2020 Annual Report

Worldreader is a nonprofit organization that brings high-quality, affordable digital learning to children and youth in under-resourced communities.

The year that jolted education

In 2020, 1.5 billion children were impacted by school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

It drastically changed the way we educate children. Overnight, remote learning replaced learning in the classroom. But in many under-resourced communities, schools weren’t equipped to support their students online. And with libraries being forced to close too, many children were left without any access to books or resources at all. 

Since 2010, we’ve been pioneering the use of technology to help children in the most vulnerable communities read and learn.

So when the pandemic hit, we were ready to step in. We partnered with governments, mobile phone providers, schools, and local organizations to keep nearly one million children reading. 

Your support in 2020 was more important than ever. Thank you for standing by us and bringing books and resources to children during one of the most challenging times in history.

Pandemic or no pandemic, every day you’re helping readers build a better world. 

A message from
our CEO, David Risher 

Dear partners and supporters:

2020 was a year that changed . . . well, everything. Now, we have an important opportunity to rethink what a post-pandemic education could look like. Here are my thoughts: 

Education matters more than ever.

Think about the problems we face worldwide: a bafflingly complex pandemic, climate change and its knock-on effects, enduring inequality, and the next pandemic.

Our next generation will be the one to solve these problems. And they’re problems that require innovation, critical thinking, and empathy – exactly the kinds of skills that reading develops.

Children are really struggling. And so are schools.

You’ve read the stats: 1.5 billion children out of school at the height of the pandemic, unprecedented social isolation for children and the mental health issues that accompany that, and extraordinary uncertainty both near- and longer-term. 

Now, overlay all that with the stress that comes from living in an under-resourced community. “Take classes on Zoom!” But that only works if you’ve got a dedicated computer and high-speed internet. “Find a quiet place to study.” But many children don’t have such a place in their homes. “Ask your parents for help and support.” But what if your parents don’t have time to support you? 

So we have a problem, and an opportunity. We’ve got chronically underfunded school systems, children who’ve missed out on a year’s worth of learning, and parents frustrated by the status quo.

The opportunity, should we choose to act on it, is that we’ve also got a big, bright light shining on what we can do better – and a shared understanding that technology can play a fundamental role in supporting children’s educational success.

Here’s what a better education could look like. 

Worldreader has learned a lot over 11 years about supporting vulnerable children and families through distance learning. Now is our chance to consider what education should look like in a post-pandemic world – an education that supports all children. 

Here are four principles we’d propose.

1. “Everywhere Learning.” Let’s recognize that children learn as much outside of school as inside the classroom.

The pandemic showed us that the world isn’t well-prepared for an education outside of a classroom – but it should be. Children should have access to high-quality content beyond the curriculum, content that is personalized to their own interests, content that they can learn from at their own pace.

Technology makes that possible. It’s why we make our library available to everyone, anywhere.

But technology and content alone aren’t enough to support the work of educators and the needs of children. So our books are accompanied by activities to further promote learning. And we make sure to engage parents as much as children because their role in supporting children’s growth is critical. 

That’s how we were able to support over one million students since the start of the pandemic – even when their schools were closed. 

2. Children need more than textbooks to navigate our complex world. 

We’re passionate about reading because we know it’s the foundation of all learning. Ask any successful leader today and I’ll bet they’ll point you to their love of reading as being a huge contributor to success. Bill Gates famously said, “I had a lot of dreams when I was a child. And I think a great deal of that grew out of the fact that I had the chance to read a lot.” 

Our world needs more dreamers and innovators. While textbooks are essential, children need access to all sorts of books if they’re going to be future leaders – including books that help them think about social and racial justice, female empowerment, empathy, and environmental sustainability. 

I’m proud to say our library brings these types of books to readers. 

3. Children need to learn social and emotional skills, now more than ever.

The ability to regulate our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors – all determine how well we adjust to our environments. And considering how fast our world is changing, it’s no surprise that these are skills that children need. 

The pandemic caused our children to face difficult emotions – fear, anger, grief. Without the tools to explore these emotions, children suffer enormously. 

And by the way, there’s ample evidence that these “softer” skills are nearly as predictive of long-term occupational success as IQ – and even more predictive than parental income and socioeconomic status. (If you’re interested in this research, here’s a great OECD report on the topic: https://bit.ly/3uIYsx2)

Our work helps children develop social and emotional skills in two ways: First, our library is full of books that develop social and emotional learning skills – books like The Tree of Hope, Feeling Sad, and I Will Help You. Second, our work includes parents. When you spend quality time reading with your child, you’re not only strengthening that bond, you’re also teaching them invaluable social skills. That’s why so much of our work is about encouraging parents to read with their children. 

4. Education has to embrace the digital world.

Not just for cost, not just for distribution – it’s where children spend their time. Even the least privileged children must be able move comfortably in a digital world (using phones, tablets, and computers with ease; assessing the quality of content; and thinking of technology as an integrated part of their learning toolbox rather than an add-on). 

The good news is that interest in digital education exists worldwide, even among low-income parents. A 2020 study by the Boston Consulting Group found that 80%-90% of the parents they surveyed in India wanted remote learning options to continue beyond COVID.

You’re creating the future.

For the last 10 years we’ve been learning how to get as many people reading using the most simple and affordable technologies and highest-quality content possible. It’s what you’ve supported – and it’s the reason why over 17 million more people are reading today. 

Read through this annual report and you’ll see all the ways your support has helped children read and learn.

Now it’s up to us – together – to keep innovating and help create the future, so that millions more children can reach their potential.

Thank you for supporting readers as they build a better world.

David Risher
CEO & Co-Founder, Worldreader

A few ways you made 2020 a whole lot better . . .

You kept children reading while schools were closed. 

Pictured: Saori from Peru reading in her family home. Still today, Saori’s school remains closed due to Covid-19.

You sparked
creativity in children. 

Pictured: a drawing by Richa from India. The drawing was inspired by a story she read called Love Like That.

Children felt safer with storybooks about Covid-19, thanks to you.

Pictured: A book called My Hero Is You that aims to help children understand and cope with COVID-19.

They also turned to books to explore difficult emotions.

Pictured: A series of books from Worldreader’s library that help children explore feelings like fear, sadness, and loss.

And parents were there every step of the way. 

Pictured: Tanmay reads with his 3-year-old sister, Yashika. Her favourite books are Good Night Tinku and Aaloo-Maloo-Kaaloo. By reading and bonding with his sister, Tanmay is helping her grow emotionally and intellectually. 

The year in numbers

3.5M+

new readers

17.1M

cumulative readers

19M+

books read

62.9M

cumulative books read

4.2M+

hours reading

122.5M

cumulative hours reading

The year in milestones

Together, we launched our emergency response to Covid-19.

When schools started to close across the globe due to the pandemic, we rallied together with governments, local partners, and schools to make sure we could bring our BookSmart reading solution to as many children as possible, so they could keep reading. In this video a group of primary-aged girls from a small fishing village in Malindi, Kenya, come together to read stories aloud in Kiswahili, while their school remains closed.

We expanded our work to reach readers in the USA.

During the pandemic, it quickly became clear that children in the US needed access to books too. So we partnered with World Vision, Raising A Reader, and Reading Partners to create a 40-week reading program that will support more than 50,000 vulnerable children from under-resourced communities.

Children read inclusive stories thanks to Lantana.

2020 was a stark reminder that we are still a long way from living in an inclusive and equitable world. Books – like those published by Lantana – can help teach young readers about diversity, social and racial justice, female empowerment, and much more. In 2020, Lantana’s stories were read by 67,556 readers.

We partnered with Jio, India’s top telco, to reach more families in India.

We believe partnerships are one of the best ways to impact the most people. Jio makes some of the world’s most affordable bundles of smart-feature phones and data packs, ensuring that millions of underserved people can now access the Internet. By promoting our library on Jio phones, Jio helped an additional 545,438 children read during 2020. In the coming years, we aim to reach over 150 million people together!

How we work

Every reading program is different. But some things stay the same. Over the years, we’ve developed our ABCD framework to help the most people read, in the most meaningful way. It starts with access (A). We deliver our books on reading apps, via mobile phones and tablets. Then, come the books (B). Our library of books has been handpicked with our readers in mind. Continuous engagement (C) is essential too. That’s why our books include reading activities that encourage deeper learning. Lastly, data (D). Data helps us understand our readers’ behavior and give them a more personalized experience, so they keep reading – one book after another.  

The team who makes all of this happen

We’ve got an amazing group of individuals – board, staff, and advisory council members – who dedicate their time, energy, and hearts to moving our mission forward. We’re forever grateful for their commitment, even during the hardest of times.

In Memoriam

In 2020, we lost two women that we will miss deeply. Both Luba and Carolyn were passionate about sharing their love of reading, and have left the world a better place because of it.

Luba Botcheva

We are all better for having worked with Luba. We will carry her wonderful spirit with us as we support readers across the globe to build a better world.

Carolyn Reidy

We will feel Carolyn’s absence for years to come. We are incredibly honored that Worldreader’s impact is even a small part of Carolyn’s enormous legacy.

Our financials

$9M

total contributions

$2.8M

in-kind donations

$2.52

cost per reader

Revenue

Donations & Grants

$5,052,406

In-kind Gifts

$2,879,453

Earned Income

$772,161

Other Revenue

$312,593

Total Revenue

$9,016,613

Use of funds

Program services

$6,853,183

Management and General

$1,150,226

Fundraising

$803,941

Total Expenses

$8,807,350

Join us to help the world read

Donate and keep children reading

In many parts of the world, schools are still closed. Your donation will bring digital learning to children who risk falling behind.

Become a partner

Every year, major companies and philanthropic foundations sponsor our programs. Find out how we can work together.

Bring our solution to your school

BookSmart can take your reading program to the next level. Get in touch to learn more.

Our featured partners

“Jio is proud to be partnering with Worldreader to bring a rich collection of digital storybooks to hundreds of millions of homes across India. Our partnership is contributing to the Digital India Mission through the combination of Jio’s affordable, world-class 4G mobile network and phones with Worldreader’s engaging, relevant content.”