Money for tiny tasks be­comes a small for­tune

Financial Mail - - DIGITAL - Nafisa Ak­a­bor

ý A Mitchells Plain-pro­duced app called Zlto has caught the at­ten­tion of Google, Mastercard, a num­ber of lo­cal phil­an­thropic funds and even a UN agency.

The award-win­ning dig­i­tal re­wards app, which uses blockchain tech­nol­ogy, has helped 45,000 peo­ple — most of whom are oth­er­wise un­em­ployed youth — to earn some form of in­come.

Zlto has been pay­ing un­em­ployed youth for com­mu­nity ser­vices and has now ex­panded that by re­ward­ing users for tak­ing pre­cau­tions dur­ing the Covid-19 pan­demic.

Its users are paid in Zlto cur­rency that can be used for pur­chases at Shoprite, Pep stores and Pie City, buy air­time and data, get hair­cuts or pay for med­i­cal and op­tometrist vis­its.

Zlto was co-founded by 24year-old Al­lan van der Meulen in 2016, when he was a teen, with the sup­port of Cape Town NGO Re­con­structed Liv­ing Labs (Rlabs).

Van der Meulen says when the lock­down be­gan, users flocked Zlto. “We de­cided to raise aware­ness of Covid-19 and let users earn cur­rency by cre­at­ing mi­cro-tasks that can be done from home, like wash­ing hands daily, ap­ply­ing for so­cial grants and do­ing on­line cour­ses.”

It has also helped pro­vide food vouch­ers, air­time and pre­paid elec­tric­ity to its users, af­ter a sur­vey was done to as­sess peo­ple’s needs, says Van der Meulen.

Though its aim is to re­duce the youth un­em­ploy­ment rate, it plans to use its plat­form for rel­e­vant causes, he says, ref­er­enc­ing the Covid-re­lated tasks. “The health as­pect will con­tinue af­ter we fight coro­n­avirus as we be­lieve it is an im­por­tant con­trib­u­tor to the well­be­ing and de­vel­op­ment of young peo­ple.”

Be­fore Covid-19, users earned a min­i­mum of R45 an hour through skills train­ing, com­mu­nity outreach or agri­cul­ture-re­lated tasks. R1 is equiv­a­lent to 3 Zlto.

The blockchain is used to val­i­date ac­tiv­i­ties through the use of smart con­tracts. Se­lected Zlto “su­per users” are peer re­view­ers who weigh the le­git­i­macy of ev­ery “deed” by look­ing at the proof sub­mit­ted (date, time, de­scrip­tion, ref­er­ences and even a pho­to­graph) be­fore reach­ing a con­sen­sus. Users who have been de­nied pay­ment are given a rea­son; and each user gen­er­ates an “as­set of work” — much like a CV — which is stored on the blockchain.

By help­ing the un­em­ployed build this CV through their par­tic­i­pa­tion in com­mu­nity ser­vice ac­tiv­i­ties and train­ing pro­grammes, Zlto is help­ing them develop their mar­ketable skills.

Zlto works with a se­lec­tion of re­tail­ers (it charges them a plat­form fee) and is also funded by phil­an­thropic foun­da­tions.

Its cur­rent list of fun­ders are the Michael & Susan Dell Foun­da­tion, E Squared, Jpmor­gan and the UN In­ter­na­tional Chil­dren’s Fund (Unicef).

A jour­ney that started in 2014 at the Rlabs Youth Café in Rock­lands, Mitchells Plain led Van der Meulen to be­come a fi­nal­ist in the Seed­stars start-up awards, a global com­pe­ti­tion to find the best start-ups in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, in 2017.

In 2018 he was named the win­ner of the Google Im­pact Chal­lenge (GIC).

This was key to Zlto’s suc­cess. It has se­cured $250,000 from Google, which al­lowed it to ex­pand in Gaut­eng and the Eastern Cape, with pi­lot projects in Kwazulu-na­tal.

Google has zero-rated the plat­form, which means it can be ac­cessed with­out charge.

The GIC win helped the app

Al­lan van der Meulen: When the lock­down be­gan, users flocked to the Zlto plat­form Ru­van Boshoff

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