Bearing billions, bike bearers stand the risk — the business of road safety


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

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Revving up over $10 billion in annual beverage sales, one company relies almost exclusively on its own motorcycling sales reps islandwide. That company leads a local trend towards greater efficiency of two-wheeled operations. Branson Centre entrepreneur Tarik Kiddoe is helping such companies to do this more safely.

With all the technology available to corporate Jamaica, it is often guys on motorcycles, more commonly referred to as bearers, who bear the burden of transporting cheques, documents to be signed, and accelerating other small but critical transactions. These non-cash movements are worth small fortunes to the companies that rely on them. Nevertheless, many corporate riders are working amidst high accident rates. Nationally, the fatality rate for motorcyclists is significant.

Enter Tarik Zawdie Kiddoe and Back to Basics Motorcycle Safety Mission (BTB).

Dennise Williams (DW): Tell us specifically what your business does.

Tarik Zawdie Kiddoe (TZK): BTB Mission offers high-quality motorcycle safety training services. It's a business on a mission to save lives. We help the country to avert the cost of injuries and deaths by improving motorcyclists' real time decision-making skills. BTB can deliver outreach training for 100 motorcyclists for less than the cost of a single broken leg.

Our primary offerings include corporate fleet training, where we are contracted by companies to reduce injury-related downtime among their motorcycling employees. We also offer outreach workshops. Over the past two years this outreach has been funded by the National Health Fund, the National Road Safety Council and the Insurance Association of Jamaica, with support from Sandals Resorts International and the Ministry of Transport's Road Safety Unit. Outreach Workshops are free to the public.

We've achieved extraordinary results. For Celebration Brands - Red Stripe and Pepsi's distribution company — our training reduced instances of serious injuries by more than 40 per cent over the last two years. That's awesome. But it's also humbling if you consider that the corporate savings may translate to fewer broken bones, fewer lives lost, and more livelihoods spared.

DW: What is the national accident/death statistics for motorcyclists?

TZK: The fatality rate is high. In 2011-2012 there were about 35 fatalities. By 2015, that number more than tripled to 111. Collaborative efforts reduced fatalities to about 90 in 2017.

DW: Why do motorcyclists have such issues with road safety?

TZK: Motorcycle safety laws and attitudes are extremely outdated in Jamaica. The rapid increase in the motorcycling population over the years has highlighted such inadequacies. Bikes just aren't taken very seriously by riders, communities or regulators. While other countries have since modernised their approach, Jamaica has not.

DW: What impact will the new Road Traffic Act (RTA) and the Occupational Safety & Health (OSH) rules bring to commercial motorcyclists?

TZK: The new RTA will require all motorcyclists to be properly certified. Under OSH rules, companies are also encouraged to ensure higher safety standards that minimise injuries on the job. This will mean a movement towards an even higher quality of training and certification for working motorcyclists, and this may eventually become mandatory.

DW: What were you doing before you started training on road safety?

TZK: My background is in design and creative services, with over 20 years of experience. Successful entrepreneurial exploits include an animation studio and a content delivery network reaching over 80 countries. More recently, I've worked on social intervention material for UNICEF and similar organisations. I'm an architecture graduate and a private pilot with Jamaican and US certificates. The aviation safety knowledge actually helps the BTB courses.

DW: How did you come up with this idea for this business?

TZK: It was unexpected. Motorcycle safety 'evangelism' was literally a passion that I pursued for zero dollars for years. As a motorcyclist, I was happy to share knowledge within my riding group — Shango Bikers — or even to help total strangers on a street corner. That spirit evolved into annual motorcycle safety presentations at the Grennell's road safety expo.

The turning point emerged after I became a Branson Entrepreneur. For years, I had a craving to be more adventurous and utilise more of my skills. The intention was to develop an adventure tourism business. Branson Centre assigned a mentor from Germany — Ariane Richter — to help get that going. Motorcycle safety outreach became woven into the adventure business as a social outreach component.

To some critics, a motorcycle safety 'cause' didn't seem to fit in. Nevertheless, I accepted an urgent invitation to do all-day safety classes for a group of 45 National Irrigation Commission (NIC) motorcyclists. It was a huge success.

Hearing the outcome, my mentor encouraged me to give this thing more attention. That advice was pivotal. The most surprising development was that, although the NIC representative and I originally discussed just a small stipend, that representative later insisted on paying 'properly' for the training she had witnessed. She no longer felt a stipend was appropriate.

With the commission and its 45 motorcyclists raving and even encouraging us to find ways to spread our message nationally, developing a sustainable programme actually made sense. Ariane's advice was to follow that passion. This call to action marked the birth of the BTB Mission.

Even as BTB grows, we see value in remembering where we are coming from and maintaining integrity. We walk away from business deals if those deals risk doing disservice to our core values. Even today, I'm quite fine with helping a new rider on a street corner for free. That rider is someone's child. Someone is hoping for him or her to get home safely today.

DW: Tell us about your vision for team building. How do you manage to create a culture and what advice would you give to other businesses?

TZK: Rather than trying to be the “best rider on the safety team”, I've always sought to ensure that teammates are better at doing their respective jobs than I am. The vision is to build a culture that encourages teammates to be passionate, competent, engaged, vetting ideas, and expressing their opinions openly. I love strong teammates who are willing to disagree and to show me when we're doing something wrong or can do better.

My advice to other entrepreneurs is to choose teammates wisely, then trust in that choice. Eventually, excellence is found by encouraging everyone to consistently contribute sharp, well-reasoned and timely decisions. Such confidence means a more efficient team.

DW: What role did the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship play in helping you to build your business?

TZK: Branson training workshops have been extremely relevant and valuable. Even more significantly, the centre's mentorship and coaching were magical ingredients in a personal transformation towards a greater sense of purpose. It feels good to do things that contribute on a national level.

DW: What is next for Back to Basics?

TZK: We have excellent proof of concept, but the real work has only just begun. There are big and small companies that could use our help. We have to scale up to meet market needs for both corporate and outreach. We also have cool things in the pipeline to entertain Jamaicans during this transformation. Last year, we received endorsements in the form of helmets signed by Sir Richard Branson and Prime Minister Andrew Holness for our HelmetLife Campaign. We haven't actually launched that campaign as yet, but it will be exciting!

DW: What is next for Zawdie?

TZK: The focus right now is on continuing to execute with passion and being prepared to evolve and to keep on evolving. Regional expansion is possible, but I'm also a new dad; my son is only 2 months old. Learning to balance entrepreneurial life and fatherhood is the next big deal for me. I'm now a Dadtrepreneur. Everything else is “gravy”.

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