So, Mr. John Mennell, if you read this, I need your help. Yes, it’s not via email because other people who share your cause are bound to read this and share their own ideas. How will I start? What can I do now? Where can I turn to?
I love this blog post by Myta Santiago for so many reasons, but mainly because it lays down a gauntlet in the fight against illiteracy and opens a door for a global public dialogue for action. Myta is a magazine professional in the Philippines and a dedicated and passionate literacy advocate.
At MagazineLiteracy.org, we know that magazines are especially powerful reading resources for literacy programs and we’ve had great success mobilizing literacy initiatives at home. Our literacy ideas are open source and easy to take up and to replicate in willing communities around the globe. The seeds are already bearing fruit. Jack Yan, a global citizen and a long-time champion of our literacy work hails from New Zealand. The Duffy Family in Canada has mobilized their business, school, community and publishers to get thousands of magazines to Inuit children and families north of the Arctic Circle. A recent MagazineLiteracy.org task was completed by a volunteer in England, thanks to a connection made via a micro-volunteering website and we get technical support from companies in many countries. There are hundreds – thousands of compassionate leaders like Myta who live in communities around the globe ready and able to plant seeds of literacy powered by magazines.
Every journey begins with one step, and every dialogue with a reply – so Myta, here are some ideas rather than answers, based on our own operations here – you’ll know best what can work for your community and industry. I look forward to more questions.
Now, I work for a magazine and the stories we publish are actually good enough to spark up a city-wide literacy campaign. If I use my job as an example, and I will, I can see why magazine literacy is a good place to start.
The power of our literacy work is fueled by the universal love that readers have for their favorite magazines. Our mission is to share the magazines we love with new readers – especially at-risk children and families – to get magazines into the hands, homes, and hearts of people who want to learn and love to read. Any one person and everyone can organize a magazine literacy project – at home, at school, at work, or in their community. However, it’s especially important for magazine industry professionals in every capacity throughout the supply chain to get involved in our literacy work – from the mailrooms to the boardrooms of every publishing, printing, paper, advertising, and technology company – to produce wonderful magazine content, to tell our stories, to inspire consumers to engage via display ads, editorials, and gift circulation promotions, and to underwrite our operating expenses, so we can keep a promise that 100% of charitable donations get new and recycled magazines to at-risk readers. Thank you Myta for all you do to keep this flame burning.
But it’s going to be hard. When Jack told of his coordination with John, valid queries popped into my head:
As a politician once said to explain our interest in a mission to the moon – WE do these things, not because they are easy, but because the are hard. Launching the power of magazines for literacy is our moonshot – we are blessed with both the opportunity and the responsibility to make it so. The truth is – our literacy work is more fun than hard. People love to read and to share and to receive magazines.
What titles can I use to educate the public?
There are magazines for all ages, reading levels, and interests. Everyone has favorite magazines and memories that sparked them. Be a facilitator and rely on core competencies – literacy programs or agents and readers themselves can best define their needs for particular titles that match literacy objectives. Focus on creating the marketplace to meet those needs – matching new and recycled magazines to meet the needs and raising the funds needed to deliver the magazines. Commit to finding whatever magazines are requested. Be open to magazines for use beyond education – for example, to support a common interest in a mentoring program, or for job training, or to ease the burden and loss of a sheltered mother and child in crisis – or just for sharing the love and joy we feel when reading magazines.
Magazine readers should have a good, clean, dignified experience. For recycled and surplus magazines, the age of the periodical is not a concern, as long as the quality is good or very good. The subject matter is usually timeless (at least interesting). Children’s magazine subject matter is especially immune to magazine age. Good means no cut or torn pages or covers and no water or moisture damage. Very good would be like new – for example, from a newsstand drive or from publisher surplus. If there are mailing labels on the magazines, those should be blackened with a permanent marker if ink, or carefully removed, if paper labels, and then covered with a plain white mailing label. This protects the privacy of the original owner and the dignity of the new reader.
How much will this cost me (yay for bootstrapping!)?
Think one reader, one magazine, one dollar at a time – but multiply the potential by hundreds, then thousands, then millions. There is always a cost to magazine delivery, whether new subscriptions or delivery of recycled or surplus magazines – which, as long as they are in good condition, retain, their enormous value for literacy. Asking for new magazines from publishers is not sustainable for any stakeholders – and you want to create a long-term, reliable supply of magazines for literacy, so the key is to get good at funding gift subscriptions through individual and corporate donations. Still, publishers can help to inspire consumers to finance magazine gifts for literacy via editorial, display advertising, and circulation promotions. Recycled and surplus magazines are available throughout the magazine supply chain from consumers to publishers and printers. They have enormous value and can be rescued for literacy at low cost, creating significant value for all parties. Here in the U.S., we have set our sights on marrying the magazine industry and food bank warehouse supply chains as a natural way to move magazines via the nation’s vast network of food pantries and nutrition education programs into the hands and homes of at-risk readers.
We have always kept a promise that 100% of the consumer and business dollars we raise directly funds getting new and recycled magazines to at-risk readers. Zero of those dollars are spent on operating expenses. For that we rely on industry financial support, private donations, and angel philanthropists.
Until a year ago, we ran MagazineLiteracy.org for $6.95 a month in operating expenses – and that was for a shared web server. With that, we raised tens of thousands of dollars in consumer and business support and sent tens of thousands of magazines to at-risk children and families. We did it by leveraging the web, volunteer recruiting and collaboration technology, and social media, and hundreds of community volunteers. Bootstrapping is the way to begin, but you’ll need to grow financial investments in order to reach your full potential – the number of at-risk readers in the U.S. is in the tens of millions – worldwide, it’s hundreds of million of readers – lean, highly leveraged, but permanent operations are needed to meet literacy needs on that scale.
Today we spend about $500 a month on operations – for a small co-working space in a tech shop, donation processing, telecommunications, and insurance – still a modest sum, made possible by an all-volunteer staff and generous technology infrastructure and marketing support exceeding $150,000 per year from champions like google, salesforce.com, Automattic (WordPress VIP), shoplocket, sharetribe, truscribe, crowdspring, and Quint & Quint.
We know we need to grow the size of the investment in our operations to reach our full promise, so that campaign is now underway, reaching out to the industry angels.
Will publishing companies even say yes to this?
Yes! We have always enjoyed strong support from every corner of the magazine publishing industry. There is a great deal of change happening in the industry which brings both challenge and opportunity for everyone, and has significantly turned up the volume – so you’ll need to speak up!
Where will I start? Old Manila? Quezon City?
Start anywhere. Start somewhere.
The difference between 0 and 1 is infinity — the difference between doing nothing and doing something is immense — between talking and walking. Every journey, no matter how far or high begins with one step, followed by another. Before taking that step, you are going nowhere. After, you can go anywhere.
Initially, it will be easier to manage programs that are nearby. Use the web and social media to publish lessons that others can easily replicate. Focus on need and strive to structure operations to be a reliable supplier for each literacy program. For example, we learned that it can be very difficult to maintain steady all-volunteer magazine collection and delivery within a single community over periods of time, so we shifted to methods that allow us to send magazines from anywhere to anywhere via our online marketplace and postal delivery. So, again, by focusing on core competencies, we shifted our own volunteer resources from being great at delivery toward being good at fundraising to cover the expense of magazine delivery. By creating a nationwide network to source magazines, we can more reliably meet the literacy needs in any one community.
What city in the capital has a lot of children who go to school but have limited resources on English literacy? Or, what city has the highest unemployment rate due to illiteracy or bad education? How will the “grading system” be like? Should there even be a grading system? Will there be tests? How long will a short course be? How many levels?
We decided early on to leave the literacy focus to the literacy programs. However, we do want to dedicate magazines to program types where they are needed the most and can do the most good. So we do ask literacy programs to define their literacy objectives and we ask for feedback once or twice a year. We are working on improving our technology to better supply this information to volunteers, and magazine and financial donors so that they can evaluate the impact of their contributions.
Will my target be young adults to adults to aid in giving them decent jobs? Or will I focus on children because they easily learn faster? (Unless you’re accustomed to bilingual households, second language learning, from what I remember though, starts to make more sense mid-teens)
We started MagazineLiteracy.org with a focus on children and children’s media, but quickly expanded beyond that to serve adult literacy needs and to create a magazine industry-wide campaign for all ages. Illiterate adults were once children who did not learn to read and reading materials for children and young adults are often very useful in adult and family literacy programs. Supporting families reading together can help to break a generational cycle of illiteracy and set a powerful example for future generations.
Let’s keep the dialogue going to change the world – one magazine, one reader at a time!