Transforming lives through literacy

Transforming lives through literacy

Annual Report 2016

We’re taking urgent action on illiteracy

Five decades ago, just over half of adults worldwide could read and write. Now, 86 percent of adults have basic literacy - a testament to the work of governments, educators, and practitioners working side by side to meet this challenge.

And yet, we know we have more to do. 758 million adults today still lack basic literacy, limiting their access - and right - to quality education. If we are to achieve the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, then we cannot afford to accept this slow rate of progress. We must continue our steady march toward universal literacy, to help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Pearson, the world’s learning company, launched Project Literacy in 2015 as a diverse coalition-based campaign to raise public awareness of illiteracy and accelerate innovation. In our 2016 Project Literacy Annual Report, you’ll learn more about the network of over 90 partners we’ve built, how we’ve reached over 2 billion people to raise awareness, and supported 700,000 youth and adults through direct programming.

And this is just the start. We invite you to join the Project Literacy movement.

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

* data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics

What is Project Literacy?

What is Project Literacy?

A global campaign to close the literacy gap by 2030

Project Literacy is a global campaign founded and convened by Pearson, the world’s learning company, to bring together people and organizations from diverse sectors and regions in a powerful partnership to combat illiteracy.

Together we’re:

Project Literacy is building a movement to advocate for greater investment in and attention to literacy. Why? Because the extent of the problem and its potential impacts on our world are huge and we’ll need everyone on board to close the literacy gap.

  • 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. 


    video views of the Alphabet film within six weeks of launch


    celebrity influencers promoting Project Literacy for free, valued at £2.5 million (US$3.12 million)

    Cannes Lion Health Grand Prix and Gold awards

    US: 23%, UK: 32%

    23% of people in the US and 32% of people in the UK know about Project Literacy*

    Exceptionally high engagement rate

    3.31% with content

    * PSB Survey with general public, third sector influencers and Millennials in US and UK, September 2016

  • Project Literacy is a cross-sector movement representing diverse communities and interests from around the world, and we’re using the power of our collective voice to push for change at local, national, and multilateral levels.

    In September 2015, we launched the Unsigned Petition during the United Nations General Assembly week to advocate on behalf of the 758 million people worldwide who cannot read or write, and we continued to promote the petition throughout 2016. The 30,000-signature petition calls upon world leaders to acknowledge the urgency of the international illiteracy crisis and pledge to take meaningful action to address it.

    In 2016, Pearson, on behalf of Project Literacy, became a member of UNESCO’s Global Alliance for Literacy. This official body guides member governments, businesses, and third-sector organizations toward achieving the literacy targets within the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Pearson participates and shares feedback on behalf of Project Literacy’s 90-plus partner network.

  • To deliver on Project Literacy’s ambitious aims for 2030, it’s crucial that we create and sustain momentum. Throughout 2016, we expanded our partner network to more than 90 members. 

    With regular peer-to-peer learning and knowledge-sharing workshops and the establishment of the Project Literacy Advisory Group, we’re developing and strengthening a highly expert and deeply connected community that will enable us to continue raising awareness, increase engagement, and create adoption at scale. 

    Read about our partners and Advisory Group members below. 

Project Literacy is partnering with organizations that are already implementing proven literacy interventions and helping them to grow. Why? Because there are some things that we know work, and we need more of them.

Inspiring young readers

In the UK, we partnered with Book Trust’s annual Read for My School initiative, which challenges primary and secondary pupils to read as much as they can in a two-month period.

Promoting accessible digital technology

Pearson is partnering with UNESCO on a project to investigate and share innovative case studies aiming to encourage the development of more accessible technologies to benefit low-literacy and low-skilled people.

Empowering parents

UK charity National Literacy Trust (NLT) has launched Early Words Together, an education program that empowers parents to support their child’s early learning through small group sessions with trained volunteers. Pearson and NLT partnered to replicate the program in schools in Greater London, with highly positive results.

Engaging struggling readers

Reading Partners is a national US non-profit working with under-resourced schools, engaging volunteer tutors to help develop foundational skills for students who struggle with reading. Pearson is supporting the organization’s ambitious strategic growth plan and helping it deepen and expand its reach.

Delivering high-quality content

Pencils of Promise (PoP) is a US non-profit that builds schools and provides quality educational programming to increase literacy rates in Ghana, Guatemala, Laos, and Nicaragua. Through Project Literacy, Pearson provided free licences to Spanish-language content delivered by PoP to 210 students across three communities in the Sololá region of Guatemala.

Improving how we measure literacy

Pearson is partnering with Room to Read on a one-year benchmarking study to assess the language-specific reading fluency targets for Grade 2 children in the countries where Room to Read implements its literacy program. Different languages have unique identities in terms of structure and complexity and this project aims to contextualize fluency benchmarks for non-European languages using a reliable methodology.

Scaling digital learning

We’ve partnered with Brazil’s Center for Studies and Research in Education, Culture, and Community Action (CENPEC) to scale a digital training platform for literacy and Portuguese-language teachers, featuring unique content and videos to support teacher professional development.

Project Literacy is partnering with organizations to design, build, and rigorously test game-changing approaches. Why? Because new solutions will be needed to reach those most marginalized and to achieve scale.

  • The Unreasonable Group works with entrepreneurs to address major challenges such as poverty and social injustice, providing world-class mentors, funders, and partners to help grow their impact. Our partnership with Unreasonable provides an accelerator in key markets, supporting rapid-growth enterprises that can help tackle the global illiteracy gap. The first accelerator program featured 16 companies across 32 countries, reaching a total of 11 million people worldwide. These ventures have raised a total of $68.5 million in funding, and 80 percent have seen increased or equal results in their impact performance since the accelerator launched.

  • Worldreader is a non-profit aiming to bring digital books to every child and their family. Together we launched Read to Kids, a pilot project in India using mobile devices and applications to empower parents to read more to their children. In 2016, more than 100,000 parents received tips and information through mass media behavioral change campaigns. And thanks to a $1 million grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and additional support from Jordanian social and education entities, Worldreader now plans to expand the program to support refugee populations in Jordan.

    Too Small to Fail is a joint campaign of the Clinton Foundation and the Opportunity Institute, helping parents and businesses take meaningful actions to improve the health and well-being of young children. Pearson and Too Small to Fail are partnering to build an evidence base on the use of mobile technology to empower parents and build children’s preliteracy skills. Results will be available during 2017. 

    Jumpstart leverages the power of community and adult-child relationships to build children’s key language and literacy skills, and since 1993 it has helped transform the lives of 76,000 preschool children in the US. Pearson and Jumpstart partnered with San Francisco State University (SFSU), piloting a program to engage parents and deliver parts of the Jumpstart early literacy curriculum through mobile technology. Researchers found that the majority of parents successfully received text messages and that, overall, parents thought the texting program was helpful and would recommend it to other parents. 

  • Pearson and Project Literacy are partnering with All Children Reading—a joint initiative of USAID, World Vision, and the Government of Australia—to leverage technology to create and apply scalable solutions to increasing literacy in developing countries. The initiative will launch in 2017. 

  • We are partnering with the International Literacy Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, Microsoft, and ProLiteracy to develop and market a digital platform to support employability for out-of-school and out-of-work low-literacy youths and adults. With a pilot launching in 2017, the program will help learners assess their literacy levels against the skills required for the jobs and careers to which they aspire. 

Our people

The Project Literacy Advisory Group comprised of diverse talent across global education policy, corporate social responsibility, business, and media-works with the campaign staff to help shape the strategy and key priorities for Project Literacy.

Our partners

Project Literacy brings together a 90-strong network of expert partners, including non-profits, social enterprises, multinational companies, multilaterals, and government agencies.

View all our partners
Borhene Chakroun, Chief of Section, Youth, Literacy and Skills Development, UNESCO

“ That is how to capture the public’s imagination and create a call to action. The ‘Alphabet of Illiteracy’ is a sobering wake-up call. By showing how reading and writing can solve the world’s biggest problems, it proves why tackling illiteracy needs to be more firmly on the agenda of governments across the globe. ”

Borhene Chakroun, Chief of Section, Youth, Literacy and Skills Development, UNESCO
Ben Goldhirsh, Co-Founder & CEO, GOOD

“ It’s so exciting to see collaboration across borders and industries driving awareness, understanding, and action. To partner with Project Literacy on this effort is an honor for GOOD. ”

Ben Goldhirsh, Co-Founder & CEO, GOOD
Dr. Geetha Murali, Chief Development and Communications Officer, Room to Read

“ Project Literacy has given Room to Read the opportunity to take action, innovate, and collaborate in the interest of global literacy. As a result, we are finding new partners, furthering our agenda of scale, and executing innovative research that will help shape the field for a long time to come. ”

Dr. Geetha Murali, Chief Development and Communications Officer, Room to Read
Gerald Richards, CEO, 826 National

“ It has been great to partner with Pearson and the other organizations of Project Literacy to shine a light on how literacy can truly change lives and communities. Through the partnership, we have been able to highlight and build greater awareness of our work to improve and increase writing skills in students aged 6 - 18. Being part of such a global effort has had positive effects on our work. ”

Gerald Richards, CEO, 826 National
David Risher, Co-Founder & CEO, Worldreader

“ Thanks to our partnership with Project Literacy and Pearson, tens of thousands of parents in India are now reading with their young children in the Read to Kids program. This is only possible thanks to Project Literacy's commitment to social innovation. I'm proud of what we have accomplished together and look forward to sharing our results and building on our success to get millions reading everywhere. ”

David Risher, Co-Founder & CEO, Worldreader

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


1 53% Raising Awareness
1 17% Advancing Best Practice
1 30% Innovating for New Solutions

2016 Funding by Activity

One-third of Pearson funds – £1.15 million – was allocated to raising awareness, which leveraged additional in-kind donations valued at £2.5 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 52% Pearson
1 48% Other sources

Funding by source

As convener and founding partner of Project Literacy, Pearson contributed the majority of funds – £3,400,000 in 2016 – with additional support from non-profit, corporate, and individual sources.

Our global presence

Project Literacy is supporting direct programming through its partner network in 35 countries, with a major focus on Brazil, India, South Africa, the United States and United Kingdom. 
To find out about our global presence, please go to Page 20 of the full report.

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.

Get involved | Become a partner

Join the Project Literacy movement


Download the report

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Download 2016 report | 2015 report