Case study: Inspire

by Kine Nordstokka on Wed, 2010-12-01 12:31
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Name: Inspire
Website: www.inspire.org
Location: Australia, USA and Ireland
Date Founded: 1996
Mission: Help young people lead happier lives
 

Background

Inspire Foundation is a collection of foundations operating in Australia, Ireland and the US. It was founded in Australia in 1996. Ten years later, in 2006 Inspire Australia started looking at the feasibility of taking its flagship programme reachout.com, a web-based mental health information and support service, to other countries. Out of this Inspire USA Foundation were developed, launching reachout.com USA. In the midst of developing its North American branch, Inspire developed strong relationships with many groups in Ireland, and came across a group called the One Foundation. After a feasibility study in Ireland, One Foundation started investing in bringing reachout.com to Ireland which was finally launched in November 2010.

The Innovation

Youth involvement is fundamental to the way Inspire works. Two young people sit on its board, all staff is interviewed by young people and it offers internship programmes where young people in universities work with them.  The young people feel that Inspire is their organisation and they are consulted and included in every step of the process. For example, inherent in reachout.com, is an engagement of young people in deciding the goals and outcomes of the programme. This is a controversial idea in health, where historically Western medicine has been built around expertise, with doctors and mental health psychiatrists at the top of the pecking order.

Key Ingredients

Inspire has a number of different programmes. Reachout.com is a web-based mental health information and support service for young people. This programme has changed the way that one can distribute information around young people's health and allows young people to get access to support anonymously at scale. Reachout.com has awareness of 1 in 2 in Australia and is accessed around 125,000 times by about 50,000 people per month. The biggest shift reachout.com introduces is how young people have the potential to engage with what used to be called the official health system. For example when looking at the statistics, after visiting reachout.com 38% of its users report going on to seek some form of help for their mental problems.

The majority use reachout.com to access information. However, Inspire has also build community around that information. People come in for the first time looking for information, but what keeps young people there is the community where they can respond to each other and read the stories of how other young people have gotten through tough times.

Another programme which Inspire is running in Australia is Act Now, a specific programme set up around civic engagement, and how to use technology around civic engagement. It consists of a number of projects which actively engage young people to take leadership positions. One of these projects is 'Cash for Comments' where Inspire train young people to write editorial and opinion pieces.

Inspire also has a leadership programme for youth who want to develop leadership skills and make a difference in their community. For example, the youth who want to get involved in mental care get invited onto a youth advisory board. The board has somewhere between 14 and 18 young people and they are involved for three months. At the end of the three months they then have the opportunity to become youth ambassadors. At any given time, Inspire has between 100 and 150 youth ambassadors. The training they get as youth ambassadors is to go beyond advising and do leadership training, such as media and sales training, which they then can use in fulfilling a specific function within the Inspire programmes. The young people then move on to a leadership mentoring programme which is the final stage of the programme.

Challenges

What used to be the main issue regarding access to ICT, the digital divide between marginalised and privileged youth, has been replaced by an educational divide. Most young people now have access to the internet and other ICTs, however there is a divide in how the young people engage with ICT. Marginalised young people also use ICT to show leadership, however they often do not use the tools in a way in which is likely to lead to good outcomes. There is usage of ICT that distributes information, that connects people, that keep people in touch, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the outcome is going to be a positive one. An example of this is using mobile phones to connect drug dealers.  The challenge for community organisations is to understand how technology can be used well, and then understand their particular community of interest, and put the two together.

Recommendations and lessons from practice

The government could offer a more efficient service for young people if it invested in NGOs who already have the expertise and long term vision for this service. Governments are changing and can not have the same long term vision as NGOs who specialise in the field. Therefore, much could be benefited if the government spent its money investing in already existing services instead of spending their money creating competing services.

Looking forward

It has been problematic for Inspire to reach out to boys with mental issues. Young men tend not to realise that they are going through a tough time and generally rely on someone else to tell them. Secondly, young men tend to learn less well through didactic environments. The third challenge is that young people are more likely to get involved to give opinions than to talk about themselves. Inspire is therefore doing research to find out how to design a service targeted at young men.

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