Global literacy is a collective responsibility

I wonder, what my life would be like if I couldn’t read a word or write a sentence. One thing’s for sure – this blog wouldn’t exist.

Today, on International Literacy Day, UNESCO’s annual awareness day to remind the world of the importance of literacy, I’m taking the opportunity to reflect on the world’s remaining literacy challenges. There are still 250 million children globally without access to education and 130 million girls out of school, and wondering what we, as communicators, can do about it.

Photo by Matthew Pull

Room to Read’s thought provoking discussion on literacy, books & the role of education. (L to R) Sam Baker – published author and founder of The Pool, Thirumagal Kuvendran – graduate on the Room to Read Girls’ Education Programme in Sri Lanka, Geetha Murali – CEO, Room to Read, Oksana Pyzik (Moderator) – Lecturer at UCL.

Most of us, who’ve been granted the basic human right of being literate, can often take it for granted. However, through the work we do with our pro bono partner Room to Read, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving literacy and gender equality in education in the developing world, I’m frequently reminded of the devastating impacts of illiteracy.

Recently, myself and a colleague from Ketchum London’s corporate reputation team had the pleasure of attending Room to Read’s latest event in London, held in celebration of International Literacy Day, featuring an inspiring conversation on the power of education in transforming children’s lives. It brought together like-minded, passionate individuals to raise awareness of the crucial role literacy plays in unlocking a child’s full potential and eradicating global poverty.

During the discussion, Geetha Murali, CEO, Room to Read, shared a personal anecdote that really stuck with me. She described how her mother was the first woman to break the cycle of child marriage for girls in her family and proved the importance of gender equality in education. The decisions she made inspired Geetha to focus on education, which now drives everything she does.

It also made me think how our every day decisions and the steps we take can positively impact future generations.

There are several reasons why children are not in school, with lack of awareness and resources sitting at the very top of the list. For many children in developing countries, illiteracy has consequences beyond just not being able to read or write. They can end up in a host of unfortunate circumstances, ranging from child marriage to trafficking, sexual violence and teenage pregnancies.

As communicators, I believe we have a part to play in this collective responsibility – along with governments, businesses and civil society – to take action and be a force for good. And Ketchum’s partnership with Room to Read is based on this very premise. And as we mark our 10-year partnership anniversary with Room to Read, we’re proud of our contributions to global literacy and gender equality in education.

For over a decade, we’ve had the honour of providing support for a variety of pro bono activities, including helping Room to Read establish strong media relationships and effectively communicate its key messages to multiple audiences via traditional and digital channels. With more than 500 employees engaged across Ketchum’s global network of 31 offices and affiliates, our fundraising efforts have helped:

  • publish 5,000 children books in Laos
  • construct 4 libraries in Cambodia, Nepal, Tanzania and Vietnam
  • support 177 students enrolled in the Girls’ Education Program in India, Tanzania and Zambia
  • train 200 teachers for 1 year in South Africa
  • enrol 540 children for a year onto the Literacy Program in Africa and Asia

As Murali said during the recent Room to Read discussion, “the international community has an obligation to ensure reading and writing is available”. Gender equality in education is just as important. When young girls are empowered, they “become part of the decision-making process. Not as an exception, but the rule.”

It has been a great privilege for us at Ketchum to be able to help communicate Murali’s and Room to Read’s vision and mission to the world thus far. We look forward to strengthening our commitment and celebrating many more milestones with them in the future.