Michael Wilkerson was a summer intern at The Daily Monitor, the largest privately owned newspaper in Uganda, when he first learned the value of a good boda boda driver. He befriended a young motorcycle driver named Mehdi, who did more than get Wilkerson through Kampala's notorious traffic jams.
“He can get anything done,” Wilkerson recounts in this week's Returns on Investment Podcast. “In journalism terms, he is the ultimate fixer.”
Mehdi also became Wilkerson's guide to the realities of Uganda's approximately 400,000 boda boda drivers, who generally rent their motorcycles from informal landlords for about $4 a day. “Like all landlord situations there are conflicts between the tenant and the landlord over who’s responsible for maintenance, what happens when you have an emergency and can’t pay,” Wilkerson says.
Recognizing an opportunity, Wilkerson used a minor windfall (as a 13-year-old, he had invested his lawn-mowing money in Marvel Entertainment, later purchased by Disney) to launch Tugende, which enables boda boda drivers to lease-to-buy their own motorcycles. The drivers pay a small premium on what they would have paid in rent; after 18 months, they own their own asset.
“When drivers own rather than rent, they take home $10 a day instead of $5,” Wilkerson says. “In a Ugandan household, which is typically five people, that can lift the whole household above the $2 a day poverty line. We see that as enormous impact.”
“We think that self-employed entrepreneurs at the bottom of the pyramid should be able to own the key assets they use to make a living.”
Learn more about Tugende, and the impact of asset-backed lending to the poor, on this week's Returns on Investment podcast.