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SAP partners with The Smith Family in supporting disadvantaged young people in education throughout Australia, providing more than just digital expertise.

Tenile Bryce still feels nervous before going on stage and telling her story. Once she’s started, the 21-year-old student from Sydney explains to her audiences of up to 300 people that, as a child, she could hardly speak to her mom, let alone to children her age or strangers. “I had no self-confidence,” she says.

Now, Tenile has nearly finished her degree in archeology and environmental sciences – but that’s not all. She also travels the world, and has just completed an internship at SAP Corporate Affairs in Sydney. And on top of that, she gives presentations on behalf of the organization that helped her become a confident university student: The Smith Family.

The Smith Family is a charity that helps children from disadvantaged families across Australia to succeed at school. “We believe that getting a good education is the key to breaking the cycle of disadvantage,” says Wendy Field, head of Policy and Programs. “With a good education, children have better chances of finding a job and building a better future for themselves in a whole range of ways. They can lead a much healthier life. Education can make such a difference.”

That’s why The Smith Family, founded in 1922, has developed a suite of evidence based programs to give disadvantaged children a better start in life. The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program provides emotional, practical and financial support to help disadvantaged children and young people with their education. This program helps to build their skills, knowledge, motivation, self-belief and a network of positive relationships with parents, peers and significant others. This support increases a young person’s likelihood of remaining engaged with school, completing Year 12 and developing realistic and informed study and career pathways for life beyond the school gate.

More than one million children live in poverty

For 1.1 million Australian children and young people growing up in poverty can limit their choices, opportunities and outcomes in life.

Tenile’s younger sister was born with a severe disability, and as the family had to pay for medical examinations and treatments, it couldn’t afford much for the older sisters. That’s when The Smith Family came along. Thanks to the organization, Tenile could start speech therapy. “I also participated in different programs that helped build my confidence,” she says.

Families can run into financial trouble for many reasons. Children and young people living in poverty miss out on many of the things that are taken for granted by their more well-off peers. For example, they can’t go on school excursions or afford to buy school uniform, and they might even have to borrow school books from their friends. They know what it means to live in poverty and to not belong. “It would surprise people to hear that many disadvantaged families don’t have a computer or Internet connection at home,” says Wendy. “In our digital world, the outlook for these children is risky.”

SAP Australia has worked closely with The Smith Family since 2013, following a vote in which employees in Australia chose to work with the organization and the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation. SAP Australia is committed to giving young people insight into SAP and the technology industry. It also supports The Smith Family with programs designed to narrow the digital divide between disadvantaged young people and those from more advantaged backgrounds. Wendy praises SAP Global Corporate Affairs for having organized design thinking workshops in 2014. The workshops, and a social sabbatical two years later, helped establish and develop The Smith Family’s Digital Futures for Families and Students strategy. “It was an opportunity to train our own employees and learn about the necessary organizational and technical infrastructure,” says Wendy. “The managers and employees at SAP Australia were really supportive right from the start. They advised us and were totally committed to making a difference.”

Mentors and digital competitions

Since 2013, around 80 colleagues have mentored young people in grades 9 to 11 online through the iTrack program. Through this scheme, they have improved their mentee’s prospects, given them insight into working life, and encouraged them to study or pursue another path.

Tenile did her internship at SAP through the Cadetship to Career program, which gives selected students the opportunity to gain initial work experience at a company.

Two-day Work Inspiration events put young people in touch with company representatives so that they can find the right career path. Last year, SAP hosted these events in six different Australian cities; this year, it is organizing ten of them.

SAP and The Smith Family also work together on the Young ICT Explorers (YICTE) competition. First organized by SAP in 2010, the competition improves the digital literacy of children and young people across Australia. It is one of the leading competitions of its kind in Australia, and gives children in grades 3 to 12 the chance to showcase their IT projects to a panel of researchers and representatives from IT companies. The winning projects are selected at a national final. Some of the participants have since founded their own startups, others are now working at IT companies such as SAP. The Smith Family launched its Accelerator Program in 2016 to help students from partner schools in disadvantaged communities enter the competition. The program equips teachers at these schools with the necessary digital know-how, and provides financial support so that schools can purchase computers and learning materials.

Narrowing the digital divide

According to Wendy Field, 23 partner schools entered YICTE last year. One of them even made it into the final. “The feedback from students and teachers is extremely positive,” says Wendy. As a result, The Smith Family is planning on helping 40 schools enter this year. “YICTE and all the other programs are so important as they equip children and young people with the skills needed in our digital society,” explains Wendy.

Nobody denies there is a digital divide in Australia. Only around two thirds of students aged 5 to 14 from Australia’s most disadvantaged communities have Internet access at home. These are primarily communities where high unemployment levels, low incomes, poor health outcomes and issues such as domestic violence are common. In advantaged and better-equipped communities, over 90% of families have an Internet connection at home. When announcing the collaboration with SAP on YICTE in October 2016, The Smith Family’s CEO, Dr. Lisa O’Brien, said: “It’s vital that disadvantaged students are supported to access the technology and training they need to fully participate in their education, and build the skills they need to successfully attain employment in an increasingly STEM focused workplace. Our intensified partnership with SAP Australia works towards narrowing the digital divide for the sake of future generations of disadvantaged students.”

Last year, over 120,000 children and young people benefitted from programs run by The Smith Family; almost 38,000 of them were, like Tenile, participants in the Learning for Life program.

Tenile has spent the last six months preparing conferences, writing articles, and taking photos for SAP. In addition to developing soft skills such as networking, she learned about “developing a personal and public digital profile, and reflecting on values and goals.” She isn’t sure where these new skills will take her. She just knows that she “wouldn’t have made it this far without The Smith Family and support from SAP.”

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