Organisation: Hold Access
Innovation Program: Humanitech Lab
Collaborators: Northern Territory School of Distance Education, Northern Territory Community Controlled Services, NAB, Telstra, NBN, Salvation Army, and Northern Territory State Government departments, including Birth Deaths and Marriages and Motor Vehicle Registry.
Challenge: Digital identity and online documentation can be used to access healthcare, government services, employment, education, banking, and more. Yet in some communities, up to 90 per cent of First Nations Australians do not hold emails or electronic documentation, creating barriers to accessing opportunities and assistance.
Technology: Hold Access is a First Nations-led company developing a digital wallet, called WUNA, to empower First Nations Australians and undocumented people to hold, access and share their digital identity and verified documents.
Validation: To assess the suitability of WUNA for young people transitioning between school and employment, Hold Access validated its technology with First Nations students and educators in the Northern Territory.
Feedback: Users described the digital platform as unique, easy to use, and valuable in accessing their documents to apply for jobs and learning opportunities. They also noted that it was also extremely important for holding proof of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage.
Jason is a Kalkatungu and Waanyi man of the Kalkatungu and Waanyi Nations of Northwest Queensland and the Gulf Country and has experienced firsthand how issues with digital identity can provide difficulties in accessing opportunities.
“Today’s digital revolution is leaving First Nations Australians behind,” Jason Davis, CEO of Hold Access
What is digital identity?
Digital identity documents hold power. It is how an individual is represented online, and can include a birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, employment history, educational certificates, verified documents, and credit scores – to name a few. Once somebody has verified who they are, it unlocks access to online services, such as banking, government, healthcare, insurance, and education.
With a range of businesses and government organisations moving to online-first forms of access, it’s becoming vital for people to use digital identification and documentation to access services. Often this is done by using mobile phone apps, such as myGov or banking apps, or accessing platforms and documents via email.
While digital identity can open up a world of possibilities for many, there is a significant issue that must be urgently addressed: the issue of digital exclusion.
How the digital divide is impacting First Nations Australians
Digital exclusion occurs when a section of the population has unequal access to use digital technologies that are essential to fully participate in society.
While there is the expectation that digital identity is being developed and used in a way that is unbiased, current approaches are not suitable for many First Nations Australians.
“Many Indigenous people in remote communities live very different lifestyles to non-Indigenous people, and current approaches to digital identity do not reflect that,” said Jason.
“For instance, we use our phones differently to non-Aboriginal people, passing them around from one person to the next to the next. When services require an app to be downloaded that’s attached to a single person, it just doesn’t work,” said Jason.
First Nations people also have a different relationship with email, Jason adds. Many do not use an email account and, if they do, will regularly create new email accounts – making it difficult for services to keep in touch with First Nations people and opportunities lost as a result.
“There’s also an additional consideration that is a blind spot in existing approaches to digital identity, which is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s identity is centred on our connection to Country,” said Jason.
Under current approaches, demonstrating proof of Aboriginality certification is problematic, lengthy, and inconsistently verified.
Unresolved proof of Aboriginality can lead to barriers in accessing a range of areas where Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage is mandated, such as First Nations scholarships, traineeships, and apprenticeships; registering as an Indigenous business; applying for roles that are an identified position; negotiating Native Title; permits to access traditional lands for ceremonies, and more.
Jason has been leading an innovative approach to close the gap on First Nations Australian’s digital identity through his company, Hold Access. It’s a First Nations-led company developing a digital platform called WUNA, which means to make informed choices independently. WUNA is designed to empower First Nations people and digitally excluded people to hold, access and share their digital identity and verified documents instantly, from any location.
“WUNA is a digitally adapted, modern-day identity message stick. Its strength is in offering users an opportunity for digital self-determination with identity and verified certification,” Jason said.
The platform comprises two parts – a web-based digital app and a physical card - that allows people to share their digital identity, verified certificates, online documentation, family lines, and cultural heritage in a way that considers the identification that is uniquely important to its users.
To validate WUNA and whether the platform is suitable for young people transitioning from education, Hold Access launched a project through the Humanitech Lab - an innovation program led by Australian Red Cross in collaboration with founding partner Telstra Foundation.
It focused on the needs of students moving between school, vocational education and training (VET), university, and employment.
This transition was identified as a particularly important opportunity to establish digital identity, as students begin to access important documents - such as qualifications and school certificates - that can unlock future opportunities. The project involved collaborating with the Northern Territory School of Distance Education that offers distance schooling to regional and remote students in the Northern Territory.
“Kids learn remotely and sometimes fly in and out of boarding school. We wanted to see if we could support them in creating a digital trail, like footprints, so that they can easily access their digital identity documentation, even if they forget things and leave them behind,” continued Jason.
The project focused on working with education staff to understand their perspective and requirements, as well as students studying at VET and university institutions to gain a broader understanding from students in transition.
“If I had this, I wouldn’t need to carry all these papers in [my] backpack to the MVR [Motor Vehicle Registry NT] which was still not enough to register my car.” Indigenous university student
“Yes! [Students] need to know what this data is before the year ends and how/when they might need to share it.” School educator
“How deadly is this, all my stuff is in place much easier for me to have it.” Year 11 student
“So simple but needed this is amazing can help a lot of our mob” – Indigenous year 11 student
“My Aboriginality identification is as important as my family.” Indigenous university student
“That’s deadly, I can get a job with a resume all in here as well.” Indigenous year 11 student
To support the roll out of the project, Jason worked with a number of collaborators to address pain points that arose during the project to deliver impact.
He also utilised Humanitech’s Humanity First principles – a prototype in development to guide the development of ethical technology.
“It’s important to me that technology is built on a foundation of human rights. It’s been fantastic to use the Humanity First prototype with Humanitech and Red Cross to explore how we might actually do this,” Mr Davis said.
The validation testing confirmed that WUNA was a suitable, wanted and needed platform by students and teachers navigating an important transition in a young person’s life.
Following the completion of the project, the principal of the Northern Territory School of Distance Education has developed a curriculum for students as a ‘life skills’ subject and will use WUNA as the tool for measuring students’ learning outcomes.
Jason will now begin a pilot project with Australian Red Cross to test the platform through the Red Cross Port Lincoln Youth Development Hub to share digital identification and verified documents with potential employers.
Hold Access will pilot its solution with Red Cross through the Humanitech Lab in 2023.