Working together across the seas

07 Nov 2019



By Jess Wilson, National Director Good Things Foundation Australia

Currently, Australia does not have a Digital Inclusion Blueprint, Strategy or Framework that allows all NFPs, government and corporate partners to work together towards the same goal. It is something that we at Good Things Foundation have been advocating for, alongside other key players like our colleagues at the Australia Digital Inclusion Alliance. So, the opportunity to hear about the progress of digital inclusion in our very close neighbour New Zealand was one that I just could not pass up. In many areas of social justice, our smaller neighbour is outclassing us and with such a progressive, kind and compassionate leader in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, surely this can only improve. I must admit, I am a total fangirl and it is my mission to meet her one day!

In New Zealand, the Department of Internal Affairs has been leading on the development and implementation of The Digital Inclusion Blueprint Te Mahere mo te Whakaurunga Matihiko. The Blueprint outlines New Zealand’s approach to ensuring all New Zealanders thrive in the digital world and highlights four key areas of work to support this:

  • Motivation - I understand the benefits of the internet and feel motivated to engage with the digital world
  • Access - I have access to affordable digital devices, services, software and content. Broadly broken into three key parts: connectivity, affordability and accessibility.
  • Skills - I have the skills and know-how to use the internet and technology in a way that benefits me
  • Trust - I know when to trust the online world to manage personal information and avoid online harm

The Blueprint was launched in July 2019 and this was the first forum that the New Zealand government held bringing together people from across the digital inclusion sector to consider collaborative approaches to achieving these goals.

There were three keynote presentations from strong New Zealand tech leaders who all happened to be women. What a treat to have an all-female lineup talking about tech! Go New Zealand!

Dr Michelle Dickenson highlighted her experiences growing up when engineering and technology was not something girls were encouraged to do, how she stumbled into a very impressive tech career with international companies and how now, her current focus is on ensuring all children, particularly girls and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, see a future for themselves in tech through her Nanogirl live shows. Check out her Ted talk where she talks about being her own superhero.

Hiria Te Rangi spoke from the heart about the experience of Maori communities and how the simple technology she is developing to monitor temperature and humidity can help save lives in New Zealand homes where over 1,600 people died from pneumonia last year alone. Through Whare Hauora, the social enterprise she leads, Hiria is focussed on ensuring that people/whanau are at the centre of all the work they do. They design affordable hardware that gives families control over the data it collects, rather than large corporations. They are trying to build trust in the use of this type of technology within the Maori community. Hiria is a young, passionate Maori woman and I was inspired by her work.

Lastly, Jolie Hodson, CEO of the telecommunications company Spark NZ, spoke about their attempt to provide affordable and pre-paid broadband to people on low incomes. Spark Jump packages provide people with 30GB of data for $10 prepaid and is distributed through local community organisations. With so much talk about Affordability being a barrier to digital inclusion here in Australia, I thought this was a great initiative to thinking about the availability of prepaid broadband packages. The rollout hasn’t been without learning and Spark NZ is working with community partners to ensure it meets the needs of the people who need it most.

One of the things I always notice in New Zealand is how the Maori culture and language is celebrated and is at the forefront of public events and it is an area that we in Australia need to continue to develop. In the International Year of Indigenous Languages, listening to every single speaker use Maori not only to introduce themselves but also throughout their presentations, was a real wake-up call for me. I know in Australia there are many Indigenous languages, but this experience showed me that beyond an Acknowledgement of Country and Elders, wherever I am I need to learn at least some of the local language.

Internet NZ roundtable

Meeting passionate people who are on the ground working within communities every day is one of my favourite parts of any conference. I had the opportunity to speak with these people during the breaks of the forum but also more in-depth at a roundtable hosted by Internet NZ the following day.

Internet NZ is the registry for .nz domain names and the operator of the .nz domain namespace. They conduct research, contribute to policy and fund projects that promote the Internet’s benefits and usage. We have been talking with our colleagues from Internet NZ for the last year or so about Good Things Foundation’s digital inclusion work, sharing our experience and knowledge from across the UK and Australia, so it was fantastic to be given the opportunity to do this in person with about 20 people from across corporate, government and not-for-profit spaces. I talked about our approach to ensuring that all people are digital able, safe and equal and we know from our evidence that this means people are healthier, happier and better off. We do this through our networked approach, working with passionate community leaders in thousands of communities to ensure individual impact at scale.

It was inspiring to meet people that are just as passionate about digital inclusion like Laurence Zwimpfer from Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa, Laurence Miller and Sue West from 20/20 Trust, and Victoria Maclennan, an entrepreneur and tech sector leader who leads Digital Future Aotearoa, amongst so many others working in their specific areas to improve digital inclusion. While New Zealand has a Digital Inclusion Blueprint, they haven’t had the investment from the New Zealand government like we have in Australia through a national program like Be Connected to address digital inclusion. So, while we are calling for a National Strategy to ensure we’re all working together, community organisations in New Zealand are calling for some coordinated investment from government. Clearly, both have their benefits!

I learned from this experience that while the context is different, the people who are digitally excluded in each country are very similar. Continuing to talk, work and learn with our New Zealand colleagues will only benefit both countries in our work to ensure no one is left behind in our digital world. So, Kia Ora to all that I met in my short and sweet visit. Thanks for making me feel so welcome and I look forward to continuing our work together across the seas.