Mikaela Jade

Mikaela Jade

Bachelor of Science in Environmental Biology (2004)

Founder and CEO, Indigital

UTS Indigenous Australian Alumni Award 2018

In 1998, Cabrogal woman Mikaela Jade enrolled in a Bachelor of Science degree at UTS with dreams of becoming a park ranger. Now a tech entrepreneur, she connects Aboriginal communities with Microsoft executives and campaigns for digital equality, including representing Australia at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. It’s a different career to the one she envisioned, but Jade is determined to see Indigenous Australians included in the digital revolution.

“Our people already have a significant gap in education and I don’t want that gap to manifest itself in the digital economy,” she says. “If we don’t have an opportunity to learn tech skills now, before the internet arrives in communities, we’ll be left behind again.”

Jade completed the final year of her degree remotely while working as a ranger in far north Queensland (she sat her last exam in a tiny library on Cape York). Government roles followed, including a public-sector innovation position in Canberra, where she experienced augmented reality for the first time.

“Our people already have a significant gap in education and I don’t want that gap to manifest itself in the digital economy.”

“I thought, ‘Imagine if we could use this to share our people’s knowledge systems,’” she says. “I went out to tender twice to get development partners and I got told I was mad – people said stuff like, ‘Indigenous people don't use technology.’”

Determined to see her start-up succeed, Jade cold-called companies around the world. “I said, ‘I'm a girl in Australia, I have a $25,000 research grant and I want to build this app that tells Indigenous stories in remote communities that don’t have internet.’”

UK company Harmony Studios came on board and Jade moved to Kakadu in the Northern Territory to develop the augmented-reality app with local Elders. Called Digital Rangers, the app is designed for the tourist market; when a user points their smartphone at an activated site or artwork, an animation appears to explain its significance. The community receives 50 per cent of profits and retains rights to the data.

The next step, says Jade, is mixed reality. She’s partnered with Microsoft to utilise the company’s HoloLens headset technology. “It’s great because you put this device on your head but you’re still in the environment; you can see other people and interact with them – the same way we’ve shared culture forever.”

In September, with the support of Microsoft Philanthropies, Jade will launch a 12-month Digital Custodians course for 30 Indigenous women from Cape York, the Torres Strait, and the Kimberley. Jade will teach the women to develop content for the app and to create their own economic opportunities in the digital economy.

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