This SA startup is tackling youth unemployment with blockchain technology – and R3.5 million from Google – Business Insider South Africa




  • Cape Town-based social start-up Zlto is on a mission to reduce SA’s youth unemployment rate with an approach that uses blockchain technology.
  • Zlto’s app tracks and incentivises positive behaviour. 
  • It enables young people to rack up work experience through community work, recorded in a transparent and verifiable way.

In the third quarter of 2018, South Africa’s youth unemployment rate declined –  from 53.70% to 52.80%. And appropriate credentials and work experience are often cited by young South Africans as their top challenge when trying to get into the job market.

That is the problem Cape Town-based social start-up Zlto hopes to solve with an approach based on mobile phones and the blockchain technology that underpins crypto currencies such as bitcoin, plus a little financial help from Google.

Zlto is an initiative by local NGO Reconstructed Living Labs (RLabs), and its mission is to get young people involved in their communities as a stepping stone towards employment.

See also: This SA start-up that automatically matches learners with universities just landed R3.5 million from Google      

Volunteer work can range from cleaning up the environment to paining a dilapidated public building.


Young Zlto volunteers cleaning up the environment as part of social community work and gaining experience in the process. (RLabs/Google SA)

Users clock in by taking a “before” photo of the particular activity and uploading it onto the Zlto app, and doing the same thing with an “after” photo once the job is done. The work experience gained is recorded in a blockchain ledger, making it transparent and easy to verify. Meanwhile, the voluntary work done is also rewarded in Zlto’s digital currency, which can be spent at either Mr Price on clothes or over 1,000 Shoprite stores on groceries or even airtime – one of the major expenses for those actively seeking work.

“It’s been nearly 2 years since Zlto went mobile and in that time we’ve seen over 25,000 young people register, becoming intentional about impacting their communities and being the change they wish to see in the communities,” says Zlto.

The app was recently named one of the winners of $250,000 (about R3.5 million) from Google in its Impact Challenge competition that seeks to invest in startups that use tech to tackle societal issues.


Zlto beneficiary and ambassador, Allan van der Meulen (L) with TV personality and one of the Google Impact Challenge judges, Maps Maponyane. (Google SA)

A beneficiary and ambassador of Zlto, Allan van der Meulen, tells Business Insider South Africa that the social startup intends on using the R3.5 million cash prize to expand beyond its current reach in the Cape Town region to other parts of South Africa.

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