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Literacy Worldwide and Why It’s Important for Your Business

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If you're running a business, you rely on employee literacy. Reading and replying to email, filling customer orders, and following written instructions are just a few of tasks that rely on a literate workforce.

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Use September 8th, International Literacy Day, to celebrate and sponsor literacy efforts. (Graphic Source: Envato Elements.)

Unfortunately, literacy isn't as common worldwide as it might be in your business. As you'll learn in this article, a surprising number of people navigate a written world of information with limited skills. 

We're here to help you celebrate International Literacy Day on September 8th. We'll share more information with you about how you can help literacy worldwide. With our Literacy Week ideas and resources, you'll have everything you need to help play your part.

The Latest Data on Illiteracy

Think that the challenge of literacy worldwide is already solved? Guess again.

You've probably heard that illiteracy is defined as the inability to read or write. But the reality is more complex. Literacy isn't a binary condition.

Functional illiteracy means that a person has basic reading and writing skills, but falls short of literacy standards. That could mean the ability to read road signs, but not enough skill to review a contract or lease. Without full literacy, a person will face challenges in day-to-day life.

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Being functionally illiterate poses extreme difficulty in a world dominated by written information. (Image source: Envato Elements.)

Sure, literacy may be prevalent where you live and work. But that doesn't mean that it's universal. There's a great quote that describes the disparity that exists in literacy worldwide:

"The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed." - William Gibson

In most developed countries, the majority of the population qualifies as literate. Yet too much of the global population is left on the outside looking inward. The future should mean literacy worldwide for all people. These statistics show that there's still much work to be done:

  • According to The World Bank, nearly 14% of the global population is illiterate. That means that over one billion people lack access to information that affects their lives.
  • World Population Review lists 38 countries where less than 75% of the population is literate. In 13 countries, more than 50% of the population is illiterate. That affects over 125 million people in those areas.
  • In the United States, the National Assessment of Educational Progress says that 35% of 4th grade students are proficiently literate. This statistic that accounts for grade-adjusted skill.

If you happen to hear anyone ask, "what day is September 8th?" then it's a great opportunity to highlight these statistics. Bringing awareness to International Literacy Day and these statistics is the first step to spark action. Read on for literacy event ideas and other literacy week ideas.

Your Role as a Business in Solving Illiteracy

You might already know that a literacy gap exists. But you might still be wondering: what role does my business play in helping to solve the problem?

Here's the thing: if you're a business, you're affected by the illiteracy globally. Here are a few ways that the literacy shortfall affects us all:

  • If you operate in communities with high rates of illiteracy, hiring is sure to be a challenge. The estimated impact of illiteracy on the U.S. economy is more than $225 billion in lost productivity and inefficiencies.
  • The Literacy Project reports that three out of five prison inmates are illiterate. Illiteracy leads to higher instances of recidivism. Too many prisons lack programs to rehabilitate, furthering the cycle.
  • The Literacy Foundation found that unemployment is two to four times higher for the illiterate population. Without literacy, most higher wage jobs are simply off limits. This creates cycles of poverty and impacts all of society. 

It's important to also acknowledge that improving literacy is the right thing to do. It's easy to lose sight of how much of the population is impacted by this global crisis. The data is clear that solving illiteracy improves outcomes for everyone.

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Bring your employees together to brainstorm and launch a plan to drive literacy. (Image source: Envato Elements.)

If you don't contribute to literacy in your community, you contribute to the status quo. That status quo includes too many illiterate or functionally illiterate persons. International Literacy Day is the perfect time to take stock and begin contributing.

Remember: illiteracy is the product of systems and circumstances. According to a study by Malcom Adiseshiah, illiteracy creates a vicious cycle. It forces children to drop out and support family, perpetuating illiteracy. It's these systems and structures that create a business responsibility to intervene.

How Your Business Can Play a Role in Increasing Literacy

You're now motivated to contribute to the global effort to improve literacy. The question is, how do you get started?

In any type of charity, it might seem overwhelming to determine how you can help. After all, you just saw statistics about how many people are functionally illiterate. With such a large problem, it's difficult to see a path to complete global literacy.

Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. The reality is that it takes a long-term investment to significantly impact a cause. The best time to start is today, and every effort counts. In the battle for worldwide literacy, every organization can contribute.

Here are ideas your business can consider as you play a part of literacy worldwide. Use literacy week to rally energy in your team and from your colleagues, then consider these programs:

1. Employee-Led Tutoring

To celebrate International Literacy Day, it's easy to partner with local schools or other community centers to offer tutoring. It's easy to find organizations in your community that already have literacy initiatives. Check with community centers and other local non-profits, then match employees to opportunities.

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Hands-on, one-on-one tutoring is one of the best ways to increase literacy. (Image source: Envato Elements.)

Your role as a business is to make it a "no-brainer" for employees to tutor by offering paid hours to do so. Incentivizing your World Literacy Day activities will encourage more employees to take part.

2. Adopt Schools During International Literacy Day

Identify schools in your area that might need the most help in encouraging literacy. Sponsor these schools with tutoring, provide books, host an event. These efforts can help to ensure that every student receives personalized attention.

Most schools already have programs and will appreciate your extra effort. It helps if you provide a school with a longer-term commitment. Consider sponsoring an entire school year to show your seriousness.

3. Set Up a Little Free Library

There's a fun project that combines the love of building with the love of literacy. The Little Free Library project builds mailboxes with easily available books.

Convert a mailbox that's easily accessible to include books to help spur literacy. Great books can spark the love of reading from an early age and lead to shifts in literacy outcomes. Long-term investment pays dividends down the road by creating more enthusiastic readers. 

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Build and stock a Little Free Library to share your favorite books in your community. (Image via Little Free Library.)

If you place your library near the office, you can spark a conversation about the importance of literacy. That's another great way to increase awareness and mobilize more participants.

4. Start an Employee Book Club

Lead by example with a love of literacy by sponsoring a book club and hosting discussions. This can also include giving away books to employees and their families. That expands the club's influence to improve literacy in children.

When it comes to addressing literacy, every bit helps. It might be difficult to identify the most vulnerable, needy recipients of your literacy efforts. No single effort will solve the challenge, but the combined efforts of business is sure to move the needle. Ideas like a Little Free Library might serve as the catalyst for a lifelong love of reading.

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There are no shortcuts on the path to global literacy. Instead, it requires great effort from many players. (Image source: Envato Elements.)

Want to make your literacy efforts go further? Share these international literacy day information ideas with other businesses. Drop a line to your vendors, customers, and partners to help spread awareness. Your efforts to grow literacy worldwide multiply when you include others.

Remember: it's a great idea to use National Literacy Week ideas to kickstart your efforts. But it's best to make literacy a part of your ongoing mission. Make your efforts recurring as part of your business' commitment to the community.

Companies That Lead the Way to Literacy

Looking for inspiration from companies that lead the way toward literacy? Here are several examples you should check out:

  • Toyota sponsors literacy in American communities through its Toyota Family Literacy Program. These programs connect children to spread literacy.
  • The U.S.-based retailer Target sponsored literacy programs in connection with the Annie E. Casey Foundation. This non-profit focuses on children and at-risk youths to address illiteracy early.
  • Facebook sponsored a research grant that focuses on innovative ideas for solving illiteracy.
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Companies of every size can partner with organizations to share World Literacy Day information. (Image source: Envato Elements.)

You don't have to be a major multinational corporation to encourage literacy. Every investment in time spent increases literacy worldwide. Take inspiration from others, adjust it to what you can do, and host your literacy event today.

More Resources to Drive Literacy

Still looking for more resources to launch your literacy leadership? We've got you covered with the best resources. Check each of them out while you put together your action plan for a literacy event.

  • If you want to launch a reading tutoring program, Reading Rockets offers a comprehensive resource. This guide takes you through the entire process. That includes showing you how to create a curriculum, partner with others, and launch.
  • For an even deeper guide, check out Kansas University's Community Tool Box. Check out the section that describes how to fund a program. This is a great way to create a plan to make your program sustainable.
  • Not sure how to spot adult illiteracy? A guide published by The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police gives you cues to watch for. This is a great way to identify others who may need more training or tutoring. The functionally illiterate are adept at navigating society, and it takes training to identify them.
  • Considering partnering with an organization like Room to Read. It focuses on children's literacy and girls' education across Asia and Africa. These efforts help to improve outcomes for some of the world's most vulnerable populations. If you aren't sure how to start your own literacy event, Room to Read helps. It gives you straightforward World Literacy Day information and ideas to contribute.
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 Literacy is a long-term investment with no universal solution, but it spreads naturally as well. (Image source: Envato Elements.)

Don't feel overwhelmed at the thought of solving illiteracy. It's impossible for a single contributor to resolve the challenge. The bright side is that it's an effort that everyone can contribute to. No matter what type of company you run, you can leverage these ideas in a literacy event to play your part.

Start Your Efforts as Part of World Literacy Day

Stop what you're doing. Circle the date on your calendar: September 8th, International Literacy Day. It's the perfect opportunity to pause and reflect on the importance of literacy. Then, launch your initiatives to contribute.

You don't have to invest significant capital to grow literacy worldwide. We've shared literacy week ideas throughout this post that are no-cost or low-cost. You've seen that no effort is too small in the race for literacy. Use World Literacy Day to start your program, then commit to the cause every year.

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