During the pandemic, BYKEA is equipping drivers with personal protective gear such as gloves and masks. Photos by Zakria Hafeez

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By Zia Ur Rehman

KARACHI, Pakistan—In pre-COVID-19 times, the city streets here were swarming with legions of minibikes.

Now the streets are largely empty—except for some of the minibikes, and that’s something the city is thankful for.

To check the spread of COVID-19, the provincial government of Sindh, which covers the capital city of Karachi, imposed a strict lockdown in March. It was a move that created a dilemma—how to ensure the most vulnerable people, whose livelihoods had been severely impacted by the crisis, could get access to food.

Amid the lockdown, which restricts movement of people and economic activities, the government found it didn’t have a systematic way to deliver food to people who couldn’t travel to grocery stores or markets. To be transparent, the government decided it needed a technology-based solution to track what households received food parcels.

Enter Bykea, a transport and logistics app connecting people and goods via motorbikes in major cities across Pakistan.

BYKEA is delivering food parcels to Karachi’s low-income residents during the COVID-19 crisis.
BYKEA is delivering food parcels to Karachi’s low-income residents during the COVID-19 crisis.

Bykea is helping the Karachi city district government and civil society groups to deliver food parcels to thousands of people in Karachi registered as earning $150 a month or less. Bykea is delivering the parcels at no cost to the government, while the Karachi Trust Relief, an NGO focused on disaster management, covers 40 percent of Bykea’s costs of about $0.70 per delivery.

“There are nearly 17 million motorbikes in Pakistan. This is the primary asset of the middle class, so it made sense to leverage smartphones and motorbikes into income-generating assets for this significant population,” said Bykea founder Muneeb Maayr.

Bykea, which has 200 full-time employees, is using its network of 30,000 motorbike driver-partners to help the city tackle challenges to food security.

It works like this: Bykea’s call center team, comprised mostly of women working from home, reaches out to food parcel recipients, obtains their exact GPS locations, and dispatches the job automatically on the Bykea app. The driver then delivers the food parcel, capturing the national ID number of the receiver to ensure those who need food the most are getting critical supplies.

This approach led many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to seek Bykea’s help as well, including Saylani Welfare Trust, Behbud, Rizq Foundation, and Orange Tree Foundation. NGOs were struggling to get food rations to people because vans making the deliveries were being attacked by people desperate for food. Bykea delivers a single ration at a time and hasn’t experienced any thefts or attacks on its biker partners.

Working together, BYKEA’s motorbike drivers have the capacity to deliver up to 500 ration packs per day.
Working together, BYKEA’s motorbike drivers have the capacity to deliver up to 500 ration packs per day.

“Bykea have the capacity to deliver up to 500 ration packs a day to those families who truly need our help. We are strong together and will come out stronger,” said Abida Malik, the President of Behbud.

The rations are coming at a critical time for many residents in Karachi, such as Amna Hasan, who lost her job working in the stitching department of a local textile producer due to a drop in demand for the company’s products.

“Our incomes have already dried up and it’s heartening to see caring people in this hour of crisis,” said said Hasan, 40.

With movement restricted, Bykea is also helping to keep its biker network active and earning an income by filling a gap in food ration delivery.

Thirty-nine-year-old Raheel Farhan used to work at a garment factory in Karachi. He is now is a partner motorbike driver for Bykea, able to earn an income to support his family while also supporting his community.

“I love my job because in these unprecedented times we are at the forefront of food ration distribution with the local authorities and civil society organizations,” said Farhan. “My Bykea colleagues and I have distributed rations to thousands of disadvantaged families.”

Bykea has equipped its bikers with personal protective gear such as gloves and masks. The company also added a tool in the app to take drivers’ temperatures.

Bykea is one of the seven portfolio companies of Sarmayacar, one of the first early-stage venture capital funds supporting tech-driven startups in Pakistan. IFC is an investor in Sarmayacar.

“By delivering rations to thousands of households in partnership with the local authorities and civil society, we have been doing our part to fill institutional gaps in these hard times,” said Maayr.

Published in May 2020

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