Serving the Sri Lankan people through tough times our biggest win, says Uber Eats’ Bhavna Dadlani

Uber Eats is now a household name, with most of us having ordered our favourite food through the platform at some point. As the app completes two years in Sri Lanka, Ada Derana Biz caught up with Bhavna Dadlani, Lead, Uber Eats Sri Lanka to discuss the journey, the learnings, and the organisation’s future plans.

Below are excerpts of the interview:

What potential does the Sri Lanka market hold for Uber Eats?

We see immense potential for expansion in Sri Lanka. Currently, we’re only present in the three cities of Colombo, Negombo and Kandy. We’re only getting started with our journey, and have to facilitate delivery to many more hungry eaters through Uber app. While the Sri Lankan market is similar to many other markets, it is a unique market in itself in terms of eater behaviour, operations around restaurants and courier partners. We at Uber Eats are very data driven and move when data indicates we should. We’re working on those expansion plans, and will share them closer to rollout.

 What has Uber Eats’ biggest achievement been so far?

As we see it, our biggest achievement is that we had the opportunity to play a key role in times of crisis and critical need. After the Easter Sunday Attacks, we stepped in and helped some of the affected restaurant partners rebuild their infrastructure and get back to their winning ways.  During the COVID-19 lockdown in Sri Lanka, we were able to continue facilitating deliveries as an essential service and help both consumers and partners sustain themselves.  We enabled a ‘tipping’ feature to help courier partners make more money and help them support their families. We worked with the government to distribute Rs. 8.5 million worth of dry rations to the marginalised, even as the country reeled under a national curfew. As a responsible business, Uber Eats has always endeavoured to give back to the community. We also pride ourselves on changing the local online food industry for the better, and expanding the way Sri Lankans access, select and consume an array of cuisines available on the platform.  Our 10 million orders during our first two years are testament to the love we have received from the eaters.

Providing flexible earning opportunities to thousands of Sri Lankans is something that’s very close to our heart. Over 8,000 courier partners have chosen to use the platform over these past two years, with the number rising each day. Through our efforts to ensure inclusivity, we aim to increase the number of entrepreneurs, and increasingly break barriers, creating earning opportunities for all. As a highlight, Sri Lanka is leading by example in women empowerment; we have an unprecedented number of women joining the platform which is extremely encouraging for any community, and a true benchmark for holistic development.

As a Sri Lankan yourself, how has it been to be a part of this journey and part of a global organisation?

It’s been extremely rewarding to have come this far with a team of all us Sri Lankans, looking at solving local food delivery challenges, with the added benefit of having global learnings to bring back home. Being a part of an organisation with a global footprint, we hold ourselves to the highest standards when it comes to operations and serving the community. We’ve always been extremely particular about adhering to all applicable regulations and norms in the country.

It’s been a learning and a pleasure to be on the ground, having the advantage of speaking directly to our stakeholders. I’ve had numerous opportunities to invite courier partners and restaurant partners over to our office, where I’ve heard their ideas and concerns over a cup of tea. I take each of these conversations as a learning, and always walk out with an added insight. Uber Eats and our teams here are as local as our next door neighbour.

On average, how much do delivery partners make while working with Uber Eats?

Partnering with Uber Eats is an entrepreneurial opportunity, and thus it’s a factor of how driven people are. We’ve often been pleasantly surprised to witness firsthand the drive and passion partners using our platform have. A story that comes to mind right now is that of Kelum, a courier partner who makes deliveries through the platform. As Kelum tells his story, he used to ride a scooty, and always aspired to own a motorcycle. Now, Kelum owns not one but two motorcycles, and shows them off as his prized possessions. There’s stories of such grit and entrepreneurial spirit that exist in the form of countless partners on the platform.

What has Uber Eats done for the women of the country, and what are some of the benefits you offer?

We believe in the idea of equity for women in workplaces, the spirit and effort of which extends to the courier and restaurant partners, too. We have a program called ‘Diviyata Diriya’ where we work towards providing flexible earning opportunities to the women of Sri Lanka. Through the program, we are proud to have been joined by hundreds of women, who chose the path of financial independence, by either choosing to drive on the platform as courier partners or even set up their own restaurants.

 How do you address safety concerns during COVID-19?

Over the past few months, our global tech and safety product teams have worked relentlessly to formulate appropriate safety measures to help users feel safe. The safety of our communities remains our top priority, which is why it is important that necessary precautions are taken to help  eaters, restaurant partners, and courier partners stay safe during these times. Our safety features include a Checklist of COVID safety measures before courier partners can go online, mask verification selfie and frequent temperature checks for courier partners.

As social distancing becomes more commonplace, we are reminding all Uber Eats users that they can request deliveries be left at their doorsteps. The courier partners have been provided with masks and sanitisers, as well as safety education, to ensure hygiene and safety standards for themselves and the community at large. Since May 2020, Uber Eats has distributed nearly Rs. 5million worth of masks and sanitisers to courier partners.

Overall, we are encouraging a sense of shared responsibility, where Uber, courier partners, restaurant partners and eaters, all work together to keep each other safe. I believe it’s only together that we can tide over the pandemic.

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