Telstra Foundation | Telstra News |

Silver linings: a step change for youth mental health

By Jackie Coates June 17, 2020

Silver linings can be found in unexpected places. While the current global health crisis has created additional uncertainty and genuine anxiety for many young people it has also been a catalyst for a step change to transform youth mental health support services.

There is no question that the pandemic has driven unprecedented demand for digital mental health services. However, it has also surfaced the limitations of our current mental health system – namely, its historical reliance on face-to-face care and the untapped opportunity to integrate digital technologies into clinical services, at scale.

With so many young people doing it tough and the wider acceptance that digital can play a role in the successful treatment of youth mental health issues, leading mental health innovators are seizing their opportunity to scale and enhance their tested, evidenced-based, digital solutions.

That’s why we’re providing a new $2M mental health relief package to longstanding Telstra Foundation partners ReachOut and Orygen Digital to fast track and enhance online mental health support for young people across Australia – during and beyond COVID-19.

Our partners are world leaders in the design and digital delivery of youth mental health services and care, going well beyond standard video conferencing to provide solutions that transform the way both clinical services and support resources tools are delivered in the short and long term.

The mental health relief package will be used to support ReachOut’s innovation program to provide personalised digital mental health support for young people. In the first five weeks following the introduction of social distancing measures, ReachOut saw an almost 50 per cent increase in visitors to their relevant support services online for COVID-related support.

The high demand continued along with the lockdown, with almost 10 people every minute accessing ReachOut’s services since mid-March. With this funding, ReachOut will be able to include targeted support to those at risk of suicide and a new best-practice digital peer support experience to meet young people’s needs and expectations.

Orygen Digital, meanwhile, is on a mission to offer young people outstanding therapeutic care and experiences to dramatically improve the accessibility and impact of mental health care through technology. It’s working with both young people and clinicians to make all mental health services in this country digitally-enhanced and enabled by 2024.

Funding will be allocated over a two-year period, with Orygen Digital and ReachOut receiving $1m and $800K respectively. The Telstra Foundation is also offering $200K worth of in-kind support and access to data scientists and agile coaches to help reduce admin burden and to upskill, coach and support all of its partners during this period of uncertainty and beyond.

It’s exciting to see how innovative non-profits are harnessing technology to pivot and future-proof their service models to help more young people. We’re keen to shape both a strategic and compassionate response to youth mental health service delivery – from therapy to prevention – and one that can leave a lasting legacy well beyond this current crisis.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

Michelle Cherry
Tech4Good | Telstra Foundation |

National Reconciliation Week – supporting Indigenous communities

By Vanessa Hounsell June 3, 2020

Image: Big hART

Today marks the final day of National Reconciliation Week, a time to celebrate what has been achieved through Australia’s continuing journey towards reconciliation. There is a lot more to do and Telstra is determined to play a role in creating a fairer, more equal Australia.

The theme for #NRW2020 – In this together – is resonating in ways we could not have foreseen when it was announced last year. It reminds us, whether in a crisis or in reconciliation, we are all #InThisTogether.

Much like Telstra’s purpose, our vision for reconciliation is an inclusive Australia where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are connected and empowered to thrive. To help us realise this vision our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)  pledges to develop respectful relationships and create meaningful opportunities with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  

In recognition of National Reconciliation Week, we want to share some of the programs we support to help achieve our vision and foster stronger relationships between the Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples 

Extending our partnership with CareerTrackers

Career Trackers

Since 2015 we’ve partnered with CareerTrackers – a national not-for-profit organisation that aims to create paid, multi-year internship opportunities for Indigenous university students in Australia. During this time we’ve hosted 48 interns as part of our Summer Vacation program, with some going on to take part in our Telstra Graduate program 

We will now extend this partnership for the next 10 years and guarantee an intake of 20 students each year to help improve the participation of Indigenous Australians in the workforce and develop future technology talent.  

Deadly Digital Communities  

This program provides community-based digital literacy in remote and regional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Queensland. As more and more services and daily interactions move online, the ability to use digital technologies is increasingly critical to unlocking vital health, social and financial benefits – especially for people in regional and remote locations. Deadly Digital Communities is an initiative of the State Library of Queensland and Telstra in partnership with Indigenous Knowledge Centres and local councils. 

Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX)

IDX Virtual Gathering - Aunty Beryl

Co-founded and designed by the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) and the Telstra Foundation in 2013, IDX unlocks digital opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people. IDX currently works with more than 30 Indigenous remote and regional communities across Australia.  

Due to COVID-19, the Annual Champion Camp at NCIE went online in May kicking off with a Smoking Ceremony and Welcome streamed live from the NCIE across all participating communities. The camp ran 15 sessions over five days with activities such as digital storytelling, 3D printing, coding and how to bring business ideas to life.

Big hART 

Big hART is Australia’s leading arts and social-change organisation that brings stories of injustice to mainstream attention through compelling content to drive change. With Telstra Foundation’s support, Big hART has been working closely with the Indigenous community in Roebourne, WA, to develop their NEO-Learning program – an engaging, future-focused education resource on Indigenous culture for primary schools across the country. Neo-Learning educational experiences were launched in early May, and the education team is currently delivering free lessons and digital drawing workshops via virtual classrooms and smart boards to schools across the nation. 

InDigiMOB 

inDigiMOB Zoom workshop

InDigiMOB is a pioneering digital inclusion project established by First Nations Media Australia and Telstra, which since 2016 has delivered hands-on training to more than 2,000 people through a series of workshops, mentoring, and culturally appropriate digital tools.  A recent project that was rolled out is ‘Indigemoji’  Australia’s first series of Aboriginal emojis, in partnership with the Alice Springs Public Library, the NT Government, CAYLUS and Ingeous Studios. 

Disconnect  

Disconnect podcast - RMIT University

This podcast series delivered by RMIT tells contemporary stories of how the internet is used in Aboriginal communities across the country. Disconnect is available on IndigiTUBE, YouTube, Spotify, iTunes and other podcasting apps. Each episode examines a unique aspect of internet use and its impact – good and bad, in Aboriginal communities.

On this journey towards reconciliation, Australians are all #InThisTogether  every one of us has a role to play as we collectively build relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories and cultures. 


National Reconciliation Week is book-ended by the same dates every year, 27 May and 3 June, to commemorate two historical milestones in the reconciliation journey – the successful 1967 Referendum to amend the Australian Constitution and the High Court’s Mabo decision.   

Telstra recognises and acknowledges the original and ancient connection Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have to the lands and waterways across the Australian continent. We pay respect to the past, present and future Traditional Custodians and Elders of this nation. 

Tunes in the Tulips - Tasmania
Regional |

Helping Australians learn digital skills this Get Online Week

By Caley Pearce October 15, 2019

We’re passionate about ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to participate in the digital world. Digital inclusion is improving, but there is still a long way to go – especially in regional areas around the country – and a lot that we can do to support people in need.

Our Telstra partner Big hART runs Project O to teach and empower young women with digital skills. In time for Get Online Week, we learned more about Big hART’s mission.

We caught up with Project O alumni Chey Denby at Tunes in the Tulips, an annual music event at Table Cape Tulip Farm in Wynyard, Tasmania which is produced by Project O young women. Chey is now a mentor of Project O, which empowers young women in disadvantaged communities to speak up, develop new digital skills and learn how to drive change in the world around them.

Image: Mel Kate Photography

Chey’s experience of Project O helped her learn more about the digital world, and gave her opportunities to create a website to help other young people better understand mental health and the challenges that come with our increasingly online lives.

“In 2017, we had an offer from TasTAFE to work with people attending Certificate III and IV in Community Service classes. They wanted our input on what would appeal to people our age and younger, and to lay out a mental health website. We went over and discussed everything – from what the layout should be, what information it should house and how it should be set out.”

“Part of my contribution to that was the name and logo – I came up with the idea of a tree with the leaves represented by bursts of colour, each with their own emotion. I learned from Big hART how to handle planning for the website, as well as how to find deep meaning in small things.”

Image: Mel Kate Photography

All the art for the Branching Out website was made by students at Hellyer College and Don College in Tasmania. “We sold the art at the launch of the website, and all the profits went to the artists.”

Chey’s time with Project O gave her a new perspective on the community around her. “My experience of Project O opened my eyes to what’s happening in the community, as well as giving me a lot more self-confidence – in myself and in what I do. That eventually led me to wanting to help others who are going through what I’ve experienced too.

“Project O made me realise how much of a caring nature I had; I thought I’d put that to good use and go into community service. I don’t think I would have had this career without Project O – I’d still be in my shell, but I broke out.”

Image: Mel Kate Photography

When we asked Chey how she would like to see other young people use the internet, she pointed to the importance of making it a positive experience: “[Seeing] fewer negative things. I don’t think young people should be seeing only negative things, they should be seeing positive things that brighten up their lives. With the way that technology is evolving, it’s crucial for the younger generations to learn digitally.”

Chey said that her time with Project O helped her become a more confident person. “Project O helped me to speak up for myself and for what I believe in. The biggest thing I learned was not to be afraid to speak out.”

Get Online Week runs from 14-20 October and aims to raise awareness of the issue of digital inclusion. Telstra is committed to driving greater digital inclusiveness across Australia and has a range of products, services and programs in place to ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate in the digital world.

Tech4Good | Telstra Foundation |

New tech to help homeless youth connect to services

By Jackie Coates August 6, 2019

In line with Homelessness Week – an annual awareness-raising week to highlight the 116,000 Australians who are homeless on any given night – Infoxchange announces the development of its new technology to help vulnerable Australians better connect to support and services.

Powered by the Telstra Foundation’s Tech4Good Challenge, Infoxchange is working to develop its award-winning mobile website, Ask Izzy, with the aim of providing a more conversational, personalised and supportive way to connect young people at risk of or experiencing homelessness to services.

Launched in 2016, Ask Izzy connects people in need with housing, meals, money help, family violence support, counselling and much more. It is free and anonymous, with over 370,000 services listed across Australia.

With the 2016 Census of Population and Housing revealing that nearly 60% of homeless people were aged under 35 years, Infoxchange is now working on the next evolution of Ask Izzy, to better help homeless youth connect to the services they need.

Originally pitched as a voice assistant, the next iteration of Ask Izzy is being developed based on insights, research and design testing, which found young people are more likely to use a chatbot. Through in-depth interviews and co-design workshops, Infoxchange is working closely with service providers and over 35 young people with lived experience of homelessness to co-design chatbot functionality that best meets the needs of homeless youth.

Set to roll out in March 2020, the chatbot is currently in testing and is the biggest change to the Ask Izzy platform since 2016. Through the chatbot functionality, Ask Izzy will better help connect people to the support they need while maintaining human connection and integrity for its users.

Telstra has been a long-standing supporting partner in the development of Ask Izzy and we’re thrilled to be part of the next phase of the journey with Infoxchange, to ensure we’re developing technology that will help disrupt the cycle of youth homelessness.

Ask Izzy is free to use on the Telstra mobile network, meaning that people don’t need to rely on credit or access to Wi-Fi in order to use the site.With more than 2.5 million searches on the site since it was first launched in 2016, Ask Izzy connects tens of thousands of people to the help they need every month.

Also just launched is the Telstra Top-up program, which provides a complimentary $30 recharge to those who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness and or/family violence. The program is available to specialist housing providers via Infoxchange across Australia and eligible services have already been sent an invitation to opt-in.

If you’re wondering what you can do to help, we are encouraging people to make a $15 donation to purchase an Ask Izzy mobile power card. Up to four hours of power can be just enough to find a meal, health services, a blanket or even a bed for the night. The cards are rechargeable and will be distributed through homeless service providers around the country.

Technology For Kids | Telstra Foundation |

IDX Flint inspires the next generation of digital makers

By Grant Cameron July 31, 2019

Dhimurru Rangers in northeast Arnhem Land are looking to the sky to monitor land and wildlife alongside Yolngu young people, thanks to specialised tech training provided by the Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX) Flint program.

The IDX Flint team met the rangers during a visit to Yirrkala, a small Aboriginal community approximately 700km east of Darwin.

Working in collaboration with Yirrkala Bilingual School, the IDX’s Flint team provided specialised tech training to Yolngu young people and local facilitators including elders, teachers and rangers using drones, robotics and virtual reality. The aim was to add a technology element to broaden existing community programs.

The IDX Flint team trained local facilitators to champion the Flint program in the community. The group included members of the Dhimurru Rangers, as well as teachers and staff from Yirrkala Bilingual School.

The visit to Arnhem Land was a first for IDX Facilitator Abigail David.

“I’ve never been to Arnhem Land before and I was really excited to work with the Dhimurru Rangers and students from Yirrkala,” Abigail said.

Before IDX’s visit, the Flint team worked closely with the Yirrkala Bilingual School to co-design the tech workshops to ensure they met the needs and aspirations of the community. The workshops held over five days included robotics, coding, drone basics, virtual reality and gaming.

“It’s really about the community owning Flint, so they can continue to drive the use of the technology when we leave,” Abigail said.

Caring for Country

Each year Yirrkala Bilingual School work closely with the Dhimurru Rangers to deliver a ‘Caring for Country’ program for students.

Students spend time out on country with Traditional Owners, rangers and teachers to learn maths and other subjects. They map and measure everything from rubbish to turtle numbers.

With the introduction of the Flint program, the group now hope to use the technology as part of the learning experiences.

Tech future for Yirrkala

Senior teacher at Yirrkala, Daniel Yore said that the introduction of Flint into existing curriculum is a great opportunity to connect and explore the potential of these new technologies.

Robots will become a regular feature in the classroom at Yirrkala Bilingual School thanks to the IDX Flint Program, a joint initiative of the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence and the Telstra Foundation.

“The kids just had an absolute ball,” Daniel said.

Daniel explained that it’s not often that the small community of Yirrkala is the recipient of such programs like Flint and said he really can’t wait to see where the technology takes them in years to come.

“It was such a privilege working with the IDX Flint team. [The] guys are such a professional and passionate outfit and an absolute credit to the organisation represented. We sincerely look forward to having [the team] back up here in Arnhem Land soon,” Daniel said.

As part of the program, each Flint site receives a tailored kit of equipment and educational resources of their choice, to the value of $10,000. The Yirrkala mob have selected a drone and the Lego Mindstorm EV3 starter pack for up to 8 students as part of their kit.