Bridging the gap between skilled workers and customers

Through the use of an online app, skilled workers can now gain access to a wide customer base

Julius Mbungo is the founder and CEO of Toolboksi Company, creators of an app used to solve problems of unemployment by connecting skilled workers to customers.

For years he has strived to bridge this gap, which has been a perennial problem.

“Most home and business owners struggle to identify reliable people to do various services or repairs at their homes or offices as they are worried about safety and quality of services,” he says.

It is said that some of the crime incidents at homes and offices are linked to strangers who claim to be servicemen, thus gaining easy access to people’s homes and offices.

“As a result, I established toolboksi to help solve this problem. When you go around streets in Tanzania, especially in Dar es Salaam, you will notice many posters on trees and walls advertising fundis information,” says Julius.

“The idea came about in late 2017, and we did a lot of piloting in 2018,” says the CEO.

Before bringing the idea to fruition, Julius, together with his team did research and found that the problem is bigger than was thought.

According to International labor Organization (ILO) 60 per cent of the unemployed population in the world are youth, 75 per cent of them are in informal sector.

“In Tanzania, the informal sector employs more than 80 per cent of all working population, only less than 20 per cent are employed formally whether by government or private sector. This prompted us to come up with toolboksi to help increase access to job opportunities to the informal skilled workers,” he says.

Technological advancements have also played a role in enabling toolboksi come to reality. “The app uses inclusive technologies such as Web/Text/USSD/Short-Code to connect the informal skilled workers with customers,” Julius says,

Providing employment opportunities isn’t the only plus side of the app. “We also invest in training informal skilled workers in financial literacy so that they can better understand and manage their finances.

We also provide digital literacy training so that they can utilise and leverage on digital platforms to further get visibility and showcase their talents, skills, products, and services. Thirdly we also offer soft skills (interpersonal skills) to ease interaction process between customers and the skilled worker.

Talking about the challenges they face, Chief Technology Officer Ebenezer Kimaro says the biggest challenge is making users (customers and workers) understand how the platform works and how it benefits them both.

“This is partly because the technology is new so it takes a bit of effort to make people fully understand how it operates and the benefits therein.

For example, gone are the days of struggling to get a fundi on the go. Also, the fundis get to triple their weekly income using the app,” he explains.

Another challenge the CTO pointed out is the issue of funds. “The funds are for initial research and development.

With such devotion to solving a problem which cuts across different classes in society, Toolboksi was named the best innovation to elicit urban service delivery in Dar es Salaam by the Coalition for Urban Transitions and Tanzania Urbanization laboratory which was funded by World Resources Institute (WRI) – 2018.

“We have more than 350 workers registered in Dar es Salaam alone and got another 500 pending. We have got more than 1700 service requests. The app has really prospered accordingly,” Ebenezer says.

Being an innovative app, Toolboksi has inspired the youth in society to also get involved in technological engagements at different levels.

Ebenezer calls on the youth to realise that power to change their lives is in their hands.

“Luckily Africa is a continent full of young people and soon the world will depend on us to solve the most pressing challenges. We should really start with what we have no matter how small it is, once you have started it is easy to get help from someone,” he notes.

Adding, “Let’s not sit back and find someone to blame, whether it’s your family, relative, the government, poverty or any other reason.”

Additionally, today it is easy for anyone to learn different skills on the internet very fast.

“Currently we are in discussions with some government institutions keen on helping us scale the innovation country-wide. We are also looking at how the innovation can intervene and help graduates from vocational training institutes get jobs once they complete their training,” he says.

Further talking about government involvement, Ebenezer advises that it should create a conducive environment for young people to do businesses, including granting tax incentives, less compliance requirements including cumbersome licensing and registration processes which discourage innovation. “Currently a startup is not treated differently from a big company, you pay taxes even before you sell your product/service,” Ebenezer says.

He says the government could also set up funds through the ministry of education or communications or any other entity to fund local innovations in the country, as there are a lot of innovative young people who have no support to help them turn their ideas into businesses. “The government should learn from what our neighboring countries like Rwanda, Kenya and even others like Nigeria, South Africa, the UAE, and USA are doing. This is how skilled workers from the informal sector will be uplifted.