In a hospital bed in a regional Australian town, a middle-aged man is watching TV on an iPad. Just days earlier he was confronting the corrosive impact of profound social isolation.
He had no-one around him, no job to occupy him, nothing to disrupt the thoughts that consumed him and led him to attempt to take his own life. Now, thanks to a new COVID-19-specific Digital Devices Grant delivered by Good Things Foundations Australia through its partnership with the Department of Social Services, the man has a piece of technology that helps to rebuild his connections to his community. It is a simple but effective use of the technology so many Australians take for granted.
Except, as Jess Wilson, national director of Good Things Foundation Australia points out, technology use is not as common as we might think: 2.5 million Australians or nine per cent of the population never use the internet. This lack of connectivity becomes a bigger problem during the current health crisis, when social distancing, lockdown and economic disruption amplifies many Australians’ lack of connectivity, that is often limited by a combination of affordability and accessibility.
“Over the last two months, COVID-19 has changed the way the world works, and it has highlighted the essential need for digital inclusion like no other time in the previous ten years,’’ Jess says. “Without the access to affordable technology and the skills and confidence to use it, people can become shut off from community, vital information and support.’’
MiOK Health and Wellbeing app
Technology has become one of the distinguishing features of the pandemic crisis, whether it’s the Federal government’s COVID-19 app or the proliferation of Zoom meetings. But opportunity is technology’s touchstone and a range of Australian organisations have decided that the Not For Profits and charities at the pandemic’s coalface should have unfettered access to some of their technology products to help them navigate the crisis
The offerings go both ways – to provide digital support for NFP staff to not only do their job but also to look after themselves while they’re doing it.
At global professional services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers’s Australian operation, Jane Edwards has been rolling out a free digital fitness app (DFA) that provides NFPs with a framework for assessing their “digital fitness’’ and includes exercises that can improve that digital fitness score. It is a skills-based approach that individuals can undertake and work through in their own time. The DFA is part of a purpose-led global innovation called New World, New Skills, reaching across the firm’s international network and designed to bridge the digital divide.
Jane, PwC Australia’s Social Impact Director, initially shared the DFA with a network of 1500 NFPs in Australia a few weeks ago and encouraged those targeted individuals to share it more widely. It is still being shared with the sector.
“The benefit of the DFA is that by uplifting the digital fitness of individuals, organisational fitness and the sector’s overall upskilling is improved,’’ Jane says.
“The rapid shift to digital during the COVID crisis has highlighted the need for basic digital literacy and inclusion in a way never seen before. The challenge and the opportunity for the sector is how to accelerate their adoption of digital.’’
Candy D’Menzie, senior health consultant at Australian-owned global business and consulting company DB Results, is also offering an app free to local NFPs, but which gives a detailed analysis of individual staff well-being.
Jess Wilson, National Director of Good Things Foundation Australia
The MiOK app was originally developed as part of DB Results’ philanthropic response to the bushfires, but with some additional tweaks – including a swift five-day turnaround to add in the body temperature monitoring function to the app – it can now be used for the pandemic.
“Our overarching goal was to come up with something holistic that would encourage individuals to monitor their well-being in stressful times,’’ Candy explains.
The app contains a mood tracker with resources to promote self-awareness, empowerment and self-management. The timeline feature can be customized but includes appointment dates (medical or otherwise), life events, results and treatments particularly relevant at these times. There is also a list of health and well-being indicators that staff members can track, including body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, weight, BMI, sleep, water and alcohol intake and blood glucose.
The app’s relevance, however, is not likely to be confined to the current circumstance. “Experience of previous crisis events tells us that sadly, the emotional impacts affecting our wellbeing will most likely continue up to two years or more post the event,’’ Candy says.
Just how integral technology has been to broader social engagement across the country is underlined by the pandemic’s impact on closing most of the venues where that engagement, especially for older Australians, took place: libraries, community centres, and men’s sheds all shut their doors. As Jess Wilson sees it, the digital engagement at these venues also represented an opportunity for personal engagement.
“It’s not just about technology – it’s about using it as a way of creating connections,’’ she says.
The Federal government funds Good Things Foundations Australia to deliver the Be Connected digital literacy program for older Australians through more than 3000 community organisations across the country. But the Foundation’s network partners who would normally deliver programs face-to-face found that severely restricted in the COVID-19 period, with significant consequences. For 75 per cent of providers, a lack of devices – phone, tablet or iPad – for people in their community was a critical barrier to keeping contact with others.
And although some of the community facilities are slowly re-opening, there is still a need to keep promoting the value of technology and developing digital literacy.
“During this time, we've seen amazing and creative responses across the country to keeping people connected,’’ Jess said. “Beyond COVID-19 we need to continue to capacity build the community sector because by building digital into their everyday support of people, we can start to bridge the digital divide.’’
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