It’s a charity that is changing young lives and fortunes and for Townsville-based Jack Growden, the Founder & CEO of LiteHaus International, it’s one that’s close to his heart.
“We are really starting to get to know the digital divide across North Queensland and that has been scary, to be perfectly honest. In communities in our own backyard, there were schools where only two per cent of the secondary cohort had a digital device at home. And in many schools, less than 20 per cent had a digital device.”
Demand for digital assistance is enormous across Australia and also overseas. Last year, in order to launch the Australian arm of what started out as a PNG-oriented charity, Growden published one Facebook post seeking Queensland schools that needed digital devices. “Within 48 hours, we had 1400 applications for free digital devices from 45 schools north of Charters Towers up to Cape York.
“Which is a staggering number. I had to turn off my phone and put it on airplane mode just to get some sleep at night, because the notifications were just streaming in.”
Since then, LiteHaus has provided about 670 students in Queensland with their own digital device, “which has been great”, Growden told the AICD in an interview. About 66 per cent of the beneficiaries of the charity’s work are First Nations students and the charity solely supports rural, regional and remote communities.
“A quality education can only be a digital education and students in our own backyard are lacking the tools to learn and dream and succeed in the digital age, which is a real shame. It's a problem we're working very hard with our partners to overcome,” he says.
LiteHaus works with partners such as e-waste recycling plant Substation33, based in Logan, south of Brisbane, which urges Queensland residents to donate their old devices. Another Brisbane-based company, iamglobalcitizen, has also put together an interactive digital skills and instruction program to teach users basic skills.
The charity’s main source of income comes from corporate partnerships in two different ways - both through monetary support, but also from them donating fleets of digital devices that have reached their end of life, says Growden.
“We’re taking our Digital Inclusion Program nationwide, with a view to distribute at least 2,000 digital devices right across Australia in 2022.”
In Townsville itself, about 90 to 100 refugee families from the Central African Republic and Congo have so far received assistance, which is “very powerful”, he says. When he first met the families last year, “zero per cent” had a digital device at home. But now each family has a digital device after about 10 months, “so that's the power of the work that we're doing”.
In one case, a young boy who received a device last year who was shy and unable to speak English, 10 months later shook Growden’s hand and thanked him, saying he could now speak English.
Growden, who has travelled extensively across the developing world, in India, Nepal, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Indonesia, adds: “I've seen some pretty confronting disadvantage in my life. But to think that I live in a suburb just across from somebody who doesn't have these essential tools in their life…it really motivates me.”
The Papua New Guinea story
LiteHaus originally began life in PNG when Growden visited in 2016 as part of his university studies and was shocked to see that local schools had no computers and that some children were taking hours to walk to school and then home again.
“I fell in love with the people of PNG, and their passion for self-development and education.”
He returned to PNG and established the first functional primary school computer lab in the country in 2017. By the end of this year, LiteHaus will have set up 47 primary school computer labs in Papua New Guinea. “And we’re looking to double that next year.”
Growden is now the CEO and a director of LiteHaus, serving as its only paid staff member. He gave up his day job as a university fundraiser this year to grow LiteHaus. Last year he worked about 40 hours a week in full-time work and about 35 hours a week on LiteHaus as a volunteer.
For Growden, steering the ship has been a steep learning curve. “It seems like every second week, the ship gets bigger and bigger and it comes with a lot of different challenges.” About 45 volunteers work with LiteHaus across multiple countries.
Since it started in his parents’ garage in 2017, LiteHaus has grown from a small Queensland not-for-profit turning over $15,000 to a national and overseas Australian charity which is on track to turn over $1 million this year.
LiteHaus is changing its company structure towards a company limited by guarantee “so that's had a lot of implications from a governance perspective,” he says. And it has transitioned from a management committee to a fully-fledged board of directors.
“One of the reasons we took that step was to allow us to recruit directors from around the world, rather than them having to come from a residential address in Queensland.” This will help LiteHaus to achieve its aim to expand across Southeast Asia.
“Quality governance is just so important, regardless of where directors come from,” says Growden.
“That has been the biggest learning for me - to constantly be developing professionally to be able to steer this ship.” He said studying the Governance Foundations for Not-for-Profit Directors course as part of his AICD scholarship program had been extremely valuable for improving his financial literacy and understanding around risk and strategy. “I went away with a notebook full of ideas.”
“It's been a wild journey to get to here, but I’m really blessed.”
2022 Not-for-Profit Scholarships Program
Applications for the 2021/22 Not-for-Profit Scholarships Program are open from 26 July 2021 to 20 August 2021.
The AICD is committed to improving society through world-class governance and our Not-for-Profit Scholarships Program is a key component of this commitment.
Each year the AICD offers scholarships to emerging NFP directors in all states and territories, to help build their governance skills.
Successful applicants will undertake the Governance Foundations for NFP Directors course, commencing in October, which provides a foundational-level understanding of NFP governance.