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Visualising a brighter way for young Aboriginal women

Canberra, Australia: Leanne Sanders pictured at Parliament House during the 2022 Straight Talk National Summit. Photo: Jillian Mundy/Oxfam

The oldest living culture in the world is embracing 21st century technology to keep young people connected to their communities and culture, thanks to a woman with big dreams and an even bigger vision.   

Leanne Sanders, a proud Kamilaroi, Tati Tati, Wadi Wadi and Mutti Mutti woman, has dedicated years to building Visual Dreaming, a First Nations, female-led tech company that uses digital solutions to help young people dream, believe and achieve.   

Leanne, who attended Oxfam’s Straight Talk program in Canberra in 2022, has a degree in health science and has spent her career working in the aged care, disability and mental health fields. But it was the tragic death of her cousin that motivated her to become an entrepreneur.   

Young people struggle to navigate the mental health system

“I lost my young cousin to mental health,” she said. “That was like a really big, triggering moment for me.”  
Leanne believes the mental health system is fragmented and difficult for young people to navigate.   

“There’s not a lot of … consideration around connection to community and culture, and having goals and focusing on them.  

“So, I decided I was going to build an app and save the world!”  

Connecting youth with their “dream team”

Leanne’s app, also called Visual Dreaming, enables young Aboriginal people to create and connect with their “dream team”, which might include Elders, aunts, sisters or teachers — people who are only ever a click away with support and advice.  

 “A part of the sisterhood is that no matter where they go in their journey, they will always come back and feel connected and supported as sisters through the app,” Leanne said.   

A safe way for young people to tell their story

Young people can also privately record their story through the app and play it to service providers when they first meet them.   

“They can record their story in a private place, where they feel safe to record how they’re feeling,” Leanne said. “So, they don’t have to say the words out loud, but that doctor or the psychologist or anyone that is supporting them can just hear what’s happening for them.”  

Building the leadership skills of young women

Leanne’s vision of supporting women didn’t stop with the release of the app. Working closely with Elders, community members and service providers, Leanne and her team recently introduced Butterfly Dreaming, a leadership and personal development program for First Nations girls aged 8 to 16 years.   

Butterfly Dreaming builds leadership and pride in Aboriginal identity and culture, and reduces social isolation, mental illness, incarceration and suicide.   

The program focuses on strengths, not problems.  

“We never talk about deficits,” Leanne said. “We want them to know their dreams can come true.” 

Support First Peoples Organisations

You can support organisations like Visual Dreaming through Oxfam’s First Peoples Small Grants program. Your donation directly helps First Peoples’ efforts to tackle the inequalities they face.