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Stellenbosch Entrepreneur of the Month (Aug 2021)

By 4th August 2021October 6th, 2021Entrepreneur of the Month
Leanne Viviers
Leànne Viviers (middle), co-founder of Mintor – a WhatsApp-based chatbot for matching jobseekers from under-resourced communities

Finding work through WhatsApp:

Leànne Viviers is tackling unemployment by connecting people from marginalised communities with job opportunities on the app they use the most.

It’s no secret that South Africa has one of the worst unemployment rates globally, and as a result, more and more people are turning to social media as a new avenue to find work. At first thought, you might think that LinkedIn would be the perfect starting point, considering that it’s best known as a platform for career development – but you’d be wrong.

While just over 15 million South Africans are registered on LinkedIn, research shows that more than 28 million South Africans are using WhatsApp daily[1], making it the best place for people to explore new career opportunities, and for businesses to connect with staff. And now, this is all being made possible by Leànne Viviers and the team at Mintor.

Founded in 2015, Mintor is radically changing how people find and experience work by helping businesses harness the power of WhatsApp to manage their recruitment and human resource functions.

“Essentially, we’re a social enterprise, meaning we’re a for-profit company driven by the purpose to deliver social impact, that offers chat-based services for workforce recruitment, development and support,” explains Leànne.

In doing so, the company helps people from under-resourced communities without access to computers or the internet find and prepare for job opportunities that best match their skills. At the same time, businesses are able to find and inclusively recruit better applicants while also providing proper support to their employees.

An unprecedented change

For Leànne and her business partner Marguerite Heyl, their work stems from a desire to make a difference in the lives of those living in marginalised communities by helping them find meaningful work experiences, although this hasn’t always been an easy task.

“When we first started, Mintor was mainly a marketplace for small businesses to list internship opportunities and we slowly expanded to help large corporations manage their recruitment drives,” recalls Leànne. “One day, we got a very interesting and challenging project where we had to find people with very specific entry-level skill sets from several different communities, but the task was proving almost impossible.”

Then, one evening, out of sheer desperation, she made a small advertisement for the job and shared it on WhatsApp. “I told people to send it on to whoever they could. I didn’t think much of it, but overnight I got hundreds of applicants who all met the criteria. This was after our client had struggled for more than three months just to find a handful of good applicants. I immediately realised that there was something to investigate here.”

Leànne began by researching how South Africans in under-resourced areas typically went about finding work and discovered a pattern.

“I found that most people in these communities depend on internet cafés, where they can search for opportunities and complete physical aspects of the job application process like creating a CV. The problem is, however, that they can only afford to spend so much time there, and don’t have constant access to a computer. As such, many miss out on responses and interview opportunities. This isn’t even accounting for the significant amount they then need to spend on transport, should they secure an interview.”

Mintor’s technology radically enhances HR performance and community impact through artifical intelligence and its Whatsapp chatbot.

Leànne calculated that job seekers typically spend about R1,000 trying to find work, with many relying on family and friends to help cover the costs. After a while, the job hunt becomes unaffordable, forcing them to stop. Ultimately, it is only those with the financial means – and not the relevant skills, interest or expertise – who are able to find work. As a result, she found that, on average, about half of all new employees leave their new job in the first year because of the mismatch between the job seeker and the actual job opportunity.

At the same time, she also noticed that people in marginalised communities depended on WhatsApp as a means of communicating with the wider world. “We concluded that – to help businesses find better-matched employees – we first had to help job seekers by meeting them where they are at. In other words, in their phone chat. And of course, WhatsApp was the perfect platform,” says Leànne.

A firm base for expansion

With her research completed, Leànne began looking into the potential of chatbots on WhatsApp. The only issue was that, at the time, the platform wasn’t allowing developers much room for experimentation.

“I knew this was the case and made an application anyway. Unsurprisingly, it was rejected, so I pushed and pushed, and nine months later they agreed to give us access.”

But while she awaited their approval, she set about building a team and taught them how to mimic a chatbot by following a set script. “This helped us trial-run our operations and user experience, which meant we could hit the ground running when the chatbots went live.”

With WhatsApp having given them the go-ahead, the team began developing a range of chatbot tools for job seekers to help them build CVs, and profile their strengths and skills to provide them with career guidance, and interview skill training to help them prepare for new opportunities. In addition, they developed an algorithm for recruiting businesses to help sort through and identify relevant applications.

“And it’s been a tremendous success. To date, we’ve helped about 100,000 people with job-seeker support and improved job retention in the first year by 70%. What’s more, we are expanding internationally into Indonesia and Kenya.”

Mintor co-founders

Mintor co-founders, Leànne Viviers (Left) and Marguerite Heyl (Right), are hugely optimistic about the future and the role Mintor is playing to address unemployment in both Stellenbosch and further afield.

In addition, the team has discovered new opportunities for their business and has since expanded their tools to also include human resource services for companies looking to better manage their staff. As a result, Mintor estimates that it is now helping businesses save up to three quarters of their usual costs and time spent on administrative activities related to human resource management.

“This is because we began to realise that employed people from these same communities faced similar issues of connectivity and their home is still a place where they don’t have access to, or money for, computers or data,” explains Leànne. “In many cases, their work isn’t even done in an office, but rather out in the open, on warehouse or factory floors, in fields or at sea, where they can’t access a computer either. This is an issue that has only been exacerbated further by COVID-19 and the shift to remote working.”

No one left behind

Amidst all the challenges and opportunities, Leànne is hugely optimistic about the future and the role Mintor is playing to address unemployment in both Stellenbosch and further afield.

“I love being able to make a meaningful impact, especially in my hometown of Stellenbosch. Over my life, I’ve had the privilege to work abroad in the United Kingdom and United States, and spent time building a corporate career there. And while the work was significant, it became less challenging – I wanted to put my time and energy into a social issue that was not yet solved and into something that would create a massive impact, rather than improving something that was already working,” explains Leànne.

“What really drives me is helping people who are bound by their circumstances to realise their potential and to this end, the Mintor team and I are going to do everything we can to ensure no one gets left behind.”

To learn more about Leànne and the work being done at Mintor, go to