In July of 2016, sixteen high-growth, for-profit companies with operations on five continents will convene in Northern California for the inaugural Project Literacy Lab. The Lab will represent the world’s first accelerator for entrepreneurs dedicated to closing the global literacy gap by 2030.
Approximately 32 million adults in the United States can’t read. Tweet This Quote
Functional illiteracy costs the world $1.19 trillion USD per year, and it doesn’t discriminate by region or economic status. 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read, and 1 in 5 children in the UK leave primary school unable to read or write properly. India has the highest population of illiterate adults at 287 million, amounting to 37 percent of the global total. In total, 757 million people around the world can’t read this sentence—that’s a BFP* worth tackling.
To do this, Pearson, the world’s largest education company, has teamed up with Unreasonable Group to launch this program as part of Project Literacy—a global movement to make significant and sustainable advances in the fight against illiteracy so that all people, regardless of geography, language, race, class, or gender, have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
Deliberately sought out and meticulously vetted from five key geographies determined by Pearson (Brazil, India, UK, U.S., and South Africa), as well as from a variety of wild card countries such as Guatemala and Kenya, these exceptional companies will live and work alongside over 30 mentors and specialists for two weeks.
Illiteracy costs the world $1.19 trillion USD per year. Tweet This Quote
Representing the industries of health, clean energy, agriculture and education, these entrepreneurs and their technologies cater to children and adults, to those with disabilities and those incarcerated, and to customers in both developed and emerging markets. Project Literacy Lab endeavors to spark a conversation about how profitable businesses can measurably rectify a reality faced by one out of every ten people on this planet.
Introduced below, the sixteen companies with operations in over 30 countries around the world are poised to scale massively and tackle illiteracy relentlessly.
According to UNICEF, 1 out of 10 African schoolgirls skips school or drops out due to a lack of menstrual products and poor access to sanitation. AFRIpads offers a long-lasting solution of protection, comfort and dignity they need to attend school without hesitation or distraction during their monthly periods.
1 out of 10 African schoolgirls skips school or drops out due to a lack of menstrual products. Tweet This Quote
The company is a local manufacturer and global supplier of reusable (washable) sanitary pads for women and girls, providing complete menstrual protection for over 12 months at approximately 30 percent of the cost of disposable sanitary pads. With over 1 million Menstrual Kits sold and counting, AFRIpads helps hundreds of thousands of women and girls live more hygienic, comfortable and productive lives.
In many emerging markets, access to reliable light at night is a critical step in achieving universal literacy. However, most of the 1 billion people without electricity resort to burning toxic kerosene because they are unable to afford solar lighting products, the healthier alternative.
Angaza’s Pay-As-You-Go solar technology revolutionizes access to clean energy by removing this price barrier, enabling off-grid customers to prepay for clean energy in flexible, affordable amounts. Solar manufacturers and distributors across 15 countries, from Kenya to China, use Angaza’s platform to make solar lighting financially accessible to all, helping families provide a healthy and effective education for their children.
1 billion people around the world don’t have access to electricity. Tweet This Quote
Malnutrition is a debilitating issue in Sub-Saharan Africa and contributes to the vicious circle of poverty-disease-illiteracy. At least 40 percent of children in rural and suburban areas in this region struggle to attend school because of insufficient or nonexistent meals. Edom helps nourish nearly 3 million children per month with its fortified food products.
Based in Kenya, Edom sources moringa oleifera (a plant that contains a variety of vitamins and minerals to eliminate micronutrient deficiencies) from local farmers. Using the moringa, Edom fortifies staple flours, manufactures nutritious products, and sells them at affordable retail prices for people living on $1-3 a day. Their economy food packs sell for 4 cents, and the company has reached over 500 million children and young women to date.
Although education is shown to decrease recidivism by 43 percent in the United States, 4 out of 5 of those in custody don’t have regular access to an education that would break their cycle of poverty and illiteracy—the biggest barrier to employment after prison. The average reading level of inmates lands between 3rd and 5th grade. Edovo represents the future of rehabilitation.
4 out of 5 of the 2.25 million incarcerated adults in the U.S. don’t have regular access to education that would break their cycle of poverty and illiteracy. Tweet This Quote
Edovo’s tablet technology provides daily access to education and self-improvement tools to unlock the potential of the 2.25 million incarcerated adults in the U.S. Edovo learners have completed over 20,000 lessons ranging across academic, vocational, and treatment programming. Over 75 percent of Edovo users access the content weekly, with an average of two lessons completed per day.
Eduze is a South African media company offering access to digital content for millions across Sub-Saharan Africa. Their proprietary technology allows users to download a movie in 5 minutes, an album in under 1 minute, and stream with no buffering—all with zero data costs.
Eduze created CLOX (Cloud in a Box) that doesn’t need 3G, ADSL or electricity to function. They are launching this technology in rural schools, universities, buses, clinics, hospitals and more across the African continent, connecting the unconnected to a world of unlimited resources. Each CLOX reaches 6,000 people. In 2015, Eduze became the first venture capital investment TED has ever made.
Guru-G bridges the shortage of high quality education in India by giving teachers tools to helps them discover new lesson plans, teach better and measurably improve student performance. The fastest growing mobile app for teachers in India, Guru-G provides curriculum-aligned teaching techniques and evidence-based feedback on what is working well. The app works without internet and has multilingual capabilities.
Today, Guru-G has reached over 400 schools across India, and over 4100 teachers use the app to teach over 100,000 students, who have exhibited 86% improvement in learning outcomes.
Guten is the world’s first machine learning software designed to assess the readability of texts in Portuguese, with the goal of fostering literacy and reading mastery for Brazilian students. Through engaging content, assessment, and computational linguistics, Guten’s solutions personalize interventions according to students’ learning needs.
757 million people around the world can’t read this sentence. Tweet This Quote
By providing news articles in appropriate language for youth, paired with fun games and tasks to accomplish, Guten News connects children to the world while providing reading achievement data to teachers. Educators receive weekly lesson plans to personalize learning pathways accordingly. Over 15,000 students use Guten News as part of their weekly school curriculum.
Infantium is the world’s most advanced computational system bringing emotionally intelligent AI tutors to personalize and maximize learning for each individual child. The company combines neuroscience and AI to replicate children’s brain systems into computational models that can adapt content to every learning style. The technology tracks user performance in real-time, giving feedback to parents and educators.
By understanding how the brain performs essential functions, and then emulating those functions, Infantium emulates natural learning so children can learn at their own pace. The company was awarded an MIT Technology Young Innovators Award.
As the UK’s leading provider of language and communication development software, Insane Logic is on a mission to change the way speech and language therapy is delivered, making it more affordable and accessible. Their flagship application, MyChoicePad, uses over 4000 Makaton symbols—a language program that supports spoken words with symbols and signs. MyChoicePad software is used by speech and language professionals across the education, social care and health sectors.
The company leverages technology to tackle one of the biggest barriers to literacy—speech and language development. MyChoicePad has helped over 83,000 children and adults across the UK, and 85 percent of users saw progression in less than two months.
1 in 5 children in the UK leave primary school unable to read or write properly. Tweet This Quote
The Karadi Path language-learning curriculum evolved over 15 years of R&D from the everyday language experience of the most successful multilingual country in the world—India. The new methodology enables language acquisition without teaching words or grammar. It is 100 percent experiential. Karadi Path aims to make language learning easy, cost-effective and fun, with minimal infrastructure and even with under-qualified (but dedicated) teachers.
Literacy and learning are intricately linked to overall language proficiency. Studies have shown that one hour of Karadi Path delivers higher language outcomes than 11 hours of conventional study. To date, the company has reached over 500,000 students across 1500 schools.
Kingo is a solar energy utility company for rural off-grid communities. Like purchasing credit for a mobile phone, Kingo’s prepaid solar service overcomes high upfront costs by allowing customers to buy energy by the hour, day, week or month.
Through its service, Kingo enables children, often living in poverty, to reliably study at night. Parents confirm their children are studying 350 percent more since obtaining Kingo’s prepaid service. Daily, this is an increase from 40 minutes of studying by candlelight or kerosene to two hours and 40 minutes, corresponding with improved grades in 81 percent of these homes. Currently, Kingo is installing its service at a rate of 2,500 a month. By 2020, they aim to reach 600,000 homes across Central America and South Africa.
Designed by teachers and influenced by students in K-12 schools, LightSail’s personalized platform ensures that every child is always reading books that are “just right” for them. Students choose books from the digital library, complete embedded assessments as they read, and engage in real-time dialogue with their teachers.
LightSail is committed to using data to improve literacy rates of society’s most vulnerable. In 2016, a Johns Hopkins study found that students reading as little as 30 minutes a day on LightSail saw nearly three years of growth in a single year. The company serves hundreds of thousands of students in nearly 500 districts across the US, Latin America, Asia, Europe and Africa.
People with disabilities comprise the largest minority group on the planet. Tweet This Quote
According to the WHO, people with disabilities comprise the largest minority group on the planet. Livox is the world’s first customizable machine learning technology platform for the 1 billion people around the world with disabilities, enabling them to read, write and communicate. Livox was founded by a mother and father who wanted to better communicate with their physically handicapped daughter.
The company’s products, services, and trainings enable social inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities. Features include a smart virtual keyboard, an algorithm that dynamically adjusts “incorrect touch,” and adjustments for motor, cognitive and visual impairments. Livox has over 20,000 users to date.
Based in East Africa, SunCulture designs, manufactures, sells, and distributes solar-powered irrigation solutions to improve farmer livelihoods and environmental sustainability. By removing recurring fuel costs, farmers increase annual profits by US $14,000 per acre, conserve up to 80 percent of water and increase their crop yield by 300 percent.
61 percent of SunCulture farmers farm in order to increase their income and better support their families. Over half specifically mention paying school fees as their motivation. By growing fresh fruits and vegetables that contain a wide range of nutrients, SunCulture farmers help prevent malnutrition, which is associated with chronic diseases and impaired mental development that hinder childhood education.
Launched in 2012, ThinkCERCA is an online platform for teachers to personalize literacy instruction through reading, writing, and critical thinking across all subjects—even science and math. Entire school teams use the platform to engage classrooms of diverse learners, filling the gap between basic literacy and college and career levels of literacy.
India has the highest population of illiterate adults at 287 million. Tweet This Quote
Unlike other solutions, ThinkCERCA supports a school-wide approach to literacy. In LEAP Innovations’ February 2016 study, ThinkCERCA helped students achieve almost an extra year’s worth of growth, equivalent to closing the achievement gap by 264 percent for low-income students, 456 percent for black students, and 749 percent for Hispanic students.
Ubongo’s educational cartoon television series and radio program teach math, science and reading skills to approximately 5 million children in East Africa every week. Ubongo also provides multi-platform learning materials delivered via basic mobile technology, web and print media, as well as support for caregivers and parents.
By leveraging localized media on accessible technology, Ubongo has created an extremely cost-effective and high-reach solution to help close the literacy gap for millions of children at the base of the pyramid in Africa. Recently, Ubongo launched pre-literacy content on television and radio to reach millions more.
By 2030, no child should be born at risk of poor literacy. Tweet This Quote
Project Literacy Lab will culminate with a private investor gathering on Friday, July 15, in San Francisco, uniting a cohort of investors and philanthropists hungry to allocate capital into high-growth ventures impacting millions of lives. As part of Project Literacy, the Lab aims to ensure that by 2030, no child will be born at risk of poor literacy.
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*BFP = Big F**king Problem