Vollar – A New Currency for Good
Imagine you could use the unemployed to build better South African communities, while paying them for their efforts, making them employable and allowing them to lift themselves out of poverty. Imagine that this system cost almost nothing to run, and provided data that would assist in future planning. Imagine a currency that was a force for good. Imagine Vollar.
South Africans perpetually complain about how little is done for us by those in power. People aren’t fed or homed, schools aren’t built, roads and infrastructure fall to ruin and jobs are more scarce than honest politicians. Half the country lives on less than R1000 a month and, without the ability to earn their own way to success, their self-worth and dignity suffer. What we all need to realise is that there are 56 million of us who have the skills, desire, talent and, yes, power to make this country amazing, and we can do it ourselves. All we need is the right motivation.
This motivation is what Vollar aims to create. Vollar (Volunteer Dollar) is a new currency, a ‘currency of good’ that, at its core, starts a virtuous cycle of job creation and social upliftment while allowing corporates and government to make a real, measurable difference.
Here’s how it works: Vollar vets different social-good organisations, like feeding kitchens, early childhood development centres and municipalities. These organisations hire out-of-work individuals to do something meaningful in the community, tracking the time spent on different pieces of work, for which Vollar provides them a digital token – a Vollar. The Vollars can then be spent at selected local outlets, to buy the important things like food, clothing and household supplies. But here’s where it gets really smart. Corporates, with their often-underutilised CSI budgets can then buy those Vollars back from the retailers, so the entire system funds itself.
This is a big deal for corporate South Arica. A little-known fact is that only about 40% of the R9 billion set aside of CSI initiatives is spent every year. This is because they are reluctant to let a huge chunk of change go without a sense of transparency as to where it goes, and also because it is diluted dramatically as it trickles downwards through intermediaries and operational costs. With Vollar, they have an accurate, hour-by-hour record of exactly how what their money paid for, and the knowledge that it went directly to the people and into the communities they want to support. They can make a real, financially-justifiable difference.
This is a huge deal for the communities, who will now have their small businesses and spaza shops supported by Vollarteers as they restock their cupboards with their hard-earned Vollars, which they earned by making that community a better, cleaner, healthier place to live. Starting gardens, feeding the hungry, looking after children, painting and repairing homes and walls – these are just a few of the ways you can earn Vollars.
And, lastly, this is a massive deal for unemployed South Africans, who can now put their minds, hands and heart to work, improving their homes while being actively employed. Doing good, and getting paid for it. It is not a handout. It is not charity. They create their own hope. Vollar even use the data they collect on these Vollarteers to create them their own CVs, complete with work experience and references, so they can step out on their own after a time into the more formal job market. Winwin.
Vollar was only started in March of this year, and they have already completed their first (massively successful) pilot in Kylemore in the Western Cape. It has taken off unbelievably quickly, largely thanks to a few key partnerships. The Southern African Association of Youth Clubs got on board early, helping with grant funding and connections. The Stellenbosch Municipality helped with the initial access to Kylemore, and provides a mobile shop which accepts Vollars anywhere they need it to be. And then there’s the LaunchLab, where founder Kyle (no connection to the city) has been working for the last few months, ever since he placed in the top 10 of the Nation builder Social Innovation Challenge they were running. It’s amazing what they right idea, backed by the right people, can do.
“The LaunchLab has been incredibly valuable,” Kyle confirms. “With all the other start-ups, tech companies and entrepreneurs there, if you have a need, the LaunchLab with its resources and valuable connections, will facilitate the means of finding what will accelerate your business at best.
Vollar also benefited from the connections they were able to make with corporates and investors. The business mixers that the LaunchLab hosts, as a singular example, get different people into the same room, in an environment conducive to the sharing of ideas. Some of these connections are about to blossom into partnerships, as the CSI division at a major bank are working how they can get involved, and a few investors are looking at growth opportunities.
What is really getting people excited is the almost unlimited amount of applications and associated opportunities with Vollar. Like upskilling farmers to grow their own food, which is given to ECD centres in exchange for Vollars. A large retailer is looking at using the currency as a way of moving almost out-of-date food items. And there’s even Stellenbosch University who are looking at a way to use Vollars to secure university applications.
It has been a short journey, but the team at Vollar have learned a few things. They’ve learned that the ripples they are creating are exponential; the extra manpower of Vollarteers allows the feeding kitchen to run three times a week, instead of just once. They’ve learned that people actually work harder and save their Vollars to buy bigger-ticket items, showing how ambitious our people really are. And they’ve learned that if we can find a way to incentivise the right actions – actions for good – we can change the world ourselves.
There is a way to fix our country, and it is with a new currency. That currency is Vollar.