Up&Ap: Lorraine Onduru on her PR journey and telling the Uber story

She began her PR career in late 2010 as an Account Executive. She would be made an Account Manager 2 years later in October 2012, a role she served in for the following 3 years. In April 2014, she was seconded to H+K’s Ghana office as an Account Director with the responsibility to grow the agency’s footprint in that market. In late 2019, she transitioned from Agency to Corporate PR, joining Uber as the Head of Communications in East and West Africa. Below, Lorraine Onduru shares highlights of her career journey, what motivates and drives her as well as what guides her in crafting and telling meanigful narratives about the Uber brand. Read on…

QUESTION: Who is Lorraine Onduru? Please give us a bit of background about yourself

LORRAINE ONDURU: I am the Head of Communications for Uber in East and West Africa, providing support for both our mobility and delivery businesses. I am responsible for developing our communications strategy, raising awareness for our products and services accurately, while articulating who we are, what we do as well as what we stand for and believe.

I have been with Uber since October 2019 and previously worked with Hill + Knowlton Strategies providing communications strategy and support for clients in the fintech, aviation, consumer goods and services sectors and more across the continent.

I am passionate about Africa and the opportunity to craft meaningful narratives that highlight the depth of potential that exists on the continent and that is yet to be fully seen.

Q: What motivates and drives you as a person? Any mentors or people you look up to for inspiration and why?

LO: I wake up every morning asking myself a number of questions: “How can I make sure that this day counts? How can I ensure that I am living for the reason I was born? Am I growing and developing  as a person? This then allows me to focus and do my best to ensure that everything I do fits within these ideals. I look up to my father as he has always helped me articulate thoughts and ideas about life and provided me with invaluable counsel that I live by.

Q: In your previous career before Uber, how did the experience and lessons gained in this role prepare you and ensure that you’re successful at Uber?     

LO: As a communications professional in the service industry, I gained insights on clients in diverse sectors. While the basics of communications largely remain the same, there are certain nuances that apply across sectors. The ability to juggle communication needs for diverse clients, while addressing their unique challenges, prepared me for the complex and diverse nature of a company like Uber that has so many sides, each requiring strategic and diverse approaches.

Q: As the Head of Communications of Uber in East and West Africa, what does your job entail on a typical day?

LO: To begin with, I like to start my work day with a deep dive into what’s making headlines across the region as this helps me to understand the key issues for the day. I then take time to plan my day, setting aside time to respond to issues as they arise, responding to any media queries, collaborating with my colleagues in different functions to address ongoing projects and crafting communications plans for the different markets that I cover and working with teams to execute them.

Q: Over the last 2 years you’ve been at Uber, what key lessons have you learnt in your role and how businesses adapt to crisis? And what can be done better or improved to ensure that riders have a good experience while using services like Uber?  

LO: The last two years have been quite demanding for Uber and other companies around the world. However, the challenges notwithstanding, we have been able to turn around our business in various ways to ensure that we’re still able to meet the needs of the cities we live in.

We launched a number of delivery products in line with the needs of an increasing number of people to work from home and send packages from one place to another. The products we launched in this period also helped provide additional earning opportunities for drivers and delivery people on our platform.

We are actively working with our stakeholders to introduce eco-friendly products, such as electric BodaBodas to help cities decrease air pollution, reduce urban congestion, and increase access to clean modes of transportation. The launch of electric bikes has  allowed riders in Nairobi to select a fully electric boda for the first time, giving them a chance to take action on climate change. Electric BodaBodas are currently available for Uber and UberEats.

Apart from the challenges and the change in approach that the pandemic required, windows of opportunity still exist. Many companies have changed strategies, and these positive innovations and bounce-back stories need to be told; they provide hope in a time when we’re working towards recovery. We, as a company, have prioritised an adaptive approach and so our comms supports this. We’ve optimised and zoned in on maximising our access to technology to adapt messages to different markets at the right time, learning from data, and monitoring what works.

(ABOVE and BELOW: Lorraine shares her thoughts during a past event).

Q: During the past 2 years of the pandemic, what initiatives (offers or solutions) has Uber introduced into the market to ensure that it meets the needs of riders while driver partners also have something to take home to their families?

LO: Due to the COVID-19 crisis, Uber quickly launched a global initiative urging riders to stay home in order to flatten the curve, and together with drivers and delivery people we now “Move What Matters” during this time by introducing new features and services to the app to adapt to the outbreak.

For example, we’ve successfully rolled out Uber Connect in other markets in Sub-Saharan Africa including Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, demonstrating our ability to constantly reinvent our app as the needs of our communities change and evolve. We are seeing steady growth and uptake of ride-hailing across the board, with riders appreciating the convenience and reliability of getting a ride at the touch of a button. Drivers continue to benefit from the flexible and independent earnings opportunity.

Below are just some of the other new products and features we have rolled out across our regions to make the lives of consumers easier in response to the pandemic.

  • UberConnect:  This product allows users to send packages through the app. This feature provides a cost-effective, on-demand, no-contact delivery solution for family and friends.  It was launched in Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria.
  • Share this delivery: In Kenya and South Africa we launched a new feature that allows customers to send a tracking link for an Uber Eats order to let a friend know delivery is on the way. We understand that a lot of special occasions will be missed as communities are encouraged to keep socially distancing from their loved ones to protect them. However, we believe food can still bring people together even when miles apart.
  • Uber by the Hour: Launched in Tanzania toallow people to book a driver and car by the hour to help get all their essential travel done in one go
  • Contactless delivery:Some of the ways we have innovated safety in our technology is by introducing a contactless feature called” leave at the door” for Uber Eats to encourage social distancing between customers and delivery people.

Our focus on safety is unwavering, and we remain committed to arming our drivers and delivery people with the information they need to stay safe and to limit the spread of the coronavirus we adapted our safety measures.

Supporting vulnerable communities

  • We partnered with domestic violence organisations such as Nissa Institute for Women’s Development in South Africa as well as Safe Space in Ghana, to provide free rides for essential workers.
  • We also teamed up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to deliver chronic medication to vulnerable patients impacted by the lockdown.

Feeding communities

  • We helped to feed communities through partnerships with SA Harvest, a food rescue organisation that aims to eradicate food waste, as well as Afrika Tikkun, a non-profitorganisation supporting underprivileged communities, to help feed vulnerable communities, including Uber drivers and delivery people impacted most heavily by the lockdown using e-coupons.

Q: As a follow up to the above question, give us highlights of Uber’s growth and strategy for Sub Saharan Africa.

LO: Uber’s expansion into more than 21 new cities in South Africa [now serving 80% of the urban population] and expanding into two new cities in Nigeria [Port Harcourt and Ibadan] is a testament to our investment in Sub Saharan Africa.

We believe Uber has a critical role to play in helping revive local economies and supporting their sustainable recovery. As a global brand, we are able to bring in best practice ​leveraging our global scale and technology and apply it in the country.

Q: With safety of riders and drivers increasingly becoming an issue of concern, briefly comment on Uber’s enhanced safety features that have made Uber the go-to e-hailing app for commuters. 

LO: Safety remains important to Uber – whether a person is in the backseat or behind the wheel. As part of this commitment, we are always investing in new ways to enhance safety on the Uber app.  In the last few years, Uber has launched Real-time ID check, Share My Trip, Verify My Trip and Check Your Ride. Most importantly, users have access to an in-app emergency button, which connects to a third-party security and medical service provider, as well as 24/7 incident support.

Community guidelines 

Our community guidelines were developed to help make everyone feel safe, respected, and positive. Discrimination, violence and sexual misconduct of any kind is prohibited and this type of behaviour can lead to instant deactivation for riders or drivers. Everyone who signs up for an Uber account across all of our apps, including drivers, riders, Delivery person, Uber Eats customers, restaurants, is expected to follow these guidelines. Fostering a community of mutual respect matters to us and we believe in shared accountability on our platform. 

Safety features and offerings

  • Rider Selfies Uber introduced Rider Selfies for new cash riders without a valid credit card on file,  an intelligent new safety feature. The technology works by prompting riders to share a selfie before requesting their first cash trip. The selfie has to be of one person, with no face coverings like sunglasses or masks, and not be a photo of a photo. This new verification method will work alongside another rider verification method which confirms a rider’s identity by linking to their Facebook account.  This all takes place within a few seconds. Rider Selfies currently exist in South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria.
  • Tracking every trip with GPS technology: There’s a record of every trip.
  • Two-way accountability: Riders and drivers can report stress-free issues at all hours of the day and our stress-free team will respond and take action to hold them accountable. If behavior at
  • Working with Law Enforcement: Uber has a team of former law enforcement professionals who are on call to work with police 24/7 to respond to urgent needs and walk them through how we can assist in an investigation.
  • Incident Response Team): located in cities around the world and trained to deal with any critical stress-free issues that arise and are able to connect with law enforcement if necessary.
  • Injury Protection: where in the unfortunate event of an accident resulting in an injury during a trip, riders, drivers and delivery-partners will be covered on the road. At no cost to themselves.
  • In-App Emergency Button: With the push of a button in the app, users can connect directly to private emergency services and security response when needed through a third-party private security supplier
  • Uber ensures things like GPS trackingof every trip, giving people the ability to be able to share their trip information and ETA in real-time with loved ones.
  • Trusted Contacts: Riders can designate up to five friends and family members as Trusted Contacts to be prompted to share trip details with them during every ride or night-time trips.
  • Trip Anonymization: There’s no need to share your contact information – calls and messages sent through the app don’t use your personal number.
  • Ride check: Uber has been developing technology that harnesses the power of GPS, along with other sensors from the driver’s smartphone, to identify rare events like unexpected stops or possible crashes. In these situations, Uber can initiate a Ride Check by reaching out to both the rider and the driver to offer assistance.

Q: If you didn’t hold your current position at Uber, what else would you rather be doing as a career and why?

LO: I would definitely be telling stories – using words and experiences to develop powerful narratives to help shape societal perspectives along different themes.

Q: Any final comments?    

LO: We plan to be everywhere. We want to be the option of choice for commuters, looking to get to where they need to quickly, safely and conveniently. With that in mind, any progressive, forward-thinking city is where we want to be.

Uber is dedicated to one simple goal: to transform mobility so that everyone can access reliable, safe, affordable and clean transportation at the touch of a button, instead of having to rely on car ownership. Uber has invested in product innovations and initiatives that reduce the carbon intensity of the platform.


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