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Reshaping Digital Innovation for Indigenous Communities

24 April 2017 at 3:52 pm
Wendy Williams
Australia’s first Indigenous-led digital social impact initiative is being launched to empower disconnected and disadvantaged communities and ensure people “don’t get left behind” in the new digital economy.

Wendy Williams | 24 April 2017 at 3:52 pm


Reshaping Digital Innovation for Indigenous Communities
24 April 2017 at 3:52 pm

Australia’s first Indigenous-led digital social impact initiative is being launched to empower disconnected and disadvantaged communities and ensure people “don’t get left behind” in the new digital economy.

D:HIVE, which is being launched on 3 May in Cairns, aims to bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, refugees, new migrants and people with disability together in a co-creation digital hub.

The venture, which is 100 per cent Indigenous owned, will work with individuals, groups and communities throughout Far North Queensland to help them turn their innovation ideas into collaborative startup enterprises.

Co-founder Leigh Harris told Pro Bono News marginalised communities were missing out on the economic and social opportunities offered by the new economy.

“Diversity in technology in digital arenas and in start-up isn’t as diverse as it should be,” Harris said.

“D:HIVE is basically about bringing Torres Strait islanders, refugees, new migrants and people with disabilities together to formulate a tech inclusive, digital innovation space what I call a digital social impact venture.

“[It] basically means that we bring people in that might not have the connectability that other people have, so disadvantaged groups realistically and minority groups, and we bring them into a space where they can learn about the digital environment and about technology, but also about how to optimise that for their own development opportunity.

“So developing businesses, whether it be home-based businesses or getting a group together, but collaboratively doing that in a start-up ecosystem I suppose.”

Harris, who also developed Australia’s first Indigenous mobile app in 2006, first conceived of the hub six years ago.

He has since partnered with Julie-Ann Lambourne, who runs enVizion, a not-for-profit employment and training agency for minority groups in Cairns, to help it take shape.

“[Lambourne] actually had the clientele already, so she does work programs and training for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, new migrants, refugees, and people with disability. So it seemed to be a good match,” Harris said.

He said D:HIVE, which will be located at enVizion, was unique.

“I don’t think anyone’s constructed this anywhere else in Australia, and we’re getting attention from international people wanting to actively be involved with this, people from Silicon Valley that are really seeing that this is a bit of a shining light here in Australia,” he said.

He said the project was about being connected.

“Realistically for people all they have to do is come in and be a part of it, basically. They don’t have to sign up, it’s a co-working environment, so if you turn up there, you’ll be entered into the program, and you can participate actively with learning and building your digital literacy,” he said.

“[It is] also about being connected in a space… even though the government will say ‘everybody’s connected’, some people still can’t afford to be connected at home, they’ve only got connection on their mobile device.

“So we’re going to facilitate a process where you can come and be connected, you can improve your digital literacy skills. And once you’re at a stage where you’ve got that level of understanding about the environment that is digital and technology, then we’ll engage a group of people into building assets that are of benefit to the communities, as some sort of social impact. Whether that be, for instance, having a site that is a marketplace for goods produced by these particular groups of people, similar to something like etsy, you know in a unique fashion.

“The other stuff we’re working on is augmentation of audio for vision impaired people. I won’t go into the technical details of that but that’s another thing that will impact upon people who are vision impaired but also for people that are new migrants being able to translate stuff quite easily via augmentation of audio into their own language. It’s like Pokémon Go but with some sort of beneficial impact.”

Harris said while D:HIVE was oriented towards certain groups in regional and remote areas, it was a place for anyone of social and digital disadvantage.

“We want to engage with people to improve their literacy, number one. Number two, well I suppose one and two, is literacy and connectability. You improve that first of all and then build their skills up into that environment that is start-up,” he said.

“We want to do that as a constructive group of people, so getting those groups of people together that aren’t connected, and are disadvantaged, and that could be a non-Indigenous person that walks in the door and says: ‘Well I don’t know about my computer, I haven’t got enough to afford a computer at home, or connectivity at home.’

“They can come into the loop, we’re not excluding anybody. But the main priority is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the particular groups that I mentioned before.”

Harris said innovation was critical to regional development but it was important to be more innovative in ensuring the benefits of the digital economy did not pass by those who were already missing out.

“I worked throughout Cape York, in remote communities in the Torres Strait, and also out west of there, and affordability is an issue but the simplicity of having connection in some places isn’t there,” he said.

“There needs to be a constructive effort to improve that affordability ratio for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. But everybody on the whole.

“The internet was developed like free-to-air TV, in that everybody had access to it and was able to access it. It turned into this huge monopoly of money making, where there are these people who have got connection and these people haven’t, and once you haven’t got it, you lose opportunity, you lose connectivity with people.

“There needs to be a constructive effort, as I said, to connect everybody in an affordable way.”

He said improving literacy levels was also a priority.

“I go to some communities where they are connected, and most people have a mobile device which they’re connected to. The danger is that into the future, cyber security and all those types of things, particular for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities, is going to be a very, very big problem if people aren’t literate in the usage of their device and what they’re doing with it,” he said.

“So those things are really important and that’s purely why we’ve built the construct of D:HIVE and that’s to build it up into a level where we’re going out to remote communities and teaching people how to be literate in the use of their devices, and being secure in what they’re doing online.”

Lambourne said they wanted to ensure that Australia’s most disadvantaged groups were part of an innovation and digital eco-system

“We don’t want people to get left behind,” Lambourne said.

“Imagine the potential talent we may be missing out on if Indigenous people, new migrants and those with disabilities are excluded from participating and contributing to the growth of the digital economy.

“In the National Year of Digital Inclusion, the challenge is to imagine a more inclusive digital future for everyone, including regional and remote communities.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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