they need it the most. We came up with the idea after speaking to one of our team mate’s uncles who used to live in Orangi. Hearing the stories of the refugees who live in this informal settlement, we realized that due to a lack of safe and affordable transportation, they were missing out on critical resources like education and healthcare.

This is our way to create a sustainable business that will consistently invest in the infrastructure of every community we become a part of.

In fact, 30% of the income of an average person in Orangi goes to transportation as compared to the 3% Americans spend. Imagine having to spend 10x as much money on your commute- there goes your savings and an money you would need to use for non-immediate necessities like clothing, medical care, or even to go to school. As 4 Pakistani Americans, we consider Orangi to be a part of our home. This is our way to create a sustainable business that will consistently invest in the infrastructure of every community we become a part of.

Roshni means light in Urdu. Tell us about the name of your company and its significance.

Gia: Since our electric rickshaws are powered by solar energy we wanted to play off the concept of light. Our business goes beyond transportation- we want to bring light back into the lives of every community we work with by improving their overall quality of life. At Roshni Rides our message is to spread light and love. One of our core values is to provide electricity at night for surrounding communities to create a safer environment for women and children. Our employees, supporters, and team are all a part of our extended Roshni Family.

In Donald Trump’s America, refugees are considered to be threats. How do you hope to change that sentiment with Roshni Rides?

Gia: Roshni Rides shows that innovative business solutions can give refugees and the impoverished the opportunity to progress and develop their own communities. These refugee populations have had their self-sufficiency stripped away and are boxed in under political and economic hardships. As social entrepreneurs, we are aiming to give that self-sufficiency back. With safer and affordable transportation, Orangi refugees will have more income save and more time returned to them so that they can better improve their lives and communities–Roshni Rides was the vehicle of change that allowed that to happen (haha, pun intended).

Donald Trump’s America sees refugees as a burden rather than a potential for change and success. We hope that Roshni Rides will show Americans that refugees are people full of untapped potential- they just need the tools to get there.

The competition happened to be around the same time as Donald Trump’s two (failed) travel (Muslim) bans. Did that affect your morale at all?

Gia: I think it’s always frustrating to see a policy that threatens the validity of your existence. As a Muslim-American who is the daughter of immigrants,  Trump’s bans told my existence or the existence of those who are like me are not welcome. For me, this wasn’t demoralizing but rather served as a good motivator to prove that the contributions of Muslim-Americans aren’t only impactful, but resonate the core values that America stands for. The travel policy loses it’s thunder when it attacks the best and brightest that this country has to offer.

Gia and Hanaa, how has this new administration challenged you as Muslim Women Entrepreneurs? What keeps you motivated?

Gia: One of my favorite television characters, Olivia Pope, grew up with the mantra that she had to be “three times as good” because she was a woman of color. The mantra helped her be the best of her peers and become one of the most (hypothetical) powers in the abc family version of Washington D.C.

I realize that in order to be taken seriously as a visibly Muslim Woman– I have to be three times as good.

I often think about Olivia Pope’s words and use it as a mantra for myself. I realize that in order to be taken seriously as a visibly Muslim Woman– I have to be three times as good. This administration consistently tries to create doubt within the Muslim community through its messaging and blatant support for Islamophobic culture. The challenge is to not let that get to you and to rise above. I stay motivated because of the incredible support system I have in my friends, family, and local Muslim community at college.

What’s next for Roshni Rides? What do you hope to achieve in the coming years?

Hanaa: This summer, our team is traveling to Orangi Town, Pakistan where we will officially launch our Pilot. The success of this Pilot is crucial as it proves our business model. Come this September, our team will have our final pitch where we will be compete for the $1MM in seed money to further our business. Our team is up against 5 other teams globally, and are the only US team.

Gia: We will be piloting this summer to implement proof of concept for our business model. In order to make this business a reality, we will be starting our pilot program this summer for at least 5 weeks. We have started a crowdfunding campaign and are hoping to raise $30,000 so that we can bring our rickshaws to Orangi, employ and train drivers, and bring rides to those who need it the most, when they need it the most.

Help us create brighter lives, one ride at a time by supporting and donating to our crowdfunding campaign!

How can we contribute to this incredible project?

You can support Roshni Rides by following us on social media, by word of mouth, and by contributing to our crowdfunding campaign which will help make our Pilot this summer a success!