How Women Drive Change in Indian Electric Mobility

March 27, 2024

Women are driving change in India’s electric mobility. As India’s electric mobility industry matures, women are making sure they are not relegated to the back seat. From assembly lines to public transport services, women are making room for themselves in clean transport. 

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The Green and Equal South Asia Podcast powered by ACSIIS, a partnership between the European Union and the International Finance Corporation.

Shalaka Joshi: Hello and welcome to the first episode of the Green and Equal South Asia Podcast, supported by the European Union's ACSIIS Program. I'm your host, Shalaka Joshi, and I have the great pleasure of leading the gender and economic inclusion work in South Asia for the International Finance Corporation. IFC is a member of the World Bank Group. We are the largest global development institution focused exclusively on the private sector in developing countries.

We leverage the power of the private sector and share expertise to transform ideas into investments for green growth, inclusive jobs and multiple impactful projects. 

Today, we're going to talk about climate change, gender equality and how electric vehicles are a pathway towards addressing both in India. Globally, evidence has shown that climate change disproportionately impacts women, their livelihoods, and in turn, the economic security of families and children. But it doesn't have to be this way.

It is possible for us to advocate for gender equality, even as we make investments in new green sectors and to support women to succeed in these industries. Through this podcast and the series, we want to tell you the story of the work that we do across sectors that are as varied as energy, transport, financial services, and infrastructure, and really talk about how IFC finds a way to center both gender equality and climate resilience in its investments across South Asia. So, welcome again to Green and Equal South Asia. And I'm so excited to have this conversation with a wonderful group of leaders that we have lined up for you.

Shalaka:  With a population of 1.3 billion, India is the third largest economy in the world by purchasing power with a growing labor force. The Indian government is pursuing an agenda of development without destruction. Part of this goal is to reduce carbon emissions by up to 35 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. As India works to deliver universal electricity access and address rapid urbanization, it also creates business opportunities for the private sector to make climate-smart investments. IFC has estimated that India's climate-smart investment potential up to 2030 is a staggering $3 trillion with sectors like electric vehicles offering a $667 billion opportunity and another $250 billion from sustainable transport infrastructure. 

Here to discuss the business opportunity that electric vehicles offer in India, I have our first guests on this podcast - Debasis Mohanty, who is the founder and Chief Executive Officer at Transvolt Mobility, and Jessica Farmer, who is a Principal Investment Officer at IFC's Global Infrastructure and Transport Vertical, and led IFC's engagement and partnership with Transport. Warm welcome, Debasis and Jessica, to the show. 

Debasis Mohanty: Thank you, Shalaka. Thank you so much. 

Jessica Farmer: Hi Shalaka, it’s so nice to be here. Thank you for having me.

Shalaka: So Debasis, maybe we could start off with you telling us about the core business of Transvolt. You know, what do you do at Transvolt? Where do you want to get to? And where does gender have a role to play in your core business? 

Debasis: Thank you, Shalaka. I'll try to explain what exactly we're doing. The company's name is Transvolt Mobility Private Limited. As it stands, we would like to transport anything and everything using voltage. So, in the name , “trans” is for transportation, “volt” as in voltage. So, we’ll be using electricity, hydrogen and those kinds of non-fossil tool sets to run this business. We are an OEM-agnostic electric vehicle platform. We are dealing with a large commercial fleet, which includes buses, trucks; and trucks include last-mile delivery trucks, which is anything above 1.5 tonnes. Our objective is to provide cities, highways and everywhere in the country with clean and green power-sourced transportation facilities. And we just started two years back. Today we are operating in two municipal corporations in the outskirts of Mumbai. We have also started delivering large commercial trucks and small commercial vehicles. In terms of gender, we sincerely believe that we need to develop this company as an inclusive company in a true sense. And gender is a very, very high priority area for us. 

Shalaka: Awesome. The Indian government has set very ambitious targets for decarbonizing transportation. And these have clearly galvanized the transport and automotive industries into making large investments in electric vehicles. We know, for example, that by 2030, India wants 30 percent of private cars to be EVs and 70-80 percent of commercial vehicles, and two- and three wheelers to be electric as well. But - there’s always a but - what are the challenges and what are the opportunities that we are really looking at here? 

Debasis: In India, especially in the capitals and large metropolitan cities, they have started converting their public transport fleets to electric, and it has been happening very rapidly. We are seeing faster adoption of electric vehicle mobility systems in the state as well as central government machinery. For example, in Mumbai, public buses will be fully electric by 2030. I think this kind of ambition, which has been shown by state governments and the central government, it will enable the shifting of modes from cars and personal vehicles to electric mobility and the public transportation system. 

Shalaka: That's hugely inspiring work and of course, very ambitious, I think, targets with our partners in the state governments, etc. as well. Let's talk a little bit about our story as IFC at Transvolt, right? So, tell us a little bit about how IFC and Transvolt found each other, Jessica. How did this meeting of minds happen? 

Jessica: Yeah. I have had the pleasure of working with Dheeraj Jhawar, Debasis Mohanty and Aloke Dasgupta and others at Transvolt through several iterations of our investment careers over the course of the past several decades. We have done many groundbreaking infrastructure investments together and I was very familiar with the level of understanding that Dheeraj, Debasis, and Aloke would have in infrastructure opportunities in India. So when the three of us began speaking on opportunities that were presenting themselves in the electric mobility space in India back in 2020-2021, when we were also exploring at IFC how we could do more to promote the early development of the electric mobility transport sector, I knew that Dheeraj and his colleagues would have a very sound and thorough understanding of where opportunities would emerge and even that they themselves would be investing in and leading the development of the space. So, it was a very natural collaboration from a group of us who had worked together for many years.

Shalaka: I'm always going to bring you back to the question of how women can participate in these transformative changes, right? So, we've talked a little bit about how to be climate-smart and now let's talk a little bit about how to be gender-smart. IFC, of course, has long advocated for better representation of all genders in business, be it as employees or as customers. And we have some in-house expertise where we work with companies that now ask for our advice on how best to meet inclusion goals when we make our investments. In a fairly new sector like electric vehicles, women of course can be a huge untapped consumer segment and I know that many young college girls, for example, now want and seek for their first scooters to be electric. But on the other hand, we have public data - with a disclaimer that this data is from 2018 - that shows that only 0.7 percent of valid driver's licenses for driving public service vehicles in India are held by women. We also know anecdotally that there are relatively few women who drive on cab-hailing applications in India. I’ll direct the same question first to you. Tell us about how gender is relevant in transport projects, specifically in public transport and e-mobility. And tell us how IFC is contributing to this. Can you give our listeners an example from the sector? 

Jessica: Sure. You know, at IFC, we’re seeing in the automobile industry, especially among EV manufacturers, electric vehicle manufacturers, that companies are trying to employ more women, even on the assembly floor, as well as those who are running operations and management contracts, concessions in this area are also trying to employ and engage more women in their workforce. So, where this has been a very traditionally male-dominated space, we’re seeing incremental changes here. In our conversations with auto companies, we are finding that they’re very keen to find how they can train more women for jobs in the new green economy. So, at IFC, this is an area that we’ve been very much trying to support. We want to ensure that our investments in the transportation segment are not only safe from a vehicle, driver, passenger, and even a pedestrian safety perspective, particularly given the risks associated with the implementation of new electric technologies coming onto the road, but we want to ensure that the opportunities that are emerging in the space are both equitable and safe, not only for women, but for all members of society. 

So, we’re very much working to ensure that our transport investment solutions would promote both women's employment opportunities as we’re starting to see, you know, as well for diverse driver opportunity positions in electric mobility concessions; even in operations and management in those operations. But we're trying very much to promote an inclusive approach so that these solutions, these transport solutions can be as all-encompassing as possible to ensure that all members of society, whether they be women, children, youth, parents with children, elderly, or those with different abilities are all able to access forms of transportation, these new forms of technologies that are coming into play. So, we're very much trying to promote gender and inclusivity in the investments that we’ll be making in this sector. 

Shalaka: So Debasis, how is Transvolt thinking of bridging this gap between the aspirations of young women and the public infrastructure that we need to make these changes on being both gender-smart and climate-smart happen?

Debasis: Oh, that's an excellent question, Shalaka. So, you know, men and women use public transport very differently. Specifically, in India, women tend to travel more on off-peak hours, and they do short trips, like fetching children from school or for household chores. But men travel longer distances, mostly at peak hours, and primarily from the residence to the workplace and back. So, transportation policies across the globe have been historically built to cater to longer commutes and not the short trips that generally women take. Because women combine several short trips, called trip chaining, they end up paying more for their daily commute.

This is often known as the “pink tax” that women pay for ease of mobility in urban areas. A case in point is a 2019 survey in Delhi that showed that while women’s trips were almost 38 percent shorter on average than their male counterparts, the male average travel costs were 35 percent less than that of women. 

We are exploring various ways to bring more women into different service profiles. That means working with our counterparts, namely government agencies, municipal corporations, and corporates to train and hire more and more women into our fold. That includes drivers, helpers, servicemen, wherever we feel that everybody can work. So, trying to make a gender-friendly and inclusive environment. An important part of this training is also embedding a behavioral change component for which we will train both men and women. So, we are working very closely with the IFC's gender team on this to bring global good practices to India.

Shalaka: Yeah, and we're really looking forward to continuing to work with Transvolt on that. 

Debasis: Yeah, I think we need to move away from very typically glamorizing the concept of women drivers. It has to be a way of life and it has to be an everyday normal reality of life passengers to see women drivers or other gender drivers and for other drivers to see a woman behind the wheel. It's very normal and eventually we’ll get there, and our goal along with the IFC’s strong support in this field will definitely be achieved.


Shalaka: You're listening to the Green and Equal South Asia podcast powered by ACSIIS. ACSIIS stands for Accelerating Climate Smart and Inclusive Infrastructure in South Asia, a partnership between the European Union and the IFC. It is a five-year program that runs till 2026 and helps spur investments in energy, water, waste management, transport, logistics, and green buildings. The goal of this partnership is to benefit people and businesses across Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Altogether, access will leverage over $850 million of private sector investments across the South Asia region.

So what's it like, when you meet officials from various governments, are they more willing to see outside a single-gender lens when planning urban infrastructure projects? 

Jessica: Yes, when we were working on our first investments in the electric mobility space in India, dating back to around 2016, 2017, 2018, the conversation then was very much on the technology itself in trying to ensure that it was safe, that it was going to address the solutions that were required by the client base of this business. And there was very much a focus on that, on just the operations and the technology and that it would be operating and the way that it would be achieving the financial results that would be needed. So, I think less of an emphasis given we didn't have that luxury at the time to think more broadly as we were trying to get that early and emerging sector off the ground.

Today, given the evolutions and the technology and its, you know, more experience of use over the past several years and use in fleet and operations, there’s been an expansion of the thinking. So, we can be more dependent on the underlying pinning of the technology and we’re starting to expand them more. And how does it affect, you know, those who are using the networks of transportation that are being offered? How can we be more thoughtful in the approaches to developing these businesses by being inclusive in their employment and labor perspectives and aspects? And then another interesting aspect that we’ve seen over time is we've seen more women as investors in these business models coming to the fore, and very much so in Transvolt, which is led by a female investment team. So that's new to us and something we want to promote, and now that we have the luxury of thinking a bit more broadly about the sector and its implications and how we can maximize opportunities.

Shalaka: Thank you for joining us here on the first episode of the Green and Equal South Asia podcast. We've had an exciting start discussing the opportunities that an upcoming sector like electric vehicles offers a country like India, but also the challenges of navigating the sector and ensuring that people of all genders find themselves represented in this future. 

You can learn more about IFC's work by heading to our website or on the social media channel X @WBG_Gender. Stay tuned for more episodes. We’ve only just gotten started.

The Green and Equal South Asia Podcast is powered by ACSIIS, a partnership between the European Union and the International Finance Corporation. This series is produced by Tanya Thomas for IFC, in association with Timbre Media, Bengaluru.