Dr Ayodele Odusola is the UN Development Programme resident representative in South Africa
Dr Ayodele Odusola is the UN Development Programme resident representative in South Africa

To solve a crisis, tap into the innovative energy of the youth

By Ayodele Odusola and Jama Gulaid Time of article published Apr 22, 2020

Share this article:

With today, 21 April, being World Creativity and Innovation Day, a youth-led online rewards system is driving safe and healthy actions to fight Covid-19 and empowering people amid South Africa’s lockdown. 

Allan van der Meulen, 24, grew up hard in the Cape Flats. With gang violence, little hope and less opportunity, things could have gone a very different way.

Yet lured by jazz to a workshop as a teenager, he began a journey of innovation that would change the lives of thousands of young people from some of South Africa’s most marginalised communities.

With support from RLabs, the social enterprise that hosted the workshop, Van der Meulen went on to co-launch Zlto, an award-winning digital rewards web-app that has helped over 2 million people get on in life through innovation, technology and education.

Zlto, pronounced “Zlato” and meaning “gold”, uses blockchain technology to give online rewards for volunteering, learning and doing good. Rewards can buy groceries, clothes, mobile data and more.

But the main aim is to get youth into work.

Zlto helps break the barriers young people face when looking for work by giving them verifiable skills, work experience and helping cover the costs of job hunting, such as travelling to interviews.

Across South Africa, a fast-growing Zlto community is promoting safe, healthy actions to fight the virus, and gaining rewards for handwashing, cleaning their homes and caring for loved ones.

They’re also gaining access to free courses on health, hygiene, life-skills and money management, and through Zlto, are linked to coronavirus prevention information.

And in a heart-warming and admirable show of solidarity, food vouchers have been gifted to hard-hit households, and over 500 vulnerable senior citizens have been gifted with electricity vouchers by young Zlto users they have never even met.

Earlier this year, Zlto was one of five winners of the global UN Development Programme-Unicef Big Think Challenge, which rewards ground-breaking innovations that support the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, which aim to accelerate shared prosperity to end poverty, protect the planet and boost peace and stability by 2030.

Looking forward, with support from Unicef and UNDP, the Zlto team is committed to saving lives and livelihoods in the face of Covid-19, and aims to reach another 100000 youth, produce a data-free interface and boost access to the platform through a range of instant messaging services.

As we fight Covid-19 together, Van der Meulen’s story shows how empowering energetic young leaders and investing in life-changing innovations - in crises and at all times - benefits everyone.

As Van de Meulen says, Zlto isn’t a handout. It’s about dignity, helping young people make the best of their lives.

* Dr Odusola is the UN Development Programme resident representative in South Africa and Jama Gulaid is the acting United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in South Africa.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

Share this article: