Wednesday morning saw a bunch of industry folk crammed into Snapchat’s stunning Sydney office for the latest UnLtd Big Chat breakfast.
The event saw three very different organisations talk about how they are using technology for good, and their stories were truly inspiring.
First up was Megan Gilmour, co-founder and chair of MissingSchool, which aims to return sick kids to education. Gilmour left her career in international and community development in 2010 when her 10-year-old son became critically ill.
As she witnessed her son’s painful and long separation from his friends and learning, she made a commitment to changing the way schools see their responsibility to kids facing serious illness.
Gilmour, along with MissingSchool co-founders Gina Meyers and Cathy Neil, first commissioned research into how big a problem this was in Australia.
With a research grant of $5,000, they discovered that there was an estimated 60,000 kids in Australia missing out on large blocks of school due to significant illness or injury (not including kids with mental health issues).
For some, hospital visits or time recovering at home mean weeks or months away from the classroom and their school friends.
Although the research conducted by MissingSchool attracted mass media attention, there was little action from the government.
Following overseas visits to find out what was working well abroad, one of the key resulting initiatives has been a telepresence robot pilot (pictured above) with funding from St George Foundation’s Inspire Grant.
This has placed telepresence robots in willing schools to demonstrate that a continuous two-way connection is possible between seriously sick children and their classrooms when they are absent.
The robots live in the regular classroom of students, are operated and moved in real-time by the student on their device from the remote location (home or hospital).
It allows the children to feel empowered with their independence. They can see their teachers, receive the same instruction as their peers, move around/between classrooms if allowed, socialise with friends and participate in as much of the schooldays as possible with their classmates.
You might expect a solution like this to be unaffordable for schools, yet Gilmour claims she can get source the robots for just $2,500 a pop. Their hope is that government and education funding will take over and roll this pilot out in every school.
Gilmour’s mission now is “to make ourselves redundant”.
“If we sustain the charity, we sustain the problem,” she said.
Next up were two young guns, Max Learmont (Ikon Communications) and Nolan Yu (OMD), who were awarded Gold at the 2017 MFA Awards in the NGEN category.
The win came for their response to a brief from Australian charity Hear For You, that helps deaf or hard of hearing (DOHH) teens overcome barriers to reaching their full potential.
There are 9,000 DOHH teenagers in Australia and many still face a range of challenges in reaching their potential in life, love, career and work.
Ninety per cent have never met another DOHH teen so can feel very alone. Hear For You runs mentoring programs and workshops for this community.
David Brady, CEO of Hear For You, explained that he had briefed the NGEN contestants on their goal to grow the number of teenagers they reached and help them connect with each other and find out about the programmes Hear For You run.
Learmont and Yu discovered a key insight: 90 per cent of DOHH teens were into gaming, and that MineCraft in particular was a great equaliser among teens.
In the real world, DOHH young people are permanently aware of their disability, whereas in MineCraft, there is no perceived burden of being hard of hearing. Gaming allows all teens to remain anonymous, communicate via text and reach like-minded communities at scale.
This led them to come up with ‘The League of Hearoes’. The idea is a secret gaming world where hard of hearing teens can connect across Australia, with in-game mentoring opportunities.
The game is in testing stages with just 25 active Facebook users – well short of the goal of 250 – but it’s still early days and will be interesting to see how this develops.
The idea is that there is also opportunities for brands like Cochlear to tap into the community which would help raise fundraising for the organisation.
Sam Adams-Nye, who heads up partnerships for Folo, wrapped proceedings up.
Folo is part of The Pure Collective, an ecosystem comprising “profit for purpose” social businesses. The collective is guided by Anna Lappe’s principle: “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.”
GroupM’s lobby level cafe Symbol is part of The Pure Collective where after purchasing your coffee, you vote with bouncy balls where you’d like the profits of the business to go.
Folo is run on a similar principle, except it uses technology to raise funds for charities at scale. It is a free extension for computer browsers that enables anyone to generate donations for causes they care about, just by shopping online.