Strengthening community connections, the Visual Dreaming app is working to link young people and Elders to support individuals’ wellbeing.

Charles Sturt University (CSU) Innovation Hubs alumna and founder of Visual Dreaming, a First Nations female-led tech company, Leanne Sanders launched the app on Friday.

The launch was hosted by Professor Stan Grant Jnr, acclaimed journalist and CSU Vice-Chancellor’s Chair of Australian-Indigenous Belonging.

Sanders graduated the CSU Innovation Hubs Ready To Launch program in 2019, which helped her establish ideas around the app. Her motivation to create the platform came from her own personal experiences.

“We started the idea three years ago and it was really just seeing mob struggle through access to mental health services and NDIS,” Sanders said.

“I lost a cousin to suicide and my mum was navigating the NDIS at the same time … We wanted to create visual goal setting and communication for young ones to connect to Elders and knowledge holders to help build their connection to culture and spirituality.”

“I know that I wouldn’t get through my life, or through that much, without the love of my Elders, and imagine if all the young ones had that?”

The app allows the user to set goals, invite a support network Sanders calls a “dream team” and ensure the user is held accountable in a safe supportive space.

“You log on and you create your goals … we’ve been testing with young people and all the Elders,” she said.

“In the goals we have different headings … spiritual and physical wellbeing, cultural, social and emotional and personal skills. They can upload photos too, so they can visualise the possibilities.

“They can then invite their dream team in. It’s all driven by the user, who can invite someone through email or text message to see their goals.”

Sanders has tested the app in both juvenile justice systems and the out-of-home care system.

“I have family that when they were released from custody, they are just let out. They really struggled,” she said.

“But if young ones before they got out can set their goals and can have their dream team there supporting them prior to release, we could stop that disjoint.”

“We’ve been on the journey with the kids to make sure it works, particularly working with kids in care. Some are being placed in ridiculous amounts of placements, if they have their dream team, they can follow them, so they aren’t alone in care.”

Visual Dreaming has not been government funded, it’s a grassroots program that Sanders has kept going.

“We’ve never been government-funded, we’ve been knocked back each time. Everything we earn in Visual Dreaming, we’ve put back in … We got to value it, and community valued it more, knowing it was just us that did it, we didn’t have money handed to us to do it,” she said.

“When you get knocked back, you get upset because you think you’re never going to get there but when you finally do it makes you value what you did so much more.”

Sanders hopes the app can ensure young Aboriginal people have a connection to their culture and a community that supports them.

“All the kids have an identity, I think that’s such a big thing in spiritual wellbeing—knowing who they are and knowing they are valued and aren’t alone,” she said.

“My dream is that everyone in Australia honours and values our culture and our mob. That our incarceration rates go down, that we invest in solutions other than incarceration.”

“I want us to be valued in the way we should be valued, and people should honour and treasure us.”

Manager of the CSU Innovation Hubs, Annette Davies, noted her pride in Sanders.

“As a Charles Sturt University Innovations Hubs alumna and student, we’ve seen Leanne develop an extraordinary idea into a fully-fledged start-up that will connect Indigenous youth to enable them to reach their goals,” she said.

“It has been a real privilege to walk alongside Leanne as she’s brought her innovation to life and we’re so excited to see her future unfold.

“The launch event will be a great milestone in her journey as a founder.”

A hardworking woman, Sanders credits her success to the support of the community around her.

“I wouldn’t have done it without my amazing Elders though, I’ve nearly given up so many times. But all of a sudden, they all pop in for a coffee … I know I’m having an intervention! They always say, ‘Our mob need this so keep going!’”

By Rachael Knowles