#1 Leg of my tour: Hello Australia and fun in sunny Brisbane
I arrived in sunny Brisbane late on Sunday evening and bounced out of bed the next morning ready for the first official day of my Queensland visit as International Thought Leader for the National Year of Digital Inclusion, as a guest of the Queensland Government. Those who know me, know my passion for digital inclusion and how essential it is not just to support people to be part of the digital society, but also to tackle social challenges. During this first week I was delighted to be able to share that passion with others as well as hearing about their work.
On the Monday I was lucky to meet the Advance Queensland Community Digital Champions, and representatives from business, industry, community government, regional and libraries to chat to them all about building digital literacy and inclusion in Queensland. I’m so impressed with the Digital Minister here, Leeanne Enoch MP (Minister for Science and Innovation and Minister for Small Business) who gave a great speech and awarded each Champion with a special pin (badge). I met Leanne when I visited Australia late last year and it was great to see her again. Last time we met I was over the moon when she tweeted about me:
In Queensland a Digital Champion is someone who shares their love of digital and their passion for change through digital – be it in industry, about coding, supporting a small business, photography, training, etc. In England “digital champion” means a digital mentor or volunteer – more specifically someone who helps others to learn about how to use the basics of the internet.
I gave a few speeches in my first week about the work of Tinder Foundation and the UK online centres network in the UK, and I was able to show our ‘Social Challenges, Digital Solutions’ video, which you can watch below. I think this video demonstrates so clearly those individual stories from people who have learned new skills and are now part of the digital world, but more importantly feel better about themselves as well as the society they live in. I love this film and I was so proud to be able to show it to the people here in Queensland:
I learned that there are differences in Queensland about the challenges for a 100% digital empowered nation, mainly the vast geography and problems that presents for getting great broadband to people living in remote, rural, and regional areas.
I’ve also learned a tiny bit about the culture and context of indigenous people. But there are more similarities than differences in digital inclusion in our two countries:
- We believe that no-one should be excluded from a society that is now digital in so many important ways.
- The people who are excluded are either older or poorer. The demographics are the same.
- We know that supporting people to gain basic digital skills brings so much more than just new skills, it builds resilience, confidence and self esteem as well. Digital inclusion leads to social inclusion.
- There are many people doing many great things; there already is expertise to build on. I’ve been so impressed with the passion and commitment I’ve seen.
As an outsider it’s sometimes easier to give advice. So I shared my seven point plan for successful digital inclusion, and luckily it seemed as pertinent at the end of the week as at the start. Here’s a tweet of me and my seven point plan:
#2 Leg of my tour: Emerald, Cairns, Longreach, and some reflections
In Queensland we talked a lot about the Tinder Foundation digital inclusion model and its relevance to work in Australia. In the UK our approach is LOCAL + DIGITAL …. providing places to go with committed, patient people who provide face-to-face support in the heart of communities where people live (= local), and using technology to do the heavy lifting, such as using Learn My Way (our online learning platform), to provide the consistent learning content and data collation (= digital). It works really well – so well that we’ve helped more than 1.8 million people with this model since 2010.
The second leg of my Digital Inclusion trip around Queensland took me to Emerald, Cairns and Longreach. It was great to get out of Brisbane and to meet people in other places who were all committed to closing the digital divide.
In Emerald, I met with a very interested group of people coming from schools, special education, a kindergarten, an alternative learning centre, the council and the science centre. They all had first hand experience of knowing people who struggled with using the internet. A woman from a local kindergarten was helping one of the mums with using Skype for her telehealth appointments with a consultant in Brisbane. This is exactly the kind of thing I hear in the UK, where a local partner steps in to provide essential digital support for people who don’t have the access nor the skills they need to carry out something they need to live a better life.
After I left the session, the Emerald group stayed on to discuss how they could use some of the approaches and materials I presented in their own town and in their own situations – an extremely positive outcome!
Cairns really is like paradise; I took the photo below from the venue we met in. I did two sessions in Cairns, again a great mix of people attending including from a local health trust specialising in mental health, a charity supporting victims of domestic violence, someone working with indigenous people and the wetlands, and people from the libraries in the region. And again, similar themes came up.
I also got to visit EnVizion in Cairns and see their training centre and their virtual reality bus. The bus has been specially built to go anywhere, and to provide inspiring and aspirational experiences through real stories of people working in different industries. The bus has visited a number of communities in Cape York and had great results helping children to see that they have a number of choices for careers and that other people who have come from similar childhoods are now working in jobs, for example in mining or agriculture.
In Cairns, as at the Broadband for the Bush Forum, I got to hear about experiences and initiatives working on growing digital literacy with indigenous people living in remote communities. There are clearly barriers, including distance, lack of broadband infrastructure, and understanding the context, however the EnVizion virtual reality bus is showing that digital can be part of the solution in overcoming some of these barriers for some people some of the time.
When I went to Longreach it was my first chance to see the outback in Australia. Brisbane to Longreach is about the same distance as London to Milan (through France and Switzerland), and I spent some time glued to the window to try to understand the landscape.
The tyranny of distance is very real and it’s easier to understand being above it like this. In Longreach we were hosted by RAPAD, whose training arm have the great saying “trained in the outback, ready for the world”. At RAPAD’s office I met a number of interesting people, all supporting digitally excluded people. We talked about how essential digital literacy is for people who are in frequent contact with public services, and in particular the need for work to improve people’s skills and access to myGov and CentreLink. The idea of Learn My Way courses for people to learn how to use these critical online services was discussed, much like the work we do in the UK for people looking for work and on benefits and using UK online tools such as Universal Job Match.
7.00am is probably the earliest talk I’ve ever given – although it’s probably quite common in Longreach, more so in the summer when the temperatures really soar. My talk at the Business Breakfast went well, and I included a short element about our work in the UK with rural small businesses, as well as with Google and their tools for small business. One quote we have from a small business helped from one of our programmes is: “I’ve not just gained digital skills, I’ve gained control of my life back”.
And finally I gave an interview for ABC in Longreach, talking about the need for digital literacy as well as great broadband infrastructure.
Some summary thoughts
Don’t wait until you’ve got great broadband infrastructure to worry about the 1 in 5 Australians who are not functionally digitally literate. Too often I heard people saying that the digital divide in Australia is only about no or poor broadband. It’s not. Good broadband is essential to have, however it’s not ‘build it and they will come’. By volume there are already millions of people in areas in Australia with good broadband who don’t use or can’t use the internet. Don’t wait.
Local + Digital is our model at Tinder Foundation and it’s a model that will work for you too. I met many organisations around Queensland that in vision, approach and the demographics of the people they help, are identical to some of our hyperlocal partners in the UK. Building on the great organisations that are already helping people in their local areas will be a great step forward. Digital could be Learn My Way, as some people asked, or something else. But do let the technology do the scaling, data collection and consistency that it’s good at.
Leadership is key. You can have a thousand flowers blooming, but it’s better if they’re all in the same meadow and all facing in the same direction. By this I mean, let the beauty of the locally determined initiative flourish, but it will be stronger in a network with others and it will achieve more with leadership and advocacy to make sure we’re all working to the same goal: a 100% digitally included Queensland.
Thank you to the Queensland Government for inviting me over to do this tour.
I loved meeting the people of Queensland. I learned a lot.
Good luck with your next steps on your digital inclusion journey, I wish you well.
And I hope to be back someday.