When Joanie Fredericks founded Ladies Own Transport in South Africa, her mission was simple: to serve and protect women.
South Africa has one of the highest rates of violence against women and girls, and this violence occurs frequently on public transport. In 2018, Fredericks launched Ladies Own Transport to provide driving lessons for women so they don’t need to use public transport. Now, Fredericks also offers a ride-sharing service that offers rides for women by women.
That’s when Jessica Agnew of Virginia Tech got involved.
“As a small and medium-sized business specialist and personal supporter of women-led businesses, I was immediately interested in Ladies Own Transport,” said Agnew, Deputy Director of Research, Operations and Program Management at the Center for International. Research, education and development. “Given Virginia Tech’s unique skill set, our motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) and our public engagement mission as a global land-grant university, I was confident that I could find groups on campus interested in helping this company grow and build on its strengths. already valuable.
One such group was led by Dirk Buengel, assistant professor of practice at Pamplin College of Business. He incorporated Ladies Own Transport into his undergraduate management consulting course, and a group of four female students began working with Fredericks to develop a business plan and growth strategy for his company.
“I was first drawn to the Ladies Own Transport project because it was a women-owned and operated business with a powerful mission,” said Marley Blycher, one of the students working on the project. “I am passionate about women’s rights and wanted to work with Joanie on her mission to create social change for women in South Africa. Our team has learned invaluable lessons about doing business internationally and the challenges it can bring. We hope that the work we have done with this company and the tools we have provided will help it thrive so that it can grow as a resource that all women in South Africa will have access to.”
Blycher was joined by classmates Lauren Miller, Maddie O’Reilly and Julianne Anderson to develop the business plan.
Buengel said the management consulting program is designed to develop the next generation of great business leaders and management consultants. Fredericks company provided the perfect setup.
“We strive to provide practical skills and experiential learning opportunities that students can apply right after graduation,” he said. “Ladies Own Transport helped students develop a global business perspective and provided a concrete example of Pamplin’s approach to improving the human condition. This shows the importance of educating professional and ethical business leaders.
Agnew has also connected Collegiate Women in Business (CWIB), a professional development and social engagement organization in Pamplin, to Ladies Own Transport. With women’s empowerment being a key goal of the organization, CWIB hosted two evening fundraisers for Fredericks’ business and invited her to attend a monthly members meeting.
“When we heard Joanie’s story about women in her community being unsafe using other ridesharing services, and that influenced Joanie’s entrepreneurial dream of starting a business encompassing women’s empowerment, we knew the partnership between Ladies Own Transport and CWIB would benefit both of us,” said Caroline Macri, Co-CEO of CWIB.
In 2020, over 53,000 sexual assaults were reported in South Africa, although given the barriers to reporting, the number is likely to be much higher. Fredericks aims not only to protect women from such experiences, but also to provide them with stable income opportunities that could pave the way for them.
On the first day of Fredericks Driving School, 500 women signed up. In South Africa, a driving license can open the door to employment. With such demand, Fredericks spearheaded a campaign to provide scholarships for women to attend for free. Ladies Own Transport is also launching a mechanics workshop for women in South Africa to learn how to fix mechanical problems in cars.
“The Virginia Tech collaboration proved to me that it doesn’t matter where women are physically to support and empower themselves,” Fredericks said. “This collaboration is living proof that it is enough for women to believe themselves. Having Virginia Tech believe so strongly in me has given me the strength and determination to be bigger, better, bigger, and to strive for the best for women’s empowerment and safety.
The Center for International Research, Education and Development, part of Outreach and International Affairs, continues to work with Fredericks to grow Ladies Own Transport and help catalyze the strengths of other women-owned small businesses in the world. Anyone interested in participating in this collaboration can email Agnew.