Mobilising altruism: Connecting Indonesian youth with disabilities to volunteer mentors

Monash Faculty of Information Technology researchers Professor Patrick Olivier and Dr Misita Anwar are leading a project to connect Indonesian youth with disabilities to national and international mentors through everyday messaging technologies.

A participant who repairs mobile phones for work.

Co-funded by Monash University and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the project is exploring how services  like Whatsapp can be used to  connect  disabled young people to volunteer mentors in Indonesia as well as the Indonesian diaspora across Australia, to help access advice on challenges they face such employment and training.

Through the design, development and pilot deployment of this project, Professor Olivier and Dr Anwar aim to enhance the social capital of Indonesian youth with disabilities.

‘The purpose of using technology to connect Indonesian youth with volunteers is to build their social capital by providing them access to a pool of expertise far beyond their current circle of family and friends,’ said Professor Olivier.

‘Together with local organisations and mentors, we can help uncover the “hidden” potential of citizens with disabilities, deepen the public’s understanding of the challenges they face and enhance civic engagement.’

Volunteer mentors are recruited and coordinated by PerDik, an Indonesian not-for-profit that advocates for and supports disabled youth. Another project partner is also the Centre for Empowerment and Research which provides consulting and training to Indonesians in Australia.

Currently, there are about 22.5 million people in Indonesia living with impairments mostly related to vision, hearing and movement. They face significant barriers to social and economic participation due to prevailing antiquated perceptions and monolithic practices, leading to a lack of disability inclusion in policy development and implementation.

Due to their disabilities, they also often experience social stigma and discrimination that impact their mental wellbeing. What’s more, they tend to achieve lower educational outcomes and have limited access to economic opportunities, assistive devices and public services. For families, these debilitating conditions create greater financial and emotional stress.

‘By developing a micro-volunteering model that leverages mainstream communication technologies such as WhatsApp, we can make it easier to deliver personalised support to those who need it most. We can also give Indonesians in Australia more opportunities to help develop their home country,’ said Dr Anwar.

The project has been ongoing since 2020.