The Be Connected Network stretches all the way across Australia, including a number of Network Partners in Tasmania. There’s currently over 2,000 members who are all committed to supporting people over the age of 50 to learn the benefits of life online. Partners are varied as they are in the Online Centres Network, including libraries, community centres and organisations like the popular Mens Sheds, and all organisations are entitled to apply for an Activation Grant of $2,000 to help them get the program up and running. From there more funding opportunities open as part of the $20 million grants program from the Australian Government.
Although at opposite ends of the world, both Networks are supported by Good Things Foundation, meaning there’s quite a few similarities. Like in the UK, the Online Centres Network is made up of all shapes and sizes of organisations. It’s the same in Australia too, from ‘one man band’ volunteers to larger more corporate organisations, the Network is extremely varied. The passion these organisations have for helping people overcome barriers to being online is also identical.
However, the most apparent difference to me was the considerations the team have to make when supporting a Network spread out across such a large country. As Sydney is based on the east coast, you can’t really call Network Partners on the west coast until at least midday, as they’re three hours behind. That’s something you need to keep in mind on a daily basis when making outbound calls. Also, some Network Partners are in such remote locations it’s highly unlikely that the team would visit them. One example would be ‘MacDonnell Regional Council - Docker River’, based in Kaltukatjara, Northern Territory. Even by flight, it takes around five hours to travel the full length of Australia.
In my second week I went along with Cassandra, National Partnerships Manager, to visit the Ethnic Communities Council New South Wales. This organisation, based in Waterloo, are one of thirty seven Be Connected Capacity Builders. That means they’re funded to support other organisations to provide digital skills provision. I had the pleasure of meeting Mariette, their project manager, who told me they’d helped over 200 learners. What was even more impressive was that these learners speak up to ten different languages. To be able to provide this type of support they have Digital Mentors who speak the native languages of the people in the communities they reach.
Before I knew it the time had come to head back home. I had a fantastic time at Good Things Foundation Australia speaking with and visiting many organisations. One of the main aims of my trip was to share the experience I’ve gleaned from working with the Network in the UK. The important thing now is to ensure that all of the nuggets of best practice I’ve learned from the team in Sydney are shared with my colleagues back home.
It’s goodbye for now, but I’ve every intention of visiting this spectacular part of the world again sometime soon. I’m enthusiastic about the future of the Be Connected Network in Australia - with such a dedicated team in Sydney and so many fantastic Network Partners like Mariette, the Australian branch of Good Things Foundation is bound to go from strength to strength.