In a world-first, a small team of Indigenous engineers and IT specialists at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) have launched an app solely dedicated to connecting Indigenous people, their families, and their mobs.
Aimed at enhancing social and health outcomes for First Australians, the 'This My Mob' app was envisioned as a “one-stop shop” to facilitate interactions between users, their mobs, Elders and appropriate government and industry organisations.
How does it work?
Creator and Noongar engineer Professor Chris Lawrence told NITV News the app has two integral elements.
The first element focuses on social connection, providing a safe place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people online.
"This is where people can keep in touch with their extended family and extended mob. They can share information, meet new people and notify others of events going on in their community," he explained.
Prof Lawrence also says he hopes the app also becomes a meeting place to discuss land rights, enabling Indigenous people to "use a modern platform to talk about an age-old issue".
“Having a sense of digital land rights is so important for our mob. This app will keep people in the know and able to safely and privately talk about the issue,” he said.
In addition, the app includes an ‘Elders feature’, for users to contact Elders for advice or support.
“A person may not have their Elders anymore, so we’re creating a substitute mob for people who can be Elders for others around the mob,” Prof Lawrence said.
Prof Lawrence also explained the app could potentially open up economic opportunities, as people could use it as a platform to promote their communities for tourism, their music for gigs, or their artwork for sale.
The second part of the app is a digital portal that connects Indigenous users with government, industry and organisational information. Prof Lawrence hopes this feature helps Indigenous users overcome some of the barriers impeding access to important services.
A 'safe place' for kids to connect
Amy Woods, the first Indigenous woman to study an honours degree in IT at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), has been one of the core team members working on developing the app.
The Wiradjuri woman told NITV News providing a digital platform for young people to connect with their people is more important than ever in our rapidly evolving technological world.
“Kids are using their phones more and more, so the app is really important because they'll have a place to go when they need to talk to somebody or find services,” she said.
“It cuts out the middleman and connects kids with culturally relevant and culturally safe programs.”
Ms Woods said being digitally connected is the most important thing in many young people’s lives, but it often comes with consequences.
Online bullying, intimidation and scams are all risks in the online world, especially for young people, but Ms Woods says This My Mob will help combat these issues.
“It's giving Indigenous people, especially young Indigenous people, a space to express their Indigeneity safely and without repercussion,” she said.
How did it come about?
While access to online communities and services is considered normal for most Australians, Prof Lawrence believes there is still a digital divide when it comes to Indigenous Australians.
He and his team from the Centre for Indigenous Technology Research and Development at UTS, began working on the app in 2015 with the aim to help close the gap and inspire the next generation of Indigenous technology developers, engineers and business entrepreneurs.
The project, funded through a nearly half a million dollar grant by the Australian Research Council, allowed the team to not only develop a comprehensive app, but to involve members of the wider community in its creation.
For the last two years, Chris and members of his team have been engaged in nation-wide consultations to make sure the app is inclusive and specific to each mob's needs.
Ngemba and Wankumurra man Michael Mieni, another IT honours student on the team, said actually going out to communities and employing their input has been integral to creating the app.
“The response has been quite amazing. Whenever we’ve been out to communities there's always been a sigh of relief,” he said.
“People say to us, 'we've [been] waiting for something like this!’,” he added.
“We’ve just been taking butchers' paper and markers out there and drawing up plans.
“Then we bring it back to Sydney, and translate it into coding and programming.”
The team are planning to travel to Lombadina, the Tiwi Islands and Portland next week, to help launch the app.
The app is still in its prototype stages, which means there will be amendments and improvements over the next few months, but will be free to download as of the end of the week.
Prof Lawrence said this is only the beginning. He has plans to take the app overseas to Indigenous communities worldwide.
“We hope to connect with the worlds' Indigenous people and give everybody an opportunity to have a safe platform to be proud of who they are as an Indigenous person,” he concluded.