Uber: More than its Controversy

DavidProfile-02Columnist: David Willson 
David's Beyonder Story

I first got to know Likai Gu, the General Manager of Uber Taiwan, when he very generously donated his time to be a judge for a youth entrepreneurship business pitch competition that we were running.

Not only did Likai donate his time (and I should note that the competition was in an entirely different city), but Uber also offered substantial Uber Credit to the winning teams and also credit to the 200 plus people who came to watch the competition.

At the time, I was impressed with how easy Uber was to work with and how naturally they just integrated with us as a genuine part of the community.

This enthusiasm for working with the communities it operates in is not unique to Likai. I was actually inspired to write this article immediately after I met Nico Yu, Senior Marketing Manager at Uber, at a British Chamber of Commerce ‘Women in Business’ luncheon. She strongly impressed me with her passion for doing social good. She is excited about the positive impact that Uber is having in all sorts of ways, and that kind of genuine passion is always contagious.

As I have watched them over the last couple of years, I have grown increasingly impressed with the very natural, but still strategic, way in which Uber Taiwan integrates into the fabric of the community.

 

Before I move on to talking more about the ways in which Uber integrates corporate social responsibility into the way in which they work, I guess I need to address the elephant in the room – The Taiwan government’s ongoing fight with Uber.

I am not even going to attempt to explain the details. To me it is clearly just a case of conservative bureaucrats listening to an embedded lobby group and doing the usual and trying to block anything new and from the world outside of Taiwan.

Almost all of my Taiwanese millennial friends use Uber. Anyone who travels, uses Uber. Clearly this just needs to be sorted out. To me the argument around this shouldn’t even be occurring and is just another failure by Taiwan to address the changed and constantly changing world and instead trying to use antiquated ideas and regulations to block progress. It seems so obvious to me that minds that were even slightly open would have solved this by now.

As Likai said to me when we briefly discussed this issue: “We are not at all opposed to being regulated. In fact regulation is good for our drivers and for our customers and therefore for us. What we need though is regulation that is modern and well-crafted and not based off the situation from thirty years ago. We need modern regulations such as those recently implemented in Australia and the Philippines. We are very open and active in trying to work towards that, but people seem to prefer to focus on the ‘controversy’, rather than a positive solution.”

Enough said. As far as I am concerned not even bureaucrats can keep change from occurring forever and time will eventually see this solved and Uber normalised.

 

Uber offered free rides encouraging users to vote in the 2016 Taiwan President Election. (Photo Source: Uber)

 

What interests me far more is the excellent example that Uber Taiwan sets in seamlessly and fairly quietly integrating social responsibility into the way that they work. I have spoken before of my strong belief that good corporate social responsibility is strategically aligned with the core business, so that companies can use their core competencies to deliver impact efficiently.

Others may disagree with me and believe that companies should not benefit from their socially aligned activities, believing that CSR should in effect be charity. I have discussed before that I do not at all believe this. I strongly believe that social benefit should be embedded into how companies operate and that if this also creates profits, then this is great, as it means that companies have an added incentive to continue with those activities.

A perfect example of this at Uber Taiwan is their engagement with the Anti-Drunk-Driving movement. Drunk driving is a considerable issue in Taiwan and does not yet have the complete social-intolerance for it that exists in many other countries such as Australia and the U.S.

Over the last Chinese New Year Uber worked with TADD (Taiwan Against Drunk Driving– founded by Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je) to place breathalysers in several key party locations and offered ‘your next trip on Uber free’ to anyone who was over the drinking limit and instead of drunk-driving home, took an Uber.

In what was a relatively small trial, Uber ended up providing free trips to over three hundred people who were well over the blood-alcohol limit and otherwise would have been driving drunk on our roads. In return, Uber gained increased exposure. To me, this is a perfect trade-off between public good and commercial interest. I am very happy that Uber had the incentive to take three hundred drunks off our roads.

 

‘uberAssist’ service by Uber certifies cars as large enough to deal with people with a need for extra space, and provides specialised training to those drivers. (Photo Source: Uber)

 

In another example, Uber has fairly quietly been working on a service called ‘uberAssist’. In conjunction with the Taiwan Guide Dog Association and other similar organisations Uber has been certifying cars as large enough to deal with people with a need for extra space, for example having room for a guide dog, a folding wheel chair, crutches etc. They have then also been providing specialised training to those drivers on how to care for passengers who need extra assistance due to injury, age or other issues.

These certified cars and drivers may then be summoned through the Uber app to pick up people who need the extra care (see here). Whilst the government does provide a similar service to people holding a disability card, vehicles need to be booked considerably in advance, sometimes weeks. uberAssist allows people with extra assistance needs to live far more normal lives, building flexibility into their days. I believe that this service should be applauded.

These rides are at normal Uber rates and I think that that is entirely correct. Again, some may feel that this service should be free. I do not. I think that Uber taking the initiative to certify cars and train drivers and then making this service available is enough. Having it run at their normal rates is what makes this sustainable. Since its launch here in Nov. 2015, during this half year more than 1200 passengers have availed themselves of the service, demonstrating a strong need for this type of service and providing a measure of the social benefit derived from it.

 

In response to the crash of TransAsia Airways 235 in Taipei in February 2015, Uber team offered free Uber rides to blood banks around Taipei. (Photo Source: Uber)

 

The final example that I want to provide is perhaps my favourite, as it was totally organic and just sprang from the fact that the Uber team is young and deeply embedded into the community.

The crash of Flight 235 into the Keelung river in Taipei in February 2015, killing 43 people, shocked all of us living here at the time. The Uber staff were no different.

Likai described their response on that day for me: “We were all standing around watching the news in shock, when we heard some Doctors saying that they desperately needed people to donate blood, as supplies were running critically low. When we heard this we all kind of looked at each other and realised that here was something we could help with.”

The team quickly threw together an email to all of their users in Taipei, offering free Uber rides to blood banks around Taipei.

I remember receiving that email and the sense of a community pulling together in it. Listening to the people involved in the creation of it gave me a whole other perspective. This was clearly a case of them seeing a way in which they could do some good by doing what they do best, moving people from Point A to Point B. Did this action reflect well on Uber? Undoubtedly. But so what? It should reflect well on them, because it was a good action with a strong social benefit and for me this is the ideal example of a company embedding the natural desire of staff to do social good into their structure.

 

Uber provides single mothers and a large variety of others with a flexible working environment to balance work and life. (Photo Source: Uber)

 

There are many more examples that I could keep providing. The help that Uber has provided moving people around in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes; the way in which Uber provides single mothers and a large variety of others with a completely flexible working environment that allows them to balance life and making money and many other examples (if you are interested, you can see more here).

The point, if I have not made it yet, is that I admire the way in which Uber Taiwan has integrated the social good that it does completely into who they are as a company and for me this makes them an outstanding example of strategic corporate social responsibility. They clearly show that to do good all a company has to do is stop ignoring or saying ‘No’ to staff and instead engage positively around the idea of staff being a natural part of the community around them. People generally choose doing good, over doing bad and companies just have to support this in order to do good themelves.

Trust your staff and say ‘Yes’ when they bring you an opportunity to make a positive difference.

 

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