Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Arsen Tomsky of inDrive Is Helping To Change Our World

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I’ve overcome a lot of adversity to build my company and increase its social impact, and there is only one thing I would have liked to have heard when I first started: keep going. When I look around now and see the positive social impact we’ve already had, as well as the potential we have to further challenge injustice, I would have found that incredibly motivating back when times were tough.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Arsen Tomsky.

Arsen Tomsky is the founder and CEO of inDrive, an international technology company, headquartered in Mountain View, California. inDrive started off as a passenger transportation service and over time, the company’s portfolio expanded to include freight and cargo services, intercity transportation, courier delivery, city services, job search and others. The mission of the company is challenging injustice. The company systematically looks for injustice in a variety of areas and offers people fairer models and social elevators. It applies to both business and non-profit areas. The company runs 8 global-scale non-profit programs.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was born in Yakutsk, the coldest place in the world, with temperatures sometimes reaching -60 degrees Celsius. In 2012, the lack of affordable transportation hit a breaking point, as taxi companies would double or even triple their prices during extreme cold. Local drivers and riders banded together, using an online platform to directly negotiate rides and prices with each other. This was the origin of inDrive’s pioneering peer-to-peer platform, which now operates in over 700 cities in 47 countries around the world.

My personal journey was very challenging, and I had to overcome significant adversity during my childhood. My father left home, and my mother fell ill, leaving my grandmother to raise me with very limited resources and support. It was tough; however, my father was a well-known mathematician and teacher, and he did leave behind one gift — I inherited his aptitude for logic, science, and algorithmic thinking. As a result, when problems arise, I naturally gravitate toward technology to create solutions. This tendency continues to drive me today as inDrive grows and expands, bringing our solutions into new communities to help them solve problems.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

In the early days of inDrive, there was a woman in my hometown who had asthma and used an inhaler, but one day, she ran out of her medication when she urgently needed it. She called 911, and they told her it would take nearly an hour to send someone to her, which was longer than she could afford to wait. She tried asking a taxi service to bring the medication but they declined as they aren’t a delivery service. When she put her request on the inDrive platform, she received a response within seconds from someone who was able to bring the medicine to her right away, thereby saving her life. From that day on, I knew we were onto something good, because we were able to facilitate people helping other people.

Our mission is to challenge injustice, and a big part of that is providing vital services to areas where they’re not available, whether those services are transportation, delivery, or even a flexible way for someone to make a little extra money. When that woman received her medication it was a perfect indication that our services are not only needed, but also have a positive social impact.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

So far, our expansion has mostly been into emerging markets, and surprising challenges can pop up when launching new services into less developed regions. For example, in 2016 we tried launching in Myanmar, where users still paid for internet by seconds, not by gigabytes. This meant access was constantly switched on and off, and we quickly realized the area wasn’t quite ready for a platform that relies on the internet to run. The lesson was not to take connectivity for granted. It taught us to pay close attention to the quality of the internet when launching.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Challenging injustice is inDrive’s mission, and I believe it is the responsibility of all corporate leaders to build their companies guided by deep non-material purposes, and core life values. Our social impact is embedded into our business model, with our pioneering peer-to-peer pricing approach placing control back into the hands of passengers and drivers, as they are able to mutually agree on a price and route. In a time of surge pricing and steep commissions that only serve to line the pockets of executives, we charge lower commissions than our peers, on average. By expanding into both developed and emerging markets, we provide necessary transportation and income options in underserved areas.

We charge the lowest commissions among ride-hailing companies. Unlike our peers, who charge 25–50%, we have always maintained our commission under 10%.

Our Vision Wing is our non-profit project where we use new technologies, scientific achievements, engineering, and art to improve the quality of life in underprivileged communities around the world. One example is the BeginIT program. Launched 10 years ago, it now covers 127 rural schools and orphanages, where we teach children the basics of software engineering in order to create social elevators.

Another notable project is the Aurora Tech Award, an annual prize for women founders of IT startups that have a profound impact on global development.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Ainura Sagyn is the creator of the Tazar app, bringing together waste producers and recyclers, and she is the 2021 winner of the Aurora Tech Award. Ainura also established the women’s online magazine, and set up coding training programs for young women. The prize money directly impacted her business, as she used it to pay her employees and purchase an electric vehicle to transport recyclable waste materials. This is why we focus on initiatives that go beyond raising awareness and actually financially support impactful organizations and individuals — awareness is important, but in my experience, funding is what empowers leaders to make meaningful change. The Aurora prize awards cash to three women founders of impact tech startups every year, so there are already other stories like Ainura’s, and a growing number of individuals are helped by the prize.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

A significant cause of injustice is a lack of access to essential services, such as education and healthcare. Across the board, from local governments to universities to country leaders to the medical community, we should strive to increase this access. Provider collaboration and networks would not only connect people to the vital services and supplies they need to survive, but increased access to transportation and education empowers individuals to learn and grow and make their own communities better.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leaders give people purpose. Leadership driven by values is not only good for society, but it is motivating and makes people happier.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I’ve overcome a lot of adversity to build my company and increase its social impact, and there is only one thing I would have liked to have heard when I first started: keep going. When I look around now and see the positive social impact we’ve already had, as well as the potential we have to further challenge injustice, I would have found that incredibly motivating back when times were tough.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

When I look at the business models of most companies, I see that their focus is on increasing profitability. Our competitors take the information they have 0061bout you and use it to inflate prices. We don’t play that game. As inDrive has expanded globally, we’ve done so with the goal of democratizing access to urban services for the majority of people. Now, our model is to build on our initial success to challenge injustice for more and more people around the world.

If I could inspire a movement, it would be for other business leaders to prioritize their companies’ non-material purposes over their bottom lines. This is attainable, it motivates the team and produces better business KPIs — inDrive has been very successful and continues to grow.

Fighting injustice also happens to be good for business.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A lyric from Bob Dylan’s The Times Are A-Changin: “For the loser now will be later to win.” All my failures in life were necessary for future successes or transformed into successes. We shouldn’t look specially for failures and losses, but we should calmly accept them as part of a bigger learning process.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I find the 14th Dalai Lama’s teachings to be very relevant and inspiring to my work and my life. I’d love to speak to him further about his philosophies that are centered around happiness and ways we could work together to further inspire business leaders to use their influence to transform the world.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Please visit to find out more about our growth and social impact! You can also download the inDrive app if you’re located in one of the areas where we operate, but if not, don’t worry — we’re growing quickly and might come to your community soon.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Arsen Tomsky of inDrive Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.