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Three non-profits improving young Australians’ health and wellbeing through technology

Tech4Good

Posted on September 4, 2018

6 min read

Give someone a fish, you feed them for a day – but teach them to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime. It’s an oldie but a goodie, and something we’ve been thinking a lot about in the context of digital innovation.

Earlier this year, with the help of digital education campus Academy Xi, we launched the Telstra Foundation Tech4Good Challenge – our interpretation of fishing.

We cast our net and gave 15 non-profits some seed funding and a unique, customised five month learning opportunity to develop a digital idea that at its heart, would improve social inclusion for young people.

Central to our thinking is our belief that charities, just like start-ups and social enterprises, have a place in Australia’s digital innovation ecosystem. The key is providing the tacklebox – access to the right tools and know-how that will enable more non-profits to successfully apply digital innovation principles to their work.

For our 15 non-profits, the Tech4Good Challenge provided lifelong learnings with many participants sharing that the experience fundamentally changed the way they work, and their approach to developing digital programs and services. Hook, line and sinker.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll share the stories of these inspiring 15 non-profits, who are now angling for one of five Telstra Foundation Tech4Good grants to build, test and evaluate their digital project over a two year period.

First to cast a line are eOrygen, Alannah & Madeline Foundation and CanTeen – three charities each working to improve the health and wellbeing of young people in Australia.

eOrygen

eOrygen is a new digital division within Orygen, which works to transform youth mental health care through science and technology.

Over half of all young people will experience a period of mental ill health, such as anxiety and depression, during their transition to adulthood. This has profound consequences for many young Australians – mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and death among our 15-24 year olds.

“We clearly need smarter ways of supporting young Australians experiencing mental ill-health. We’re currently relying on an age-old model of therapy that requires young people to come into an unfamiliar service to get help, and gives them little direct support to apply this help within their stressful daily lives,” says eOrygen program co-ordinator Tamsyn Gilbertson.

“We want to find a way to deliver support to young Australians in the places and moments they need it, so that they can recover and achieve their life goals.”

Through the Tech4Good challenge, the eOrygen team are developing a mobile app called Real, which is designed to transform therapy from a place young people go occasionally for support, to a 24/7 tool that proactively delivers real time help in the real life moment it’s needed.

Through an advanced mobile sensing system, Real will analyse the user’s patterns of activity including sleep, phone use and social contact to get to know them and their needs over time.

The app will also help to bridge the gap between therapy sessions and real life situations by reminding clients of the practical strategies they can use at home and in social situations to help enhance their well-being and relationships.

Alannah & Madeline Foundation

Alannah & Madeline Foundation is a national charity that works to protect children and young people from the effects of violence, bullying and cyber bullying.

“Technology is intuitive to kids aged zero to five, they love getting hands on and watching videos, taking photos – they’re digital natives. Through the Tech4Good challenge we want to empower carers of young children to make informed decisions now, so that their child has a balanced and safe relationship with technology for the future,” continues Kris.

Kris and her team discovered that parents want information they can trust, a resource that serves up practical information tailored to their parenting style and a user experience that allows them to go on the journey with their children.

“So many parents experience feelings of guilt and find it hard to strike the balance between helping their kids develop a positive relationship with technology which will set them up for the future, whilst protecting them from the potential risks of the online world,” said Kris.

“We want to remove that element of fear and give carers peace of mind that they know how to access appropriate content while helping their children to develop a healthy relationship with technology”.

Kris and her team are working to develop a digital platform where parents can create profiles for their kids, based on age and other factors, to receive practical tips and information in an easily digestible format in line with their parenting style.

“We believe it’s really important for parents and kids to go on the journey together, the last thing we want is for a child to be lumped with a 20 minute tutorial. The platform will offer curated games and activities, apps and advice to make the experience as interactive and shareable as possible,” said Kris.

CanTeen

In 2015, 16 year old ballerina Chelsea from Sydney was just one of 23,000 young Australians to have their world turned upside down with a cancer diagnosis.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Chelsea began treatment immediately and spent nearly a year in and out of hospital, often in isolation on a long and hard journey to overcome cancer which saw her lose her 20 kilograms, her hair, and most devastatingly, her friends.

“I didn’t know anyone my age who had cancer, it was really hard to talk to people about. I lost so many close friends because they didn’t know how to talk to me. Everything just changed so fast,” said Chelsea.

Through CanTeen Chelsea was able to connect with a community of young people who were facing similar challenges as either cancer patients themselves, or as the sibling or child of someone dealing with cancer.

CanTeen Digital Manager Paul Hannigan said he wanted to use the Tech4Good Challenge as an opportunity to tackle the feelings of vulnerability and disconnection young patients like Chelsea experience during periods of isolation.

“We’re developing the CanTeen Connect mobile app to provide a safe place for young people living with cancer to connect with each other 24/7, access our huge library of evidence-based information and resources, and engage in live counselling sessions via text and video,” said Paul.

“The app will also allow young people to create their own peer support groups and allow for direct messaging between new and existing friends, who can be found by location, age or gender.”

Young people looking for support will also be able to view a calendar of upcoming wellbeing programs including camps that are happening in their area.

“The layout and functionality of the app will be similar to social media platforms as we know that’s what young people choose to use, they just don’t like to talk about cancer on them,” said Paul.