The Case for Literacy

The Case for Literacy

Annual Report 2017

Dear friends and supporters,

In 2017, we launched ‘Give Your Word’ as part of the Project Literacy campaign, highlighting a group of brave individuals who learned to read and write as adults. Their stories brought attention and action to support the 750 million people globally who do not have basic literacy skills.

As these inspiring advocates propelled public change forward, we worked closely with our 120 partners to scale solutions and innovations - driven by our aim to close the literacy gap by 2030. We collaborated with Worldreader, the Clinton Foundation, and Jumpstart to better understand how parents can develop their children’s literacy skills; we worked with UNESCO to share inclusive technologies that allow low-skilled and low-literate youth and adults to improve their livelihoods; and we co-hosted the Project Literacy Lab with the Unreasonable Group to help high-growth entrepreneurs who are focused on literacy rapidly scale their companies. These are just a few examples of the collaboration we’ve seen enabled by Project Literacy in the last year.

Together, we’ve helped 7 million people around the world to improve their literacy, which we know underpins so many other sustainable development challenges. A big thank you to all our Project Literacy partners and supporters. Solving a global humanitarian crisis like illiteracy by 2030 requires continued commitment from all of us.

Kate JamesKate James
Chief Corporate Affairs and Global Marketing Officer, Pearson
Spokesperson, Project Literacy

What is Project Literacy?



What is Project Literacy?

Project Literacy is a global movement that aims to ensure that all people – regardless of geography, language, race, ability, class or gender – have the opportunity to fulfill their potential through the power of words. Founded and convened in 2015 by Pearson, the world’s learning company, Project Literacy brings together a diverse, forward-thinking set of people and organizations from all over the world. Today, as a community of over 120 partners, we’re working together towards ensuring that no child is born at risk of poor literacy by 2030.



Project Literacy is building a movement to advocate for greater investment and attention to literacy.
The prevalence of illiteracy and its far-reaching negative impacts require nothing less than a global, united force to close the literacy gap. Please click on the links below to see how our campaigns have evolved over the years.

  • 2015 - The Unsigned Petition

    In September 2015, as the Sustainable Development Goals were launched, Project Literacy delivered the Unsigned Petition to the United Nations. The 30,000-signature petition called upon world leaders to acknowledge the urgency of the international illiteracy crisis and pledge to take meaningful action to address the issue. This advocacy led to an invitation for Pearson, on behalf of Project Literacy, to join UNESCO’s Global Alliance for Literacy, which guides member governments, businesses, and third-sector organizations toward achieving the literacy targets within the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

  • 2016 - The Alphabet of Illiteracy

    In 2016, we launched the Alphabet of Illiteracy, a targeted marketing campaign combining an insight-driven creative platform with specific calls to action. Aimed at millennials who are more likely to spread the word through social media as well as volunteer their time and donate their money, this award-winning campaign challenged consumers to see illiteracy differently, by connecting the issue to major global challenges they already cared about. Bolstered by support from key celebrities and influencers like Lily Cole, Emma Watson, Nick Kristof, Usain Bolt, and Elton John, the campaign captured a media reach of 1.5 billion and helped elevate illiteracy on international policy agendas.

  • 2017 - Give Your Word

    In 2017, we made it personal, focusing on families and intergenerational illiteracy. The Give Your Word campaign, which was aimed at reaching millennial parents, raised awareness to understand illiteracy through the lens of adults learning to read and write. It then challenged audiences to take action by sharing on social media to break stigma, volunteering, and supporting adult literacy organizations. The campaign was strengthened by support from influencers like Idris Elba, resulting in a media reach of 1.3 billion, helping to elevate intergenerational illiteracy to policy and activist agendas.

  • 2017 - Rewriting Lives - Wanda’s story

    Have you ever heard the story of Pong-Pong the brave little chicken? You probably haven’t, because it’s a story that existed only in Wanda’s head.

    Wanda Steward is a parent from Philadelphia. Her children used to ask her to read them books at bedtime, but what they didn’t know was that she couldn’t read. Instead, Wanda would pick a book at random, and then make up a new story to go with the illustrations. As her children began to learn to read, they realized the words didn’t match up, and Wanda was forced to admit to them that she didn’t know how to read and write. Her children’s dismay inspired her to go back to school, and thanks to support from her tutor at Adults Can Learn to Read, a partner of the Philadelphia Office of Adult Education, Wanda achieved something truly amazing. Pong-Pong has made it out of Wanda’s head and onto the pages of her very own children’s book, The Little Chicken Named Pong-Pong – all just 18 months after she started working with the organization. Wanda’s success goes way further than publishing a children’s book. Being able to read and write has opened up a whole new world for her family – benefitting their education, their future prospects, and their health.

    To give Wanda’s book the audience it deserves, Project Literacy asked a very special literacy
    advocate to read it – Idris Elba. Idris was enthralled by Wanda’s story and the opportunity to shine a light on this often overlooked issue. So much so, he lent his voice to help celebrate her accomplishment – and in the process reached out to his 6.5 million plus social media followers. Her book has been downloaded over 3,000 times.

Sharing best practice is a powerful way to increase both success and scale. Therefore, Project Literacy is partnering with organizations that are already implementing proven literacy interventions.

UNESCO: Showcasing inclusive digital technologies

UNESCO: Showcasing inclusive digital technologies

The UNESCO-Pearson Initiative for Literacy produced case studies that enable low-skilled and low-literate youths and adults to access digital technologies that strengthen literacy skills. Fourteen case studies have been selected and they will inform forthcoming UNESCO guidelines on how to create more inclusive digital solutions that develop the skills of users and improve their livelihoods.

Reading Partners

Reading Partners: Reaching more learners

Reading Partners helps children become lifelong readers by empowering communities to provide individualized instruction with measurable results. Since our partnership launched in 2015, we have helped the organization serve 26% more elementary school students in 73% more schools and reading centers in the United States, ultimately providing an increase of 30% more tutoring sessions.

Room to Read

Room to Read: Supporting research to move the field forward

With support from Pearson, Room to Read conducted research analysis and developed a new method for estimating reading fluency benchmarks alongside step-by-step guidance for practitioners and policymakers. This research will help policy makers assess the quality of their education system and track progress toward improving learning outcomes.

CENPEC: Digitizing successful interventions

CENPEC: Digitizing successful interventions

In 2016, we partnered with Brazil’s Center for Studies and Research in Education, Culture, and Community Action (CENPEC) to scale a proven digital training platform for literacy and Portuguese language teachers. During 2017, CENPEC kicked-off a pilot in Varginha, state of Minas Gerais, to start testing the platform scalability to new provinces and inform the last development phase.

Building the network

Building the network

We grew our community of partners to 120 non-profit organizations, companies, government bodies and multilateral institutions. We also worked with GOOD Corps to better understand who is part of our community and how best to serve them. As part of those activities, we also developed 5 new partner engagement opportunities which we plan to pilot in 2018.

Project Literacy is partnering with companies and organizations to design, build, and rigorously
test game-changing approaches. New solutions are needed to reach the most marginalized in our society and bring about change on the scale needed.

  • Project Literacy Lab

    Project Literacy Lab represents the first program of its kind: an international accelerator dedicated exclusively to scaling up ventures that are positioned to close the global literacy gap by 2030. The initiative was designed in partnership with the Unreasonable Group to support the fastest growing ventures worldwide that are already solving key challenges tied to illiteracy. The accelerator supports entrepreneurs with resources, mentorship, access to financing, and a global network of support to help them scale more rapidly across multiple regions and countries.

    (Above photo: Unreasonable entrepreneur, Jon Mattingly, Kodable)

  • The solution in your hand

    Worldreader and Pearson launched a multifaceted partnership in 2015 called Read to Kids – a model that combines behavior change with community-based services and a collection of over 500 locally relevant children’s books curated in a free mobile app. The program reached over 203,000 households with nearly 7,000 becoming frequent readers, proving that digital reading is scalable and affordable.

    Through support from Pearson, Too Small To Fail, an initiative of the Clinton Foundation, partnered with Univision and Text4Baby to conduct research into the best practices in mobile texting programs to engage parents and caregivers. Final results will be released fall of 2018.

    Pearson, as part of Project Literacy, also supported research by Jumpstart on the value of texting as a low-cost, low-effort activity to promote family engagement. Initial reports are underway to offer a texting program to families in all of the states where Jumpstart operates. 

  • Driving innovation in 2018 and beyond

    Workforce Atlas: Creating pathways to employability 

    In 2017 Project Literacy joined forces with ProLiteracy to embark on a project that combines adult basic education and workforce development. Workforce Atlas is an online careers pathway platform that assesses adult learners’ literacy, numeracy, and workplace skills, before directing them to recommended occupations, online resources and local providers that can help them achieve their aspirations. 

    With assistance from Results for Development, ProLiteracy will pilot Workforce Atlas in 2018 in three US locations. 

    All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development

    Established in 2011 by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision and the Australian Government, All Children Reading sources, tests, and disseminates scalable solutions that improve literacy skills of early grade learners in developing countries. Pearson and All Children Reading have been working together on two strategic activities: EVOKE: Leaders for Literacy, and Book Boost: Access for All Challenge.

    EVOKE: Leaders for Literacy takes a game-based learning platform originally developed by the World Bank and uses it to improve youth literacy in South Africa by leveraging young people as social innovators. During 2017, a contextualization workshop was convened in Midrand and a community pilot was launched in Limpopo. During 2018, Pearson South Africa will run a school-based pilot that will inform the strategy to expand EVOKE: Leaders for Literacy more broadly in South Africa and beyond.

    Around 250 million children of primary school age are unable to recognize basic letters and numbers. For the millions of children with disabilities that impact their use of traditionally printed material, the shortage of quality books in accessible formats is even worse. 

    To address these challenges, we launched Book Boost: Access for All Challenge to drive innovation in accessible publishing. The challenge seeks business models that can increase the number of accessible books through a more efficient and cost-effective publishing process. The winning models will be selected in 2018.

Advisory Group

The Project Literacy Advisory Group, which is comprised of diverse talent across global education policy, corporate social responsibility, business, and media, drives the campaign forward to reach our 2030 target.

The Project Literacy team

Our partners

The Project Literacy movement is growing every day and now includes some of the world’s greatest innovators, practitioners and researchers. We know that literacy is key to unlocking talent and leadership to solve the world’s biggest challenges, and we’re proud to work with over 120 diverse organizations.

View all our partners

These funds supported activities across our three strategic pillars: raising awareness and mobilizing action; advancing best practice; and innovating for new solutions.


1 57% Raising Awareness
1 11% Advancing Best Practice
1 32% Innovating for New Solutions

2017 Pearson funding by activity

One third of Pearson funds – £1.99 million – was allocated to raising awareness, which leveraged additional in-kind donations valued at £6.3 million. The remaining funds supported programs to enhance best practices in the field of literacy and to identify effective new approaches to closing the literacy gap.


1 36% Pearson
1 64% Other sources

Funding by source

As convener and founding partner of Project Literacy, Pearson contributed 36% of funds – £3.5 million in 2017 – with additional support from non-profit, corporate, and individual sources.

Join the Project Literacy movement

Progress on literacy calls for a new way of problem-solving and the challenges we face are complex and interconnected.

Our campaign is a rallying cry. We’re working with some of the best organizations around the globe to tackle illiteracy.

Project Literacy exists to bring the power of words to everyone. Join the Project Literacy movement.

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Download the 2017 Annual Report


2017 Annual Report