The pandemic prompted several waves of shut downs and strict curfews in Sri Lanka, leaving just about everyone scrambling to find ways to safely receive food and other essentials.

PickMe, Sri Lanka’s first ride-hailing smartphone app, responded to people’s needs by transitioning virtually overnight into a logistics company specializing in the delivery of necessities. At any time of day, the company delivered everything from cooking gas cylinders to grocery packs. During the first wave of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka, it even set up an emergency hotline to assist medical staff who needed to get to hospitals. The company’s business model and smart use of technology allowed it to quickly expand from serving not only Colombo, Sri Lanka’s commercial capital, but several other regions across the country.

PickMe’s ability to adapt went beyond meeting basic needs: it protected jobs during a time of economic uncertainty.

Roy Kevin Alosiyus worried about losing his job as a PickMe driver until he heard that he could work for the company in a new capacity. “Within a few days, I was informed by the head office that PickMe was looking for driver partners for the emergency delivery fleet to take essential goods to households,” he said.

Whereas many workers have been impacted by COVID-19, women, particularly in emerging economies, have struggled to retain jobs while assuming greater caretaking responsibilities for children, the elderly, and sick family members. PickMe enabled Sri Lankan women to remain gainfully employed.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, PickMe’s fleet of women drivers has doubled as more and more women seek opportunities to cover for lost or reduced wages because of COVID-19. Lasanda Deepthi, PickMe’s first woman driver, depends on the income she earns to support her family. “Earning through PickMe is a huge deal, and I feel the difference,” she said.

PickMe, founded in 2015, is the first start-up IFC has backed in Sri Lanka. A $2.5 million IFC investment has helped the company expand and increase access to affordable and efficient transportation. In June 2020, IFC injected another $2.4 million to support PickMe in adjusting their business operations during the pandemic.

New research suggests that women, both as riders and drivers, are critical to the future growth of ride-hailing platforms. The first-ever study on women’s role in Sri Lanka’s ride-hailing industry concluded that annual revenues for ride-hailing in Sri Lanka could increase by more than 25 percent if gaps between men and women’s ridership were closed. The 2020 study was conducted by IFC, PickMe, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Kantar Public.

“We realized the impact that safe transport has on women’s empowerment and financial independence. Our company and our investments in technology enable women passengers to make safe trips while providing flexible and lucrative employment for women drivers,” said Jiffry Zulfer, CEO of PickMe.