Telstra Foundation |

Backing First Nations-led approaches to AI tech for healthy country

By Jackie Coates September 27, 2021

Telstra Foundation’s Jackie Coates talked to Ricky Archer, CEO of the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA), and Lauren Ganley, Telstra’s Head of First Nations Strategy and Engagement, about the Healthy Country AI training initiative – a new partnership to bring leading edge technology to the bush. Telstra Foundation has contributed $1.7 million to the initiative.

This new NAILSMA collaboration has been described as a “coalition of the willing”, can you share some more about this $2.6 million partnership?

Ricky Archer: The Healthy Country AI Training Initiative brings together NAILSMA and CSIRO, in collaboration with Telstra Foundation, Microsoft, the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program (NESP) Resilient Landscapes Hub and the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship program.

NAILSMA, as the project lead, is working with Indigenous groups in Kakadu, Arnhem Land and Cape York and Australia’s national science agency CSIRO to co-design the program. It will train Indigenous rangers to use AI driven software, drones, and other digital technologies to monitor and adaptively manage their Country.

So while this is a coalition of different partners bringing their own unique offer to the table, what’s really pleasing is we’re all committed to First Nations-led and co-designed programs and we all want to see effective local models scaled nationally.

What are you hearing from local land and sea managers about using tech in their work?

I think it’s often overlooked that Indigenous-titled lands cover about four million square kilometres of traditional land and sea – over half of our land mass. That’s a lot of Country to look after and those that do this work are also facing into complex social and environmental challenges.

Our traditional lands are threatened by increasing levels of feral animals and invasive weeds, changing climate, mismanagement of Cultural and Natural resources, and pollution of waterways and oceans – so no shortage of challenges. So there’s definitely an appetite to explore new tools, new partnerships, and new approaches to drive solutions at scale.

The rangers have shared some great opportunities already where they’d like to use technology to help tackle these challenges in their work. For example, in Cape York, feral pigs are threatening the sea turtle population by eating their eggs. The Kalan rangers want to better monitor and track activity in the area to help manage the problem. Similarly, in Kakadu the Bininj rangers want to explore how tech could help them manage the para grass which is an invasive weed affecting the magpie geese’ native habitat.


NAILSMA’s Erica McCreedy training Kelsey Harrigan from Normanby Land Management using mapping data software collection.

They’ve also shared they are keen for digital skills training that is grounded in traditional knowledge to better support effective decision-making on Country.

We plan to roll-out the program steadily over the next two years in Northern Australia and we’ll review our progress as we go. The idea is to create a model for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rangers across the country to adopt, taking local programs to a national scale. We see this model as living framework, a system that can be adapted and improved to suit the needs of Traditional Owners and Indigenous land & sea management practitioners.

Lauren, you’re developing Telstra’s new First Nations strategy. How does the Healthy Country AI project align to this work?

Lauren Ganley: Improving digital inclusion and environmental action are two pillars of Telstra’s Responsible Business strategy which we’ve incorporated in much of Telstra’s First Nations work.

What I love about this program, is that it addresses both, with a First Nations’ lens: supporting First Nations peoples to learn new digital skills but also supporting the rangers to apply their digital skills to enhance land and sea management in the face of some pretty complex on Country challenges.

What do you think will make this digital skills programs successful?

The strength of this program is that it is First Nations led and co-designed with First Nations communities.

NAILSMA has strong local relationships and deep experience in empowering rangers with technology and best-practice approaches for land and sea management. In addition, the traditional knowledge of the five communities NAILSMA is working closely with will be embedded in the digital tools.

By design, it will reach beyond just environmental benefits – as it’s thinking through cultural and economic benefits for local communities and land management.

Ricky, if you were to sum up the vision for this program, what would it be?

RA: This is a story about connection – connecting First Nations traditional wisdom with customised 21st century tech. We know tech enabled land management, in the hands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, has the potential to not only enhance land and sea management across this country but also livelihoods.

Both NAILSMA & CSIRO will coordinate the on-ground digital training for the healthy Country monitoring program, which will be co-designed to suit local contexts and empower Indigenous rangers to build critical digital skills for future work on Country. For more information about Healthy Country AI Training initiative, visit Healthy Country AI.

Top image: Bininj Traditional Owner ladies in Kakadu National Park using an interactive data dashboard to explore changes coverage of weeds after management.

Telstra Foundation |

Inspiring kids to rethink agriculture and technology

By Nicola Curnow December 4, 2020

Did you know there are satellites that monitor crop growth from space? Or a tomato farm in the desert of South Australia that’s completely self-sufficient and sustainable?

The lucky kids from Murwillumbah heard all about these examples firsthand in a recent virtual session with National Farmers’ Federation President Fiona Simson.

The event comes off the back of the launch of Code Club Australia’s recent lessons focused on the importance of agriculture and technology. These six coding lessons aim to inspire primary school aged kids to rethink agriculture, as a vocational pathway and a way to build a sustainable future.

“Connecting kids with where their food and fibre comes from is so important. Through the new Code Club ag projects, thousands of students around the country will get a taste of Aussie agriculture. Hopefully we’ll see a new generation of ag innovators emerge from those classrooms!”

The Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) shows that there is still a significant gap when it comes to digital equality in this country. Regional students have been disproportionately affected by Covid and this will have an ongoing effect on their educational outcomes.

Code Club and the Telstra Foundation are committed to improving the inclusion rate of students in regional and remote areas of Australia. These lessons showcase perspectives and experiences of these students in the hope that they will further engage with tech skills and see the relevance and centrality of tech on the farm.

If you’re interested in getting coding at home these lessons (and more) can be found on the Code Club website.

Watch the video of our Virtual Club with National Farmers’ Federation President Fiona Simson here.

Interested in volunteering one hour a week to help kids learn to code? Head to the Code Club website to learn more.

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 #NRW2020In 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.