Lillian: Stay consistent with who you are building for

Job haunting is daunting. Coupled with inexperience, stiff competition and the good, old-fashioned inside person; the thought alone can be extremely discouraging.

In Tanzania, and many other parts of the world, recruiters are bombarded with all manner of individuals in pursuit of a coveted position in their companies, many of whom barely meet requirements, aren't reliable and those that do, sometimes struggle with how best to present themselves.

This is not an uncommon conundrum on both ends of the spectrum - recruiters and applicants.

Company reputations have risen and fallen because of poor hiring processes and employers have lost plenty of resources to many skill-related reasons and a lack of them thereof.

Of the many challenges recruiters and job seekers meet, the biggest is a bridge that benefits both ends, a problem that weighed heavily on Lillian Madeje.

As someone who's worked in human resources for years, she understood the challenges that came with the sector, such as the lack of skills, the need for upskilling, interview etiquette and more, and believed something could be done to improve this and give Tanzanian job seekers a unique edge.

What then started off as her MBA capstone project has panned out and grown a life of its own, becoming one of the most effective tools for matchmaking recruiters with applicants as well as an upskilling and coaching platform.

As somebody who seeks to have multiple projects going on at one time, Lillian is driven by the purpose that she is meant to do more than just the normal.

As Niajiri’s Chief Visionary Officer and founder, her goal has been focused on giving the youth as best a chance on the market as they can get.

She loves to define herself by the multiple hats she wears, explaining that it is what keeps her sane. Lillian has founded and co-founded plenty of businesses over the years such as Ekihya Consulting Limited, a company that works with businesses to build processes and improve efficiencies; co-creator and partner of Bits & Bytes, a tech conference that explored the ways that innovation and technology can come together to raise standards of living throughout society; and Niajiri Platform, an online platform that up-skills youth to gain employability skills and matches employers to top talent.

“Niajiri is the baby that I started building in 2018 as part of my MBA capstone project. We were tasked to design a project and I presented it but it was also an evolution of what I had actually been experiencing as a recruiter,” Lillian narrates.

“We were, by then, going to companies who gave us CVs and cover letters and when you’re doing mass recruitments, this is a lot of information and I thought there had to be an easier way of doing this particular process in terms of collecting the CVs, assessing and screening. This was where the idea of Niajiri platform came through with the question being: how can we use technology to make this existing recruitment issue much easier?” she said.

However, before Niajiri started Lillian had also co-founded Bits and Bytes with Zuweina Mohammed which was an annual innovation and tech forum that ran successfully for three years from 2015 until 2018. Way ahead of their time in the tech and innovation conversation, the forum was structured to develop, connect and inspire individuals already in the tech space and those wanting to venture in.

“We were doing hackathons and looking for solutions for different organisations, because we believed that solutions are within our spaces, which is where connecting came in. We saw that there were different people doing different things in tech and innovation but they never spoke. We also wanted to showcase Tanzania to the world and inspire,” Lillian shares.

This and other projects that Lillian actively engaged in or started worked in her favour, preparing her to be able to give life to the Niajiri platform and guide that ship to what it is today.

“Niajiri is not your typical job recruitment company. While initially I was solving for having to deal with lots of paperwork during recruitment, I also saw that in the value chain, there were a lot of drop offs, and I began to question how we could empower some of these people such that even though they're not going to get the job, they still come out with better skill sets that they might get something else somewhere else,” she explains.

Niajiri was then built to empower the youth specifically to be able to have the right type of skills needed in today's marketplace. The first step, like many digital platforms out there, is signing up. Once on the platform, one has access to different tools and resources such as a CV builder, development career plans for those coming out of university and so much more.

The platform then puts you on a leader-board through a variety of skill-assessing and up-skilling activities, trainings and coaching sessions. It also helps you assess what it is you can do, the kind of environment you work in, a SWOT analysis and more, essentially understanding your work value inventory.

Actively, continuously and consistently working on the platform to grow your skills is what puts you higher on the leader-board and the higher you climb, the better your chances of being matched to an employer that best meets your goals and one with whom your skill sets align with their requirements.

Prospective employers get to see a candidate’s leader-board because Niajiri also puts a stamp of approval as one continues to grow their skill. A lack of which therefore leads to no matches.

“We are also starting to engage e-learning content providers to give candidates access to a wider variety of soft skills assessment and based on the results, we give you a recommendation of the different courses that you can take so that you are able to fill that gap,” she adds.

“We are looking at skilling you up so that you have the right type of skills to succeed in the marketplace. Now whether we are then able to match you to an employer on the platform or not, you have the right to get a job outside the platform.”

“We also have a job board called Michongo, which brings together job opportunities from different job boards in Tanzania,” Lillian adds. “These aren’t actively sourced by us so when you click on the link, it then takes you directly to the person responsible. We are trying to create a one-stop shop,” she said.

With an average of at least 15 minutes spent on the platform, Niajiri sees about 350-500 users daily, 85 percent of whom are between the ages of 18 to 35-years-old.

Due to the ease of use and access, 80 percent of these users are also able to access the platform from the comfort of their phones, meaning engaging with content and courses as well as coaching can be done on the move, bringing the number of those who have accessed Niajiri courses to over 2000 individuals.

“We want to make sure that we actually build the youth for this current future of work because based on our statistics, out of 10 youth that graduate, 6 don't have the requisite employability skills such as communication skills, critical thinking or even problem solving,” she explains.

Niajiri also serves employers, providing an automation hiring tool for the different employer profiles available. The first employer profile is the old-school recruiters who make use of the leader-board and per requirements, are then matched to the top-most qualified candidates.

The second profile is what she termed ‘Software as a Service’ which is a profile unique to HR departments who use a fully automated hiring tool that can be placed on the company’s page and collects applicants’ information, assesses, filters and screens candidates for the duration of the recruitment period.

The tool also enables the recruiter to SMS, email, give applicants a step-by-step process of their application, updates on where their application has reached as well as schedule interviews with selected candidates. This gives transparency, a much-needed aspect as the notion is often that recruiters never give feedback.

The final profile is for recruiters who are looking for project-based talent and their needs and criteria then are often streamlined as the recruitment process is running.

The platform is open to anyone and according to Lillian, the goal is to scale and have a presence all across Africa, especially after having had an opportunity to use the hiring tool in Burundi.

In addition to the number of users on the platform, Niajiri’s goal has been to stretch beyond the tech, working with the Niajiri Champions Network to raise awareness of the opportunities that await the youth. The network is made of Niajiri Ambassadors who are essentially the boots-on-the-ground that mobilise the youth, especially those in university. There are Niajiri Influencers who make use of social media and Niajiri peer-to-peer coaches who actively coach the youth in person.

The amount of work and dedication it has taken Lillian to achieve what she has with Niajiri was hefty. “When pitching an idea that people don’t fully understand, getting investors becomes very hard, harder in a space that is male dominated and business doesn’t happen in the boardroom,” she shares.

“You have to be part of the boy’s club and someone has to know you before they can do business with you. This taught me early on to learn to set clear boundaries or you risk not being taken seriously as a woman and that is perhaps why not many women make their way up the tech ladder.”

However, because the space is growing so fast, Lillian has challenged herself to go beyond borders and in turn, give a good representation of what Tanzania can offer in terms of talent - she is extremely focused on building with high international standards.

This will mean in the long-run, in addition to education and necessary skill-sets, Niajiri should be able to assess work culture fit for different locations in both Tanzania and other African countries.

Is this realistic? Yes. Technology has evolved so much that we can now create as far and as big as we can dream. The biggest thing to keep in mind with whatever solution you come up with is that if it is not connecting to your user, then you are not building for them.

Niajiri continues to actively pursue growth by ensuring they stay consistent with who they are building for and continue to open doors for the youth of Tanzania.

Supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation