Going on a global walkabout with MARVIN

Going on a global walkabout with MARVIN

An innovative Australian software company hits the big time in the development world.

It’s not every day a marine archaeologist who grew up in the Northern Territory gets to irreverently poke fun at software doyen, Bill Gates, in the flesh and then a few weeks later negotiate a major deal with the United Nations in Switzerland.

It’s almost as rare for the same bloke to be a software maker plying his trade in the often-overlooked development field with plans to operate in 116 countries – all with an advertising spend of less than $2000 and workforce in the single digits.

But this is the life Northern Territory Institute for Community Engagement and Development (NTICED) partner director, J Easterby-Wood, is happily leading.

Since developing MARVIN – a software program that uses avatars to quickly create presentations that can be given in any language to educate communities about health and welfare issues – NTICED has won 33 international and national ICT awards.

In recent days the organisation has signed deals with Microsoft to distribute the software globally and several government agencies, including one with the Australian Federal Government to allow all indigenous organisations and individuals in remote locations to access a free MARVIN licence.

For Easterby-Wood – who formerly worked as a specialist trainer on alcohol and other drugs for the NT Department of Health – the gratifying aspect about the deals with Microsoft and the government is that more than 50 indigenous Australians will have the opportunity to become MARVIN trainers and travel overseas to train other indigenous peoples.

It is the welcome result of a remarkable journey that began in the remote communities near Alice Springs.

Humble beginnings

“I was dealing with clients that had just lost everything or were about to lose everything. They were physically wounded from alcohol and other drugs,” Easterby-Wood said. “ I very much liked the idea that we were going out and training and trying to do harm minimisation. We’d get out there and have materials from different places written by people that had never been in a remote community in their lives – it just wasn’t relevant in any way, shape or form. And we were dealing with people that had various language and literacy issues, especially the adults.”

Enter the thing everyone loved to hate: The maligned paper clip from Microsoft Word.

“Everyone knew about the paper clip in Windows 98 and it frustrated the hell out of everyone,” Easterby-Wood said. “But I came across the actual software behind it from Microsoft and they were sort of releasing it. As I was fiddling with it I started to realise it had some potential as presentation software.

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