Get the world reading: Entrepreneurs are helping eradicate the global illiteracy gap

Emilie Colker
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Chamkila Kumari, an Indian girl reads al
Every year, illiteracy costs the global economy $1.19 trillion (Source: Getty)

More than 758m people worldwide are unable to read this sentence.

That means not being able to read the label on a medicine bottle, fill in a job application or read a ballot in next week’s election.

A common misconception is that this is just a problem for developing nations. Yet in the UK, one in five children leave school unable to read and write properly and in London one in 10 adults have a reading age of seven or lower. As heated debates about education spending engulf the election campaigns, it’s important to understand the true impact of illiteracy both at home and further afield.

Every year, illiteracy costs the global economy $1.19 trillion – a devastating impact that should demand our attention. And yet, progress has stalled; rates have not improved in over 15 years. Something isn’t working. If we are going to ensure universal literacy, then we need to bring new problem solvers and solutions to the table.

That’s why Pearson has launched Project Literacy Lab – the world’s first accelerator dedicated to closing the global literacy gap by 2030. Made up of 16 entrepreneurs across five continents, in sectors ranging from health to clean energy to agriculture, everyone in the programme is working to help solve some of the key challenges which perpetuate illiteracy.

This week, London is playing host to a three-day Project Literacy Lab summit exploring how business, investment, and entrepreneurial solutions can help combat the devastating effects of illiteracy.

And, today, leaders across the public and private sectors will hear how entrepreneurs can help tackle the foundational issues that underpin illiteracy worldwide.

The variety of ventures in the Lab starkly highlights how illiteracy underpins so many developmental challenges. For example, one company, Edovo, provides tablet technology for inmates, to offer access to education for incarcerated adults. For the majority of these prisoners, this can mean the difference between getting a job after prison – or not.

Another venture, AFRIpads, looks to empower the one in 10 African girls skipping school due to a lack of menstrual products and poor access to sanitation. They create reusable sanitary pads to offer schoolgirls the protection, comfort and dignity they need to attend school all month long, helping boost educational attainment.

The Lab was founded on the premise that entrepreneurs like these are uniquely placed to take on the challenge using the latest innovations to bring about change. By scaling up their solutions, we aim to spark a much bigger conversation – one that involves all of us, across business, governments, NGOs, and communities worldwide. Because ultimately, we know we’ll need everyone at the table if we’re going to make progress and get the whole world reading once and for all.

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