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Virginia Tech helps mobilize women-led driving school and taxi service to reduce gender-based violence in South Africa

When Joanie Fredericks founded Ladies Own Transport in South Africa, her mission was simple: serve and protect women.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of violence against women and girls, and that violence frequently occurs on public transit. In 2018, Fredericks started Ladies Own Transport to provide driving lessons to women so they wouldn’t need to rely on public transit. Now, Fredericks also offers a ride-sharing service that provides rides for women by women.

That’s when Virginia Tech’s Jessica Agnew got involved.

“As a specialist in small and medium-sized enterprises, and a personal supporter of women-led businesses, I was immediately interested in Ladies Own Transport,” said Agnew, assistant director of research, operations, and program management at the Center for International Research, Education, and Development. “Given the range of special skills at Virginia Tech, our motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), and our public engagement mission as a global land-grant university, I felt confident that I could find groups on campus interested in helping this company to grow and harness its already valuable strengths.”

One of those groups was led by Dirk Buengel, assistant professor of practice in the Pamplin College of Business. He integrated 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 her company.

“I was initially attracted to the Ladies Own Transport project because it was a female-owned and operated company with a powerful mission,” said Marley Blycher, one of the students collaborating on the project. “I am passionate about women’s rights and wanted to work with Joanie in her mission to create social change for the women of South Africa. Our team learned invaluable lessons about conducting business internationally and what challenges it may bring. We hope the work we have done with this company and the tools we have provided help it to flourish so that it may expand as a resource for all of the women of South Africa to have access to.” 

Blycher was joined by fellow 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’s company provided the perfect setup.

“We strive to provide hands-on 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 real-world example of Pamplin’s approach to enhancing the human condition. It showcases the importance of educating professional and ethical business leaders.”

Agnew also connected Collegiate Women in Business (CWIB), a professional development and social engagement organization at Pamplin, to Ladies Own Transport. With women’s empowerment a key focus of the organization, CWIB led two fundraiser nights for Fredericks’s company and invited her to attend a monthly member meeting.

“When we heard Joanie’s story about how women in her community aren’t safe taking other ride-sharing services, and this influenced Joanie’s entrepreneurship dream to create a business encompassing female empowerment, we knew the partnership between Ladies Own Transport and CWIB would be beneficial for both of us,” said Caroline Macri, co-chief executive officer of CWIB.

In 2020, more than 53,000 sexual assaults were reported in South Africa, though given barriers in reporting, the number is most likely much higher. Fredericks aims not only to protect women from such experiences, but also to provide them opportunities for stable income that could provide a pathway forward.

On the first day of Fredericks’ driving school, 500 women signed up. In South Africa, a driver’s license can open the door to employment. With such high demand, Fredericks is leading a campaign to provide scholarships for women to attend for free. Ladies Own Transport is also jump-starting a mechanics workshop for women in South Africa to learn how to resolve mechanical car problems. 

“The Virginia Tech collaboration has proved to me that it does not matter where women are located physically to support and empower each other,” Fredericks said. “This collaboration is living proof that it is enough for women to believe in each other. The fact that Virginia Tech believed so firmly in me gave me the strength and resolve to be more, better, bigger, and to strive to achieve the very best for the empowerment and safety of women.” 

The Center for International Research, Education, and Development, part of Outreach and International Affairs, continues to collaborate with Fredericks to grow Ladies Own Transport as well as help catalyze the strengths of other small and women-owned enterprises around the world. Anyone interested in participating in this collaboration can email Agnew

Students Lauren Miller, Maddie O’Reilly, Marley Blycher, and Julianne Anderson are helping a South Africa-based company make public transportation safer and more accessible.

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Michael  Solkjaer
Michael Solkjaer

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