From 5 Million to 1 Billion Mobile Readers

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Last year at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting we made an ambitious commitment. We pledged to bring digital books to 5 million people in three years. Instead, it took us only one.

That’s an enormous achievement. It means that in just one year, millions of more people around the world are now able to read the books they need to improve their lives– health books, career planning books, textbooks, books for fun.

And as with all big accomplishments, nobody could have done it alone. Our partnerships with like-minded organizations such as Microsoft, Pratham Books, and in particular Opera (who put our work in front of millions of cell-phone users) have been essential in achieving this level of scale and impact over such a short time.

Our world becomes more digital and connected every day, and global leaders are seeing the immense potential of the Internet and mobile phones for spreading knowledge. Until recently, libraries and access to vast archives of literature were to be reserved for the few.  Mobile phones have allowed us to democratize this access, making these same materials available to millions more, quickly and cost-effectively. Reading and learning is no longer confined to the walls of a classroom or library, but instead can be done anywhere, at any time. Chelsea Clinton points this out in her book ‘It’s Your World. Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going,’ in which she features our efforts and recognizes the simple advantage of spreading literacy far and wide through devices: “Kids can get books faster than it takes to build a school or a library.”

Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done to get more people on this planet reading. And so now we’re aiming even bigger.  In the very long term we aim to reach the 1 billion people who are held back from reaching their potential through illiteracy, low literacy, or simple lack of access to books.

That goal sounds crazy– and it is! But achieving it is entirely possible. Think of it this way: the cost of delivering a 100-page book on a mobile phone is less than a penny, and the data cost of reading that book are less than $0.01 more. Of course, the licensing and curation costs for content are on top of that, and there will be tens of millions of people who need additional help beyond what we can deliver on an app. But still, helping unleash the potential of one billion people to become doctors, teachers, and informed decision-makers for only tens of millions of dollars? That’s a check many governments and foundations would gladly write.

When discussing the topic of literacy, Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO stated, “new technologies, including mobile telephones, offer fresh opportunities for literacy for all.”  I couldn’t agree more. Mobile technology is a game-changer when it comes to moving the needle on global literacy and I hope that means my generation will be the last to witness an illiterate world.

This year, to celebrate this achievement, we were thrilled to share a video communicating our impact during the CGI plenary session on Escalators of Opportunity. It tells the story of Margaret, a teacher and mother in Kenya, who herself was illiterate just a few years ago and who is now transforming her life through the power of books. Everyday, we are inspired by stories like hers; she and many others are the reason Worldreader does what it does. We look forward to unlocking the potential of millions more Margarets.

David Risher and Bill Clinton at the CGI 2015 Annual Meeting

The man of the hour himself, Bill Clinton, and me at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting.

Interested in helping us make the world a more literate place? With your support we could reach millions more. Join us and donate today.